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The consequences of convenience

Alice Bachini looks at parenthood without any rose coloured glasses.

I moan a lot about having children. This sometimes makes me feel really mean, and I certainly wouldn’t do it in the presence of my dear friends who have wanted children for years and been unable to conceive so far. But maybe I should.

Of course, children are wonderful. The problem is, they are likely to be only slightly more wonderful than the treatment they get from you, the parent, and we parents have an incredibly difficult time trying to do things right.

Let me take the hypothetical example of, say, a one-year-old baby. This is what a day is like with a one-year-old baby. You wake up, with the baby in your bed, and breastfeed, for maybe an hour. Then you get up, carrying the baby. Then you try to get dressed, while the baby plays with something, if you’re lucky. Maybe you get interrupted a few times. An hour later, you can attempt to get some breakfast.

Entertaining one-year-olds is not easy; there isn’t much they can do, and their attention-span is zero. Another hour later, you can maybe go out, carrying the baby yourself or pushing it in a buggy for maybe fifteen minutes before she gets bored again.

Where will you go? A friend’s house, or a playgroup, where you will follow your baby around trying to make sure she doesn’t eat any live wires or spiders, and constantly looking for anything that will occupy her for ten minutes so you can have a cup of tea and some conversation. About feeding babies, entertaining babies, baby illnesses, and how to get any housework or cooking done.

I won’t bore you any further. It’s not much intellectual stimulation for a person with an adult-sized brain. Now, what most parents would already be doing by now is probably some amount of coercion. They would, say, leave the baby in her cot and go and cook the dinner regardless of any complaining, and eventually the complaining would die down. But the problem with coercing kids for the sake of a quiet life is, it doesn’t bring you a quiet life for very long. All it amounts to is, making a rod for your own back later on (not to mention being rather wrong, and not very useful for the child, see Taking Children Seriously).

The more you use force to make your kids fit round you, the more you undermine your relationship with them. The worse your relationship with them, the harder it gets to solve problems in the future. If you totally neglect or coerce your child in ways she really suffers from (and only she can know exactly what that amounts to; it is fairly easy to ignore the wishes of a child who may not be able to express them very well unless encouraged) then ultimately you will end up with an older child or teen whom you really cannot ‘control’ at all. And that’s when the s**t really hits the fan.

Which is exactly how it happens when states do nasty things to their citizens. Treat people badly, and you cannot expect a wonderful civilised country full of tolerant generous individuals. Thuggery breeds thuggery.

Parents can stop passing on their own worst ideas and learn to treat children as human beings capable of as much reason as they are. The only actual differences between their minds and ours are that our ideas are more detailed and more f***ed-up. Every argument about children being different used to be applied to women and black people. When we stop thinking kids are unreasonable for disagreeing with us, we will start creating a nicer future.

But considering how much sheer work it takes in terms of fetching, carrying, dressing, explaining, listening, feeding, nappy-changing, helping, not to mention in terms of time and money, I don’t think quite so many people will be choosing to do it in the first place. Kids are wonderful. But only because they are people.

Alice Bachini

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15 comments to The consequences of convenience

  • Aaron Armitage

    But women and black people DO come into the world knowing exactly nothing. Everyone does.

    Getting from there to adulthood is a long process, and children should not be expected to make decisions as an adult would.

  • “Getting from there to adulthood is a long process, and children should not be expected to make decisions as an adult would.”

    Yes, Aaron. Children shouldn’t have to make decisions about how to pay the mortgage (etc) when they are not ready to, nor do they want to know. Helping them learn about things that they do want to know is how they continue to grow more knowledge. Children have a right to their own life. And parents can enrich that life, by helping kids grow in good ways.

  • Julian Morrison

    Hmm. Julian’s evolutionary-psychology mini-analysis tool: “if you’re suffering, you’re probably doing it wrong”. “wrong” in this case means “not in the way your ancestors evolved to do it” and, hence probably also not in the most efficient way.

