It was quiet in my house for a while yesterday. Suspicious of long periods with no noise, I went to investigate. I found my three youngest children playing a game together. Loathed to interrupt and risk spoiling their concentration, I hung back and listened for a moment or two. They were playing restaurants. They had the plastic food out and the till and a couple of notebooks in which to take down the orders and the youngest was cooking the food on the ELC barbecue.
It was a complicated and intricate game in which they each had a specific and clear role. Rather than burst the bubble, I left them to it and the game continued for a good hour longer. Happy days.
My daughter is 12. She is torn. She is surrounded by children wearing foundation, high heels, low cut tops and yet when left to her own devices she plays make believe games with her siblings.
I have long believed that as a society we are making our children want things that are not age appropriate. I remember being horrified when, as a new parent just dipping my toe into the whirlpool of outside influence, my eldest was invited to a makeover party. She was 6. There are so many things that a 6 year old would love to do for their birthday. I couldn’t understand why the mother had suggested make up and said so. But then, of course, Pandora’s Box was opened. They all knew about make up and wanted some of their own and a tiny bit of their innocence was lost.
Of course, people don’t intend any harm. Several of the parents had no handle on why I was unhappy about the make up party. Harmless fun, they said and it may well have been. We all want what we perceive as being best for our kids. It’s just that what that is often doesn’t coincide.
I think there might be two factors at play. Firstly parents want their children to be happy but in trying to ensure that they have a great time, they introduce things that are not age appropriate but which appeal to a child’s sense of being grown up. They think of what might make them happy and substitute that. Like giving a child chocolate if something goes wrong when all they really need is a hug. My eldest went to a little boy’s 11th party where they had cans of non alcoholic lager. Clearly Daddy drinks lager when he’s having fun so the son wanted the same. But, to state the seriously obvious. lager is fun when you’re an adult. It’s a grown up toy and to introduce the concept at 11. Well, you do the maths, as they say.
The second reason is one which seems particularly prevalent amongst mothers of girls who are chomping at the bit of teenagedom as soon as they reach double figures. I wonder if mothers encourage their children to grow up too quickly because they are anxious to get on to that next stage which looks so much more fun to us as mothers? I think we all do it at some point. A baby on solids is so much more exciting than a baby on milk so we push them on and tell ourselves something about waking at night to appease that nagging feeling that it’s too soon.
And so as soon as the daughters might conceivably be able to walk in heels they buy some. It’s fun to dress them up and the children respond so well because they too are yearning to throw off their childish habits. We all have this dream of our girls turning into someone with whom we can have fun, a younger version of ourselves if you like. It’s like a payback for all those years that we spent on our knees with giant jigsaws or making play doh insects. We did that hard bit and now we want the rewards.
But they are still children. If they have all the things that I discovered at 15 and beyond when they are still at primary school then they miss all those years when they could be still playing restaurants.
Of course there is peer pressure on them to ape the adults but that pressure came from the adults to start with. We need to slow the whole thing down and let them be children for as long as we can. After all, being an adult is not always all it’s cracked up to be. The time for being grown up together will come but I want to extend their childhood for as long as I can because once it’s over then there’s no going back.