Our children are six and seven years old. Both are at school. They can use forks. Conversation with them is coherent and interesting, sometimes illuminating and educational. One of them can wipe their bum, the other still prefers to let others take care of that. Our family can walk 5km in about an hour. At least once a week, they make their breakfast without setting off the smoke alarm. OK, that’s cereal day.
We are officially parents of children: no babies, no toddlers.
Quite often, either Gareth or I will turn to the other and say these words; “I would never have talked to my parents like our children do to us.” This is often followed by a frustrated debate about why our children can be so disrespectful. Gareth leans towards our children being punks, I lean towards our skills being deficient. We settle on, maybe we’re being punk’d?
I could be paranoid but I get the feeling that our parent’s generation are quietly wondering what all the fuss is about. Why do mum’s get so obsessed with spending quality time with their children? Not cooking with mushrooms because the littlest doesn’t like them. Children attending a minimum of three out-of-school activities a week. Shelves stacked with books about being good parents. General bemusement at our ritual of following the perfect parent, with perfect children on Instagram and then complaining that it makes us feel like terrible mothers.
When the children are feral and I’m screaming into the vortex that is my children’s total disregard of anything that isn’t the chaos they want to be in right now, I am aware that anyone over the age of 60 who is observing, is saying to themselves, ‘Children were never like this in my day’.
It’s probably true. But is that because they were better parents? Or were we better children? Does the latter really follow the former?
Here are my thoughts.
Peppa Pig has a lot to answer for.
In fact, all cute, clever cartoons and children’s shows that have an underlying message that children should rule the world and adults are idiots should have limited viewing. Peppa is a spoilt, precocious little madam. If she was my child (and I mean if she were human and real) I wouldn’t take her out in public, for fear she might open her mouth with some condescending putdown to any adult she meets. Then there are all the superhero cartoons that have children saving the world and adults either don’t exist or are very much sidelined in the crazy, complicated plots. When you do get an adult in a cartoon, like the ridiculous Mayor Goodway in Paw Patrol, they are completely useless and obsessed with a pet chicken!
We were brought up on Rainbow, Blue Peter, Fireman Sam, Postman Pat, Thomas the Tank Engine, Inspector Gadget and Danger Mouse, who I assume was adult judging by his dulcet tones. Adults were heroic, clever or at the very least coherent in these programmes. Even in books like the Famous Five, where the protagonists were children, the adults were at least respected.
Media and entertainment is such a massive part of our children’s lives and if the common theme is that children are in charge and adults are unnecessary, then is it any wonder we get some resistance when we try to take the lead in our children’s lives?
I am not shirking the blame here for behaviour I don’t like witnessing from my children. Happy to take full responsibility for my lack and failings. But I am saying that perhaps we have more of an uphill challenge than our parents had when we were children.
It’s true, I wouldn’t have given my parents the same amount of back chat and sass as our children have given us by the age of six. Oh no, I saved sarcastic retorts and accusations for the more acceptable age of 16.
When I was young, I think I was more frightened/in awe of my parents, because there was a much bigger gap between adults and children. We spent less time with them. We were probably in the home with them more, but we weren’t necessarily engaging with them. I used to spend hours in the garden on my roller skates, or biking round the estate we lived on, and I did my homework in my room on my own. My dad and I went horse riding together and we would go to WHSmiths most Saturdays, but when he was watching Match of the Day or reading the paper, I would make myself scarce. I did talk to my parents but I knew very little about their lives or their thoughts. It made them more mysterious and removed from my little world. At school I didn’t know my primary school teachers’ first names, if they were married or had children or what they liked to do on weekends. I was only given access to them as my teacher. In relation to a couple of them, I’m glad I didn’t know!
As 21st century parents we’re encouraged to interact with our children as much as we can. That’s not a bad thing. I don’t want my children to feel distant from me or that they can’t ask me to hang out. They certainly don’t. I would say my children think it’s their right to have all of my attention, all of the time. So much so that if I were to sit down and read a book on a Saturday afternoon, they would hunt me down and do everything in their power to distract and over power. This would include bitter complaints of being bored and me being a mean mum.
I actually think we do have a relatively healthy balance of our children getting to do what they want and them coming along for what we want to do. For example, we have fought hard to make family walks an acceptable part of the weekend routine, but we have endured many miles of weeping and gnashing of teeth from child number one, and promises of ice creams or lemonades at the finish line are standard tools for getting compliance.
It’s not like I loved family walks when I was a child or that I loved every meal mum put on the table. The difference is that when I was seven, I would generally accept what the adult said as final, and whilst I might have lodged a complaint here and there, I would never have dared to embark on an argument with an adult over what I wanted. I feel like I argue with my children every day, usually between the hours of 4pm and 8pm.
I realise that the movement of giving children more empowerment has the best of intentions, in terms of children not being abused, neglected or overlooked. However, I still want children to realise that for the most part, particularly in a loving family, adults should be trusted, respected and allowed to lead. We all need our time to be children, to have little or no responsibility, to not have to make decisions for the greater good, instead just make decisions that are in a child’s realm of understanding. Children should spend time away from adults, so they can play without agenda, exercise their imaginations and figure out that boredom is a state of mind, not a lack of food or television.
It feels like it’s too late to bring up Charlie and Lola. Our children are growing up in an entirely different world, but I don’t want to make that an excuse for rudeness. I am going to fight hard to teach my children that we have their best interests at heart, that we are ultimately in control until they are 18 and we have the right to say no. I believe they will thank us for it when they finally are given the burdens of adulthood. I have one request of the parenting generations who came before us; don’t judge us or our children based on the world of yesteryear. Seriously we would love to go back to a simpler time before Peppa Pig and iPhones, but it’s too late. Maybe have some sympathy for those that are the pioneering parents in the era of Apple, Netflix, social media and XBox. We’re literally fighting for our rights!