    Hypothetical: how would wild tribal humans handle the same situation?

    Guessed answer: all the childrearing adults in the tribe (the women, mostly) are in more or less one place (the villiage). Their children play together and with the adults. All adults watch all children. Because there are many adults watching, each adult can safely rely oth the others to pay attention when they are distracted. Because the adults are scattered around, a child leaving one watcher tends to move into the view of another, so there is no need to drop what one is doing and chase after. All activities leave gaps in which one can spare bursts of attention for the children; with enough adults around, the gaps overlap giving continual guarding with no delay to action. from the baby’s perspective, they aren’t isolated from reality in some kindergarten with fake plastic toys, but instead observing (and becoming interested in) real adult work. From the adult perspective, they get companionship and stimulating discussion as well as the child rearing help.

    How can this be applied by house-parents nowadays?

    One suggestion: form a “housework club”. All the members come and do the housework in each member’s house sequentially.

    I’m sure smart folks out there can think up other applications of this as well.

  • Aaron Armitage

    “Helping them learn about things that they do want to know is how they continue to grow more knowledge.”

    One of the ways, at least. But they also have to learn things they don’t want to know, such as, “If it’s not yours you can’t take it.” What a lot of politicians really need is a good thrashing.

  • IMO TCS falls flat as a concept because children have no idea of their own responsibility to the environment around them.

    As parent it is our job to give them all the freedom to learn that we possibly can but one of the most important things a child needs to learn is responsibilty to the situation they are in.

    Interupting even basic work to pay unnecessary attention to a whinging child sends the wrong message. Show them how to entertain and learn themselves until such time as you are available and all those stifling parental problems disappear (As does the whinging and moaning for attention.)

    It gives you a chance to blog in peace as well!!

  • Alice Bachini

    Aaron:

    It’s quite untrue that kids need to learn things they don’t want to know. None of the crap I had to do at school stayed anywhere near my head. Everything good I know now, I found out by myself. Many people say exactly the same thing.

    You really think we don’t *want* to know that stealing other people’s stuff is a bad idea? In other words, we want no friends and therefore no life?

    I don’t think so.

  • Alice Bachini

    Mike: “children have no idea of their own responsibility to the environment around them” doesn’t mean a lot to me. I don’t think I have any idea of that either. But I’m not going to steal my neighbours’ stuff, because I want to get on with them, and I’d rather buy my own.

    I don’t know about “TCS”; what concerns me is rationality. Assertions about the inside of kids’ heads are speculation, not fact. But I can observe very easily how hurting people makes them pissed off with me, and makes the job of parenting harder.

    If anyone had tried to “teach responsibility” to me, I would definitely have hated them. What a vile, patronising, insulting thing to do. Talk sense to kids, and they will become responsible human beings. That’s all there is to it.

    Rationality.

    On whining and moaning: knee-jerk reactions to superficial, possibly misguided whims, is definitely bad parenting. I don’t know any idiot who would act like that. Ignoring kids who need help (and two year olds do need videos rewound before they can watch them) results in kids who *are* occupying themselves happily so you *can* blog away.

    Every parent I know with kids the same age as mine is absolutely gobsmacked at how much time I get to sit at this computer. The idea that hurting kids gives you space is total fallacy. There’s no such thing as a free lunch in parenting. Hurt now, pay later. That’s the way human beings are.

  • Hi Alice

    “Talk sense to kids, and they will become responsible human beings. That’s all there is to it.”

    Talking sense to kids is teaching. Talking sense to kids about responsibilty is “teaching” responsibility. I think we singing from the same hymn sheet even if my vocabulary is restricted.

    You say this in your comment:

    “On whining and moaning: knee-jerk reactions to superficial, possibly misguided whims, is definitely bad parenting. I don’t know any idiot who would act like that.”

