I don’t comment on the news much, largely because I don’t watch the news too much, but this week there have been two ‘stories’ that have been inescapable and as a result, unavoidable. First, this headline:
More than 40% of schoolgirls aged between 13 and 17 in England say they have been coerced into engaging in sexual activity, a study has found.
and second, well it’s not a headline, but it’s everywhere. From a well known paint brand advertising it’s 50 shades of grey paint, to an insurance company quoting 50 shades of insurance to the madness that is this ‘much anticipated’ movie – apparently cinemas across the country are sold out tonight.
Now look, I don’t care about what other people do in their bedrooms – or everywhere else in the house in the case of co-sleepers. I don’t care what the next person’s proclivities are. It makes no difference to me if you read the books or will watch the movie. I didn’t read the book, simply because I don’t have time to read anything these days, and prioritise those things that are valuable to me. That’s not me being smug or haughty either – I simply didn’t read it. Not because of the subject matter, and not because of any self inflated sense of morality or prudishness – I just didn’t, just as I won’t go and see the movie, since I don’t remember the last movie I saw without children!
But something that bothers me, is the surprise with which people responded to the first headline, when you consider how many of those same people are tonight in the cinema watching the movie in the second!
If you plant a tomato seed, folks, you’re going to harvest tomatoes.
We can’t have an adult world driven, motivated and revolving around sex (and money and power) and be shocked when our children are dragged into that world, even if it is kicking and screaming.
Again, don’t misunderstand me. In your marriage, in your relationship, whatever floats your boat – go for it. If you want to get moralistic and spiritual about it, even the Bible says ‘In the marriage bed, nothing is unclean‘, but don’t act surprised when the child that learned to speak by hearing you speak, who learned to eat by watching you eat, who learned to act as you act is able to coerce or be coerced into ‘sexual acts’ if you – if we – introduce them to them to it vigorously and with enthusiasm and excitement and fan fare.
As adults we have a responsibility to set the standard for our children – and we all know, if not from our own time as parents, then from our time as children, that children are smarter than we give them credit for. They can smell our double standards. They know when we’re living to two sets of rules.
I remember things that happened to me when my parents weren’t around. When we were with ‘trusted’ friends. I know what I got up to when my parents weren’t home. What I watched when they were sleeping, what I read when they thought I was asleep – and that’s in a world before internet, and 24 hour TV, and most definitely in a world where ‘sex sells’ meant a scantily clad model stood next to a new car in advertising.
I’m not trying to ruin your fun, and I’m not saying don’t enjoy the privileges of adulthood, but if you’re going to expose your children, even passively, to matters of sex, then equip them too, and do it proactively, because innocence lost is lost for good. The wolves are out there waiting, we don’t need to truss up our babies.
A few months ago, we had a good look at our lives, and came to the conclusion that we weren’t exactly doing the best we could with our lives and with that, the lives of our kids.
Our home was crowded, cluttered and overwhelming. The children’s wardrobe was so full of clothes, it was bulging at the seams. No matter how many loads of laundry we did, it was never enough. I did a preliminary clean up of all Aviya’s clothes, and removed no fewer than 200 – two hundred – items of clothing, still leaving more clothes than she could wear in a month!
Ask my girls what they’d like to do, and the answer was always something that started with “watch” or “play” (a device). Ask them to play with their toys, and it would end up with boxes of toys strewn over the room, nothing really played with, everything just thrown about, and either an epic mission to get it all back in place, or I’d have to do it myself – clean up would take longer than play lasted, time after time, and it was becoming disheartening.
I felt like a failure as a mother. All our PlayLearning, all our Montessori style set-up and my kids had no imagination, no motivation and no interest in anything not screen based.
So we decided it was time to simplify. It was time to empty the house of everything that wasn’t necessary, beautiful or valuable (sentimentally or financially.) Trust me when I say it was a big job.
I went through the children’s clothing and removed everything that had even the slightest stains. I removed everything that was too small. Everything that for some 2, 3, 4 or 5 year old reason they decided they didn’t like, or didn’t want to wear.
It still left enough clothes to fill a large suitcase, and really, how much more do you need?
The toys went through the same process. Puzzles, play sets, games and everything else that had missing or broken pieces was discarded. Everything that had a resale value was listed on selling sites. Everything else I laid out on shelves and invited my friends round for cake and coffee, and a garage-sale-style-help-yourself.
What didn’t go from there, went in a donation box.
I felt such guilt, looking at the one small box of memory box toys we decided (together) to keep, and the two small boxes of toys for now and toys to swap out in a few months again. We did the same with books.
In the end, when we moved out of our house, the girls had a Trunki of books and a Trunki of toys between them, for now, and the same again for swapping out at a later stage.
We moved into the house we were renting for a month while we waited for travel visas to come through, and the most amazing thing happened. With no beautiful wooden toys, with no ‘imagination building’ contraptions, with no developmental toys, with no organically grown – sourced-by-Tibetan-monks-and -spat-on-by-garden-gnomes equipment that I deemed good toys for them, my girls suddenly started playing.
They played together. They played in turns. They didn’t need me to turn a bed and sheets into a fort – they did it themselves. They found cotton wool and filled an empty drawer with their “diamonds”. They still had their Kindle Free Time every day, sure, but rather than whining about being bored, they spent four weeks of rainy winter, playing.
When we took away the toy overwhelm the children learned to play.
At first I felt guilty and worried that we were going to end up rebuying up all our old toys. I never anticipated finding freedom to be children when we took away the clutter of trying to ‘help’ them develop and grow.
Since this revelation, I have been reading a book called Simplicity Parenting, which talks about ‘soul fevers’ and how stuff and time overwhelm can affect our children’s behaviour and their inner selves. It’s a gentle introduction to help the reader analyse our own lives and see where we can declutter our children’s minds and environment. It’s highly recommended and available from Amazon and The Book Depository (with free international shipping)
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