I have been told that I am a less than desirable parent by my children on more than one occasion. You won’t be surprised to learn it coincides with times when they have been told ‘no’.
I said “No” to a sub-standard coat that my daughter fell in love with but I knew would fall to bits within a week, “no” to my son watching ‘Dragon Ball Z Kai’ (a programme that seems designed to turn ordinarily placid children into demons), and “no” to both of them eating chocolate at breakfast time. Sometimes this is accompanied by tears and tantrums, other times by the classic “It’s so UNFAIR!” quote. On the occasions where we have tried to explain to the children how fortunate they, this has lead to further arguments, frustrated negotiations and either me or my husband uttering the line that I so hated to hear as a child: “Because I said so.” Oh what a killer line, and what a switch for causing your child to get even more upset because they realise they are not in control.
What to do… We are very fortunate as a family not to be in the position that my parents found themselves in where illness and redundancy made the household budget so small that when we ran out of things (usually sugar, I don’t know why it was always that, but it would appear sugar is pretty much all I ate as a child), we would have to borrow some from our neighbours until more money could be found. It was a shameful experience being sent round to ask lovely old Iris (again) for a cup of Silver Spoon (again) but it did teach me that good neighbours are a truly precious thing and to always, always help other people out. If we run out of anything in our house today, the children know it’s caused by their voracious appetites and my slapdash approach to shopping, rather than a lack of funds, and so it goes ‘on the list’ for the next big shop.
The contrast between my childhood experience and theirs is marked and so I’m left wondering what it means to understand ‘no’ because you simply don’t have enough money, versus ‘no’ because your parents are aiming to raise you to appreciate that just because there’s a cupboard full of food, you don’t need to invade it every ten minutes like a couple of mangy foxes. If there is no struggle, does it dampen their ability to strive? Are we at risk of creating adults that behave like chicks waiting to be fed? It leaves me feeling frequently torn: on the one hand I want to give the children everything possible but on the other, I desperately want to avoid them turning into Veruca Salt. And as much as Mr K and I fill their lives with love and opportunities and experiences that broaden their horizons, build confidence and help them to learn, it doesn’t stop them wanting everything in the shops / on tv / that their friends have. And then they see the Argos catalogue at which point our childhoods converge and they too grab a biro and circle absolutely everything they see.
This becomes even more acute as we walk the tightrope of expectation and anticipation that is the run up to Christmas, but I’m not sweating it as (thankfully), we are still a household that very much believes in Father Christmas. So the children will quite happily behave (mostly) and agree to a deal based on being good and delayed gratification. And they will be thankful for what Santa decides to bring them, and bow down to his knowledge of what makes for a ‘good’ present rather than have a nervous breakdown for the want of a £2.99 magazine with a shabby piece of tat on the front cover.
It’s intriguing how the idea of a person is more powerful than a real one but hey, if it works then we’ll keep the magic going for them until they’re 20! So for December at least, I’m happy in the knowledge that the ‘man in the red suit’ will take the strain of giving the children what they want (and taking the heat if they’re disappointed), leaving us free to get on with giving them what they need.
NB: This post was originally written in 2013 and appears in my book: Reasons to be Cheerful, Part One. If you’re interested in continuing the conversation and finding out where I’m up to today, connect with me via LinkedIn.