domingo, 31 de marzo de 2013

An Open Letter to my Childist Friends

Since I've had my own children, now aged 5 and nearly 7, I've come to the conclusion that most people, including parents, do not like children. Some people say they do, but they don't really. They only like them when the children are 'good', a euphemism for 'obedient' and preferably quiet. Most people are childist to a certain degree. I am too, but I don't want to be. In her book Childism: Confronting Prejudice Against ChildrenElizabeth Young-Bruehl, a psychoanalist and leading expert on the nature of prejudice, described how prejudice against children create a world in which disliking and even harming and abusing children is normalised and accepted. Childist people believe children are burdensome and absorb more than their share of resources, that they should serve adults, that they are property, that they lack reason, that they are rebellious and must be broken through discipline. These beliefs do not reflect current scientific knowledge about children's development, capabilities and needs. 

Since I decided to be someone's mum, I've been trying hard to be a conscious one, to take my children's feelings always in consideration as well as my own and those of other people involved. Apart from loving them, I happen to like them and I enjoy their company so much, and they mine, that the three of us spend most of our time together. Dave and Alex don't go to school and I work from home, so this is possible and we're all happy. The only thing that makes me sad sometimes is to see that other people do not like my children. It's not other children who don't like them. On the contrary, despite the fact that they don't go to school, or precisely because they don't, Dave and Alex are very sociable and have no problem making friends with other kids. It's other adults who can't be bothered with them. 

These people are part of our family and circle of friends. At some point or another they have all told me that I should look out for myself, that the kids take up all of my time, that I should hire someone to help me with the burden so I can go out with them, 'my friends', and have a good time. They are right, I do need help with the children, but my mistake lies in hoping this help will come from them, my family and friends. I can't reconcile myself to paying someone to spend time with the kids. It is not because I can't afford it. Some people can't bring themselves to pay someone to clean their house. I don't have a problem with that, and in fact I'm very happy to pay someone to come once a fortnight and spend a couple of hours doing the floors and bathrooms. But paying someone, probably a stranger, to mind the kids just doesn't feel right. So I only ask people who are willing to do it out of love for the children or me. That doesn't happen often, of course, most people have enough of a handful with their own children or other grandchildren. So my circumstances are these: I can only go out and meet with friends alone when Dave and Alex's dad, Brad, is home and not working away like he does most of the time. My friends know this and they've known for a long time that if I am to go to a party, dinner or whatever we must meet with the children, theirs and mine, who are friends and in many cases are the reason why we became friends in the first place.

Dave and Alex hate to go to an adult gathering with me if his friends are not going to be there too. To me that is totally understandable. Why would they want to be around people who don't play or interact with them like only other children and very few adults do? Most adults ignore them, so they don't want to be there. What's worse, not even I pay attention to them, because I am busy chatting to other adults. So they nag me and say they want to go home. We've been in this situation a couple of times, although unintentionally. Both times that I remember, Dave and Alex were excited to go to wherever we were going because my friends' kids were going too. But on getting there we found out the parents had left the kids with their grandmother, so that the parents could drink, chat and have a good time without being annoyed by the little ones. The last time this happened I had to leave the party after half an hour or so, as Dave was pestering me to go home while Alex was wrapped around my leg and on the verge of tears. My friends looked at me with pity in their eyes. We were making a scene and they saw me as the victim. So we left and I was happy to do so. In the car I empathised with Dave and Alex. I told them they had a right to be disappointed and angry, and I was too. Their parents had told me the kids were going to be there, and they weren't. It was inconsiderate of them not to let us know.

A few weeks ago we were going to have dinner at a restaurant to celebrate one of my friends' birthday, with the children. Again, Dave and Alex were excited about meeting with their friends, at a place we had been before and where they had had fun. 

'Where are the children?' I asked in dismay when I saw the other parents coming without them.

'They didn't want to come. They stayed with their grandmother,' my friend shrugged her shoulders.

I looked at my kids and felt their disappointment again. When you are a child and you are really looking forward to something, what hurts more is the adult way of shrugging it off, of belittling your feelings with comments like 'there's nothing to be upset about'. I wasn't going to say anything like that. This time I was as deeply hurt as they were, possibly more. It had been me who had suggested to have a dinner party rather than a lunch so that the other kids could come too, and play and run around, so I could have an adult conversation.

'I'm not staying,' I blurted out. There was no point in even trying. I had been through this before and I wasn't going to ask the children to sit down properly, be quiet, draw a picture and finish everything on your plate... In short, stop acting like children so that the adults can enjoy themselves. Yet, one of my childless friends, trying to help me, no doubt, tried precisely this.

'Oh, come on, stay, stay. I'll buy you kids an ice cream, or have some crayons, here.'

I hesitated for a second, and wondered if they'd be happy with that. I had also looked forward to being there and having a nice meal and a chat with my friends. Maybe I could still have it, even if the kids wouldn't. So I talked to them. They accepted the ice cream offer reluctantly. But then I stopped myself. No way was I going to bribe them like that so that I could have ten to fifteen minutes of 'peace'. After that they would have said they wanted to go home and my friends would have pitied me again and suggested next time I get a babysitter, poor me.

No, I left. I kissed goodbye the friend who had tried to help me, and said nothing to the other parents, who were already sitting at the table, happily chatting without any nagging children around. Another friend was caught in the middle, torn between staying at the restaurant or coming with me. I told him he should stay, but in the end he decided to support me by going with me to another restaurant with a playground, where we could have dinner and the kids could play. I suppose he chose to come with me out of pity, not empathy or understanding, and this was a mistake. He said, 'They will be saying they're bored in ten minutes and you'll have to go home, anyway'. I was already fuming at what had happened, and that was an unfortunate comment. It did not happen, by the way. Dave and Alex had dinner and played for a long time, so my friend and I had all the space to argue without interruption. He said my whole life revolves around the children and my friends are just secondary characters in my life. And just because I think that my children are the most important people in the world, I shouldn't expect my friends to feel the same way.

'A phone call,' I said in my defense. 'A phone call is all the help I needed from my friends, to let me know that their children weren't coming, so I would have had time to talk to mine and probably decide that we would stay home, as the outing was not going to be a happy one for the three of us.'  

In other words, a little bit of consideration for their feelings. I am sick and tired of seeing how my children get stood up by yours, my friends. I understand your children don't need any more friends because they have loads at school. We, on the other hand, have to get out there and make the effort to make friends and choose who we want to be friends with. That to me is a privilege and I'm happy that my kids can choose their friends, like I do. 

I still like you, my childist friends, but I'm afraid I only have time for you alone (without the children) when my kids are happily spending time with their father or other children. I will call you then.