I had a reality check this morning, as I scrolled through the latest posts via social media – the refuge of the modern day mother who pins every hope on her facebook wall and twitter feed of retaining a connection to the outside world and her life BC (Before Child). I discovered a piece by Bunmi Laditan, author of The Honest Toddler: A Child’s Guide to Parenting. Written for The Huffington Post, Laditan’s frank and candid narrative directly dispels the myth of the fairytale childhood we are all desperately trying to bestow upon our offspring.
Pressured by the parenting urban legends proffered by the likes of Pinterest, Tumblr and parenting blogs that all seem to be in league against the ordinary among us; we are forgetting what childhood meant to us and therefore what it could mean to our own children. I took my daughter to her weekly dance class this morning and while she embraced the various props and musical tunes, it was having the opportunity to run around, shrieking with her fellow tutu-wearing companion that meant the most to her.
You don’t need ‘pinspiration’ to raise your children, because it’s the simple things in life that hold the real magic. Playing with a ball. Raiding the kitchen cupboard and filling the utensils with toys. Getting that flying feeling on the swings. Playing with friends. A good tickle. A story or two before bed. A goodnight kiss.
The competitive nature of modern day parenting doesn’t allow us to rate these things on its list of “ways to keep your child entertained through the Easter holidays”. Or understand that its bulletin outlining the “7 signs that your child is gifted” may send some mothers into depression because their toddler doesn’t meet any of them. In pregnancy when asked what we’re hoping for, most will answer with “a healthy child”. After birth when asked the same question, the adjective changes to “happy”… that is until they attend their first mother and baby group where Baby Einstein, pre-school acceptances and baby yoga are the norm, and anything less is met with smug tuts laden with judgement as the competition is weeded out.
I kind of winged it through maternity leave, intent on doing my own thing, but peppering our week with the odd communal activity meant to strengthen our mother-daughter bond (in spite of the fact that 90% of the time she was permanently bonded to my breast). The past two years have been a rollercoaster of doubt and assurance that I’m doing it right. It being parenting. Going round to someone’s house for a playdate and discovering a room dedicated just to art supplies for their toddler made me wince as I considered the three tubes of paint stashed away in a kitchen cupboard seeing the light of day maybe once every other month. Laditan references crafts and their place in the home as being neither here nor there:
“I don’t have a single memory of doing a craft with my parents. Crafts were something I did in preschool and primary school. The only “crafts” I recall were the ones my mother created in her spare time. The hum of her sewing machine would often lull me to sleep as she turned scrap cloth into hair accessories to sell and hemmed our clothes.”
It occurred to me I too share none of those ‘craft-at-home’ memories. What I remember is playing outside in the garden with my best friend. Having a dollies picnic in my bedroom. Turning my little brother into an assortment of sidekicks as the stairs became a mountain, the living room a cave and my bedroom base camp one. Like Laditan, there were two words one should never utter in my mother’s or grandmother’s presence: “I’m bored” was a sure-fire way to get your ass handed to you as a list of potential activities was reeled off in 90 seconds flat.
Laditan goes on to rubbish the modern day parent’s need to be the source of their child’s entertainment, while acknowledging the line between neglect and reality.
“Parents do not make childhood magical. Abuse and gross neglect can mar it, of course, but for the average child, the magic is something inherent to the age. …It is not our responsibility to manufacture contrived memories on a daily basis.”
Childhood should not be fuelled by unrealistic goals set by parents who are desperate to keep up with the Jones’. Childhood should be fuelled by imagination and love. The wonder of seeing the world through eyes that are witnessing the changing seasons, bubbles, the sea, a train for the very first time is magical in itself. We feel the need to turn life into a grand production of expensive holidays, lavish birthday parties, excessive gifts and a wardrobe eligible to appear between the pages of Vogue; the truth is, our children are unlikely to remember much of these trimmings. What they hopefully will remember is spending time with family, being made to feel special and being loved more than anything in the world.
So, parents, ease off yourselves. You’re doing a fabulous job. Don’t worry about what all the other kids are doing because all that does is take your attention away from your own little star. Look at them; they are a product of your love, your support and your presence; that is what makes them shine. Family time, a safe and loving home, the familiar. The more we drive ourselves crazy trying to put on the greatest performance ever for our children, the less they will appreciate what really matters in life.
Embrace the simple pleasures, the meals out, trips to the cinema, afternoons at the playground, picnics, patting the puppies at the pet shop, watching the coloured fish at the garden centre, walks in the woods, feeding the ducks and the 100 other things you don’t need a manufactured website to inform you of. Anything else is just a fairy dusted, chocolate sprinkled bonus.