So I took the Babe to a playgroup for the first time this past Tuesday. It isn't called a Parent and toddler group, probably because they are trying to be all PC about it, but really, it is just because most of the people there are child minders. The Babe enjoyed it well enough, I got some knitting done, and a couple of the women there chatted to me and were nice enough. We will probably go back at some point.
But it did get me thinking, as most things do. It was all so normal, and it so reminded me of when my older two girls were toddlers, and yet it was all so alien. It really struck me as something that is wrong with our society, they way we raise our children, this segregation from the world at large, and particularly from anything 'adult'. I use the term 'adult' simply to mean anything grown-up, or sophisticated, or thoughtful, or worthy.
It is because our society values only certain things, which all lead to something called 'status.' In order to have status, or be considered worthy of note, one has to be grown-up, but not too old, have or earn plenty of money, and generally subscribe to the dominant culture. To be fair, the dominant culture where I live is rather trendy lefty, lots of Guardian readers and (expensive) sensible shoes, but still middle class and very British.
Children are not a part of this equation at all, which seems odd, considering they are often used to contribute to one's status. Generally, children are meant to succeed at school, so that the parents can talk about their successes at dinner parties and with work colleagues. The better a child performs, the better a parent can feel about what a great parent they are.
It is all so wrong.
Children are segregated from anything meaningful from very young ages. Once they learn to walk and talk, their accomplishments are not noteworthy, unless they fit in with surpassing academic standards, or attainments in other structured arena, such as music or sport. There is a whole economy around children; child-friendly, child-centred activities, fashion, family activities; but these are not part of the dominant culture. They are separate. They are not the norm. They are 'in addition to' REAL LIFE.
I am finding that having a child later in life, having already raised a few, is giving me a more concrete perspective. My ideas about parenting have become more liberal as I have aged, (although my tolerance unfortunately is waning) which is saying something as I started out fairly deep in left field. But it comes down to some rather simple basics.
1) Kids are kids.
As obvious as this sounds, the British (and the Americans) do have a habit of forgetting what it was like to be a child, unless it is in a nostalgic independent film. A toddler who bites is not a future serial killer, a child who is in nappies until they are 5 is not necessarily an oddity, and children who wait until they are 4 to speak do not necessarily need speech therapy. Late readers are still eventually readers, and when we are all 30 years old, it doesn't really matter when we were weaned. The only thing that really matters, is that we felt loved as children, and were allowed to grow at our own pace.
2) Parents should stop being embarrassed by their children's behaviour.
We all have funny anecdotes, about kids pointing out that Mummy's pooh smells, that the man at the bus stop is really fat, and that boobies are wobbly. These are all innocent, (and true) observations of the world. But they make adults really uncomfortable. How will you ever be able to talk to your teens about sex (the messiest thing of all on so many levels) if you can't talk to your toddler about pooh?
Your child is the important thing, not what the stranger at the supermarket thinks of you. After all, which one of these people are you going home with?
3) Raising kids takes time.
I am not certain about lots of cultures, but I do think the British and Americans have got a few things backwards. We expect kids to be emotionally mature when they are way too young, and yet we want them to stay as children in the physical world.
We keep young people young, by catering to 'adolescence' in a commercial way, instead of a developmental way. We expect very young children to not cry, to deal with being left at nursery, or with a parent who is in a bad mood, or with irrational fears (which always come from rational fears) while not letting them grow up physically. They are supposed to be grown up at big school, but are not allowed to climb a tree, or cook their own food, or do anything that looks challenging, because they might get hurt.
My experience is that kids want to do grown up things, they want to cook, do the washing, etc., long before they are actually good at it, and so we stop them from doing it, until they no longer want to. In order to be 'grown up,' they then have to turn to delinquent behaviour. Helping our kids grow up, means helping them figure out THEIR boundaries and talents. It doesn't mean keeping them to a National Curriculum of what kids should do when. They should take their time maturing, and we should let them.
That is all I have time for at the moment, and it has taken me about 2 weeks to get that written, as I am too busy actually doing things with my family. The sun has been shining a lot lately, so we have been in the garden, or they have been riding bikes, and I have been watching them and thinking. Going to the playgroup just got me looking at how much outside the box we appear to live. It is all so normal to me, to have a baby in bed with us, to breastfeed for years, to not send my kids to school, to enjoy their company (most of the time!) and to not care about what others think.
It is a nice place to be in, after practising on the older kids.
If only we could all learn these things as we grow up, not being segregated from each other at different developmental phases, and not having to practise on our offspring. They deserve more in life than to be our learning curve.