Our job as parents is to turn an alien into a human

Living with an Alien, cartoon by Laura Riding

We are living with an alien. He looks and feels human, but that is where the similarity ends.

He cannot speak our language, he has no clue of etiquette or behavioural norms, he makes strange noises for reasons we often can’t explain.

Children, particularly babies, have this uncanny ability of feeling so familiar – we were all children once – and at the same time so inexplicably alien.

It is our job to teach this alien to become one of us, to fit the mould, to integrate within society.

This involves an awful lot of teaching. Teaching him our language, since randomly uttered noises – often loud, interrupting and pointless – are not deemed acceptable in sociable conversation.

Laura Riding
Laura Riding: We are living with an alien

Teaching him to walk: you don’t see people crawling from A to B.

Teaching him to use the toilet, a skill he’ll use until old age when he’ll be back in nappies.

Teaching him to swim, to ride a bike, to climb trees, in short to be a kid in those precious few years while slowly building him up to becoming a responsible, or at least fully functioning, adult.

Not only do we have to teach him our language, but how to use it, to whom to use it, and in what situation and context.

We teach him what words to use, what words not to use, how to spell and write them, how to formulate the correct grammar.

We teach him to make friends at school, to listen to his teachers, to do his homework. We teach him to understand human emotion and react accordingly, about tact, empathy, humour, sarcasm. We teach him to respect women, to question acts done in the name of religion, to explore different cultures, to taste different foods.

We teach him to study history and learn from it, to read to expand his mind, to listen to and create music.

How we will do it I am unsure. That will come. But right now? We‘ll change another nappy, cheer another burp, and stare the alien straight in the eyes wondering: where did you come from?



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