I took our two year old Baby Joe to play group this morning. There must have been 20 kids there, all around 2 or 3 years old, and all with their parents/carers. I was the only man. As usual, someone asked me if I was baby Joe’s grandfather – it’s really not easy being a late starter. It’s a silly question really – if they’re right, what points do they get? If they’re wrong, there’s no joy in it for either the asker or the asked.
Anyway, I’m wandering. I was interested in the usual power-play dynamics between the babies – who lays claim to what toy, and how this might affect those others who covet that toy. As well, there’s the other dynamic of parents/carers who not only want their charge to “share”, they don’t want to be seen as the parents/carers of non-sharing (selfish) kids.
And so the parents/carers inevitably put on a Sesame Street show for the rest of us.
“Tom! Tom, you know better than that (“…he’s usually a darling, and I can’t understand what’s gotten into him today”). Tom, now I want you to S H A R E. Give Stephanie the car, now. Tom, what’s the magic word?”
Well, it’s not ‘abracadabra.’ Let’s be honest, what would Stephanie want with the car anyway? She only wanted to disempower Tom. Tom reluctantly hands the little blue car to Stephanie. And without a smile on her face, which really would have given the game away, Stephanie clutches it tightly and runs to the other end of the playroom. It’s a lap of honour. Less than a minute later, Stephanie has dispensed with the little blue car and moved on to a little green shopping trolley. Her mother, meanwhile, is still explaining to someone nearby that “Stephanie is not usually like that.” Of course she is. It’s in her nature. And it’s perfectly natural.
The other day I was watching a BBC nature documentary. They really do them so well – incredibly committed cameramen, prepared to wait for days in slime for a bird to leave a nest. But this one was particularly sad. It was about a bird that always has two chicks because the weaker one is destined to be killed by the stronger one. Imagine if that was our nature too – that the stronger members always killed the weakest members of our family. Well, it’s certainly not unusual for the weaker members to be bullied by the stronger members, but there’s usually an inner mechanism – an inner nature – that mostly prevents us from killing each other. Stephanie and Tom were born with a nature to survive. It’s their strongest instinct, and it explains why children often do the opposite of what we want them to do. They have an intrinsic need to be able to survive without us – just in case.
For parents, it’s unimaginable. We want them to need us, and we encourage both their independence and their dependence simultaneously. We love their first words, but then we tell them to be quiet. We encourage their first steps, and then watch them like hawks in case their steps lead them to danger.
As a child, growing up in Australia, I was free to roam pretty much anywhere. But now, in 2011, we are afraid to let our children out of our sight. Did we lose more children in the 50s than we do now? Are there scarier people around now? Why have we become so much more fearful? Is it a fear artificially created by our constantly updating social and news media? It’s not easy to stand back and let them grow. It’s in our nature to cocoon them and keep them from harm’s way.
In the words of Swiss psychiatrist Carl Jung: “If there’s anything we wish to change in the child, we should first examine it and see whether it is not something that could be better changed in ourselves.”