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Monday, 12 March 2012

In Loco Parentis

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In my time in the Army I often saw parents who were leaving home for a while say to a child something like "look after your brother" or "look after your mother". I even remember this happening to me when my brother joined me at boarding school.

As a parent I now understand that we say this sort of thing to try and make the child feel more grown up, perhaps in a subconscious attempt to stop the child crying, or to make them feel better self-esteem. Whatever the reason, the words the adult says are different to the words the child hears. The child could be misled to believe he or she was being placed in charge which brings with it a whole load of responsibilities for which the child is not equipped. In effect the phrase is placing layers of duty on the child, and by so doing it removes elements of their childhood.

That said for many children the words may be the very last words that they hear their parent utter and the duty and responsibility become very real survival tools as they fight to find food, water and shelter for their family.

I wrote the poem with my own experience at boarding school in mind, but having written it I now look at the words and think how vital the work of organisations such as Compassion and the Tumaini Fund are. These organisations aim to help orphans who have been forced into caring for their siblings. I would encourage anyone reading this blog to look at my org's* page and follow the links to learn more about how you can help children regain some of their childhood.

If this is not for you, perhaps my poem will remind you to choose your words with care when saying goodbye to a child, remember they hear your words more literally than you may intend. If you remember that; my poem has not been wasted.

In Loco Parentis

“Look after your brother.”
The words meant well
but to the eight year old
they were a command,
and duty weighs heavy.

Many a loving parent
parts with similar words,
child placed in loco parentis
in a casual throw away phrase
and duty weighs heavy.

Eight years old
weight of the world
Father, mother,
sometimes even spouse
and duty weighs heavy.

Absent parents may never know
how their words were heard.
They meant to instil comfort
but childhood became parenthood
and duty weighs heavy.

John Carré Buchanan
12 March 2012


  1. The hardest part of being a parent is when we have miscommunication with our offspring. It is a bit okay if they are matured because they can understand what we meant but if we give simple commands to our young ones it might make them misunderstand our intentions. If ever miscommunication occurs I know that a poor family relationship will soon follow. And because of that I always make sure that we understand one another.

    1. Earl, Thanks for your comment. You have hit the nail on the head and your approach is sound. I guess the message behind my poem is that sometimes even the most mundane comments can be misunderstood, and sometimes both parties think they understand what has been said even though their understanding is different. I believe comments like look after your Mother or Look after your Brother or Sister are among the most easily mis-used and misunderstood.


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