Having just enjoyed (I use that term loosely) a two week staycation with my 11-year old daughter, I wondered if we - multi-tasking working mothers - are turning our children into over-indulged poodles? By the time I was eleven, I already had a morning paper round and the weekly chore of cleaning the entire house. By contrast, my daughter rarely makes her bed or draws the curtains. Sometimes, in exasperation I’ll leave her bed unmade – she seems to have no difficulty getting into an unmade bed night after night!
By the age of eleven, I would occasionally hoist the weekly laundry down to the launderette (we had no washing machine). By contrast, my daughter puts everything into the laundry basket as it saves her the bother of refolding clothes to put back into her wardrobe. She’s convinced that there lives a laundry fairy in our house – one who whisks her clothes away at night while she sleeps and delivers it freshly washed, ironed and folded in her wardrobe, as if my magic, a few days later.
By eleven, I was walking to school on my own. By contrast, I’d probably be “shopped” to social services for even suggesting such an idea nowadays.
And it’s not only my daughter. All her friends seem to be of the same ilk.
BORED (SIC) GAMES ARE SO BORING!
Board games are too boring – scrabble is too difficult, equate too complex; hangman is for restaurants and cards for picnics. Although I have noticed that most eleven-year olds are genetically programmed to decipher ipods, Nintendo, Wii and all types of parentally-controlled electrical gadgetry with ease!
Educational trips to the museums, zoo or galleries require planning on a militaristic scale followed by an obligatory hour in the souvenir shop to stock up on that jigsaw, board game or knick knack that is destined to collect cobwebs thereafter.
But can we lay the blame entirely at their door?
As I glance at the myriad of certificates and trophies my daughter has accumulated for everything from ballet, chess, music and art to swimming and science, it is clear that our ‘little darlings’ are as competitive as we were. But are they competitive for themselves or because we make them so?
It seems to me that everything these days comes with its own set of badges, awards and rewards. TV ‘Supernanny’, Jo Frost, recommends a praise and gold star system for encouraging good behaviour. My young nephews even get a gold star for poo in the loo (as opposed to everywhere else I presume!).
It’s just that we just seem to have taken the encouragement method one step too far.
I recently spent £130 in ‘Hobbycraft’ buying a card-making kit and tapestry set. Needless to say that the tapestry remains unstitched and the card-making kit has yielded one measly card after much nagging. From her school though - which embraces gold star encouragement treatment - I am regularly bombarded with cards and recently a full-blown tapestry for my birthday stitched by my daughter! The system obviously works, but only when there are gold stars at stake – is this competitive self-entertainment? Can children only be bothered to make something in exchange for a reward?
ACTIVE PARENTING v PARTICIPATORY PARENTING
The piano we bought remains unplayed (she has no new pieces to learn) and the guitar unstrummed (she’s waiting for her tutor to teach her some different styles). Is this a backlash to the active parenting of term time where a regimen of school and after-school classes seem to spark inspiration rather then zap it? Left to her own devices during the holidays, my 11-year old is happy to do absolutely nothing and then complain she’s bored.
Personally, I blame the competitive active-parenting trap we - multi-tasking working mothers - seem to have fallen into. I seem to have morphed from being a mother to being part-time care-giver, cleaner, taxi driver and entertainments officer. Active parenting meets participatory parenting. Tennis requires me to play or be a line-judge-cum-ball-girl; swimming needs me to don a costume; card-playing requires me to be the dealer and any ball game, a referee. Even a trip to the local park necessitates me to be a cash machine as an ice-cream or frothy hot-chocolate are obligatory. And when I am doing all of the above, I am cooking breakfast, brunch, lunch, tea time snacks and dinner whilst busy juggling a social calendar to rival Paris Hilton’s - arranging sleepovers with one or other school mate.
Not that having school friends over helps much.
Apart from hours of secretive whispering, two or more eleven-year olds are incapable of devising games to amuse themselves. Even as I write this – sitting on a park bench, a discrete-but-close-enough distance away from ‘my girls’ – I notice two other tweenagers happily engaged in taking photos of each other on an iPhone. They’ve spent an hour doing this, giggling senselessly – well, at least it’s a game of some sort!
BOREDOM IS NO BAD THING
I hate to resort to “when I were a lass” type of tale, but I am beginning to wonder if perhaps ‘boredom’ is no bad thing. I don’t recall my mother ever having time to play – she worked full time. But I didn’t seem to be bored – there were walks in the park, hopscotch, making daisy chains, skipping, swimming, kite flying, marbles, gossiping, magazines and gob-stoppers to keep me occupied. I’d play dress-up, practice my skills on ‘Operation’ (the board game) borrow a camera and take pictures, write silly poems, draw flowers and make rubbings of coins and such other such nonsense. Perhaps if we left our children to get bored, they might eventually devise new games or activities for themselves? As pots of paint sit gathering dust, books unread on the shelf and games unloved in the games cupboard …it is sad that our children seem to have lost the art to amuse themselves.
Someone please tell me it gets better by the time they’re twelve?
PS. If you’re left wondering about the reference to poodles, well this comes from my daughter’s favourite pastime which is to curl and pin her hair with clips and ribbons everyday and then dance to MTV music tracks looking like, well a poodle!