As parents, we spend all of our waking hours, and often our resting hours as well, trying to “civilize” our children.
We are relentless in attempting to create miniature carbon copies of adults out of what we see as unstructured, undisciplined, and unhygienic little monsters. At times, they seem demonic to us in their blatant rejection of our wishes, demands, and rules. We are stressed and challenged. We are devastated by messes and misdeeds.
We consult self-help books, and even worse, psychologists and psychiatrists, in hopes of curing what we see as our imperfect offspring. There is a great deal of money squandered without cure; these are children. They are not aliens, nor miniature adults, nor demonic. They are a species unto themselves, and they are very, very different from what we may have wished for or thought we would be parenting. They are what they are, as are we.
Often it is difficult to come to terms with this. We push and prod them like so many sheep in a pasture, to conform and stay in line. Our schools do more of the same. We leave very little time for imagination and growth. That might simply take too long, in our opinion, in our high-pressure world.
Whatever were we thinking when we so blithely jumped into parenthood? That it would be a job in which there were rules? Not so. There are no rules and there are no models. Each child is a snowflake. All we can hope for is that in some primitive way, they will use a toilet by the age of 3, and learn to talk by then as well. We can hope that between 1 and 2 they will lift their bodies from a crawl into a staggering walk. We will hope that they somehow will begin to laugh and identify things. We watch other children intently for signs that our child is the same or better. When our child does not perform as expected, we become frantic. We rush from doctor to expert to find a solution, while the solution may be around the corner, or one month further down the line.
Yes, we have difficulty coming to terms with anything that does not fit our perception of the norm. Moreover, we rely on others near us, to tell us that what they see is the norm – or not.
Children do not by their nature reflect us, their parents.. They want noise when we beg for quiet. They have no difficulty with messes and dirt as we frantically scrub and pick up around them. They have no standards of hygiene and are upset when we wish to bathe them. After all, they are not in the least bit conscious of dirt or smell. Children wish to run and jump while we only dream of sitting and relaxing. Their TV must be loud , imbecilic, colorful, funny, and full of strange noises.
A child does not pretend to be a superhero. In his mind, he is that hero. The child does not simply imagine her dolls conversing; to her they are conversing. There is singing and dancing. There is joy.
Yes, often they seem possessed. Their play is beyond our comprehension. We can only observe the weirdness. The foods that they ingest are too often revolting to us. But then again, our choices are even more revolting to them. It would serve us well to understand that we are as equally alien to children as they are to us. We tower over them, huge and strong. We sit and eat with knives and forks where it is infinitely much simpler to use fingers. We seem to them obsessed with water, soap, and the washing of hands and body. To them we are absurd. We go to jobs that are incomprehensible to them and arrive back home tired and pinched looking. Our clothes are stupid, tight, and uncomfortable. We follow rules and watch the news with quiet desperation. We look to them like the most boring of creatures, and the most incomprehensible.
We, the adults, use language that they do not yet understand. We sit and talk for hours instead of playing. We read tiny-printed large books and appear to be relaxed by them. We are constantly begging children to be quiet and to go to bed, long before they feel tired or want to. So who really are the aliens? We are only normal to each other – and sometimes, not even then.
It seems that there are too many expectations made of children. We demand them to be civilized long before they are finished being just children. Childhood is so transient. What is our rush to “raise” them? What is our reasoning? Are we so discomfited by them that we must process them and push them more and more?
We are guilty. We need to let go and allow childhood to take its course, with fewer rules and preconceived notions of what should and should not be. We must get over the fears we have that our child is developing too slowly – then rushing to a specialist’s office of a specialist before giving him a chance.
Children are like fine art. They must be observed from a distance. No judgments should be made until enough and then still more time has elapsed so we can see the final picture.
Most of all, we must stop treating them as curiosities, demons, or little people in a rush to grow up. They are not, so why should it be that we the parents, cannot enjoy them in the process of slow growth, rather than jump-starting them every moment of every day? We certainly are the losers in our determined and frenzied need to have them mature and become civilized. After all, what is civilization anyhow if not a complex and arduous journey, one that takes much time? Has civilization as we know it today proven so wonderful?
Let children play, act out their fantasies, be dirty at times, run, jump and explore. Perhaps we, too, should do the same.