Saturday, March 26, 2005

The Hurried Child #3

Conventional Western parenting is a funny old mixture.

On the one hand, many couples have persuaded themselves that both people need to work outside the home full time in order to fulfill themselves/ keep themselves in the style to which they have become accustomed. The inevitable result is that they do not care for their children properly. Many mothers whizz their children through weaning in order to make child care arrangements easier. Many parents talk sentimentally about "all Ronnie's little friends at nursery" when anyone who spends time with their children knows full well that children don't engage in cooperative play at 9 months old; the other children and the nursery staff may be familiar faces, but they are no substitute for family. At the beginning of childhood, many parents are trying to push theit children into independence BECAUSE THAT IS WHAT SUITS THE PARENTS. It doesn't suit children, but it doesn't suit society to say so. Our governments therefore constantly bring out new initiatives to subsidise nursery care and enable parents to abdicate responsibility for parenting.

Fast forward 16 years. Those same neglectful parents are by now interfering in their children's lives. They ring up universities to book their children onto open days for courses the parents want the children to do. They still wish to control their offspring's social calendars well into their 20s. They put pressure on their children not to smoke, to wear clothes the parents approve of, to take up socially acceptable hobbies.

It's odd that in the early years so many parents are so keen for their children to be conveniently independent, and then later they want to rein in their children's independence.

I think Elkind is in a muddle too. He writes that "we infantilize [children] by permitting them to have messy rooms... to get up at odd hours". Apart from disliking the derogatory use of 'infantilize', I think he is picking some odd battles here. Parents interfere unasked in arbitrarily chosen parts of their children's lives - rooms and sleep patterns, here. Actually not so arbitrary - often parents interfere to try to increase their chance of reflected glory, or to minimise the social damage done to them by having visible offspring.

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