    Yet you say this in your article:

    “They would, say, leave the baby in her cot and go and cook the dinner regardless of any complaining, and eventually the complaining would die down. But the problem with coercing kids for the sake of a quiet life is, it doesn’t bring you a quiet life for very long.”

    Sorry, but if you have checked that the child is safe, not in genuine distress, warm etc and then you react to the complaining you are reacting to superficial, possibly misguided whims.

    Therefore the good parent would leave the child and this cannot be considered cercion, just good parenting by your values. By the way, I have met many a parent who would forget the cooking, pay attention to the child and have the rest of the family eat later. IMO that is bad parenting.

    As a fellow HEer I can understand your freedom as my kids are capable of learning and playing for significant periods on their own. Well…erm…until now that is…leave me alone…oh alright then….gotta go!

  • Julian Morrison

    Mike: a misguided whim is one which is dangerous or counterproductive. By contrast a child screaming for its parent when left alone in a cot does not have a “misguided whim”, they have a genuine and justified desire for a parent. Babies abandoned in the wild die, and the baby who feels abandoned has perfectly justifiable instincts that terrify him into screaming for a parent.

    This is not just an isolated example, it’s a general example of a trend. The childs goals/desires/emotions should not be discounted as irrelevant.

  • Alice Bachini

    Mike…

    …you wrote so much! I’ll have to try and be brief:

    1. Talking sense is teaching: yes!
    2. Responding to babies is necessary. Knee-jerking with five year-olds isn’t. Older kids can wait longer without finding it unreasonable. The more *pain* you cause a child, the more damage you’re creating for *both of you* later on. Howling babies aren’t just exercising whims; they’re in real distress.

    But the point I’m really trying to make is about good investment. Relationships are exactly like (are, in fact) economic entities. Act selfishly to someone else’s detriment, you undermine the balance of goodwill. Help them learn good ideas, both of you benefit.

  • Julian

    The original text was “complaining” not “screaming”. Complaining I interpreted as mithering or whinging. I don’t think Alice was saying that a parent would leave a child screaming in it’s cot. But it just goes to show how different people interpret another’s writing. If I had read it as screaming I probably would not have responded as I would have agreed with the statement. Maybe…

    Alice

    Now I understand and agree. All I have to do now is think of some good ideas for them to learn.

  • Aaron Armitage

    “It’s quite untrue that kids need to learn things they don’t want to know. None of the crap I had to do at school stayed anywhere near my head. Everything good I know now, I found out by myself. Many people say exactly the same thing.”

    That’s mostly been my experience. But unless you figured out how to read on your own (which I didn’t), you certainly did need to be taught, probably by a school.

    “You really think we don’t *want* to know that stealing other people’s stuff is a bad idea? In other words, we want no friends and therefore no life?”

    You have, I think, discounted the vast possibilities of sneakiness. Sure, it’s a “bad idea” just to walk up and take something. But if you can steal something and get away with it, by taking it when no one’s looking or, as an adult, through political means such as manipulating the money supply, you’ll gain an advantage without the cost. Sure, there’s a risk, but there’s a risk in going to work; you might get killed in a car accident on the way in. So why not? Because it’s morally wrong. That’s what needs to be taught, and that’s what humans naturally don’t want to know.

  • Alice Bachini

    Aaron: why “probably by a school”? Why not just by a person you know?

    And I find that moral right and wrongness isn’t just what kids actively *want* to learn; they almost understand it better than we do. It’s the most basic concept of life they have: binary.

  • Aaron Armitage

    “Aaron: why “probably by a school”? Why not just by a person you know?”

    Because homeschooling isn’t a majority choice yet. Most people were taught to read by schools. Therefore the probability is you were too.

    “And I find that moral right and wrongness isn’t just what kids actively *want* to learn; they almost understand it better than we do. It’s the most basic concept of life they have: binary.”

    After it’s drilled into them. But you can’t tell me a newborn has a concept of property.

  • To completely miss any real intellectual point of conversation here:

    “Breast-feeding for an hour???????????????”
    Temple