Hell Is Other People’s Kids…
It’s all coming back to me now. The constant twiddling of thumbs, anxious glances at my watch, the nagging feeling that I could be somewhere else, doing ANYTHING else. Finally, after what felt like an eon of waiting, the projector would be ready and the ordeal would be begin.
As a kid, I’d often be made to join my family in sitting through everlasting evenings where the neighbours conducted a slideshow of photographs from their latest holiday.
BORING doesn’t even come close.
Out of focus photos of some beach in Portugal, Edinburgh Castle obscured by a thumb over the lens or even (horror of horrors) the inevitable argument between our neighbours over the forgotten names of (lobster-like) holiday acquaintances gathered around a wonky taverna table somewhere.
“He works for a bank.”
“No he doesn’t. It’s a building society.”
“I’m pretty sure it was a bank…”
“Because you never listen Harold.”
Nobody, and I really mean NOBODY is interested in other people’s holiday snaps. They are the photographic equivalent of watching Songs Of Praise at your nan’s house or uncomfortable chats with taxi drivers – something to be endured and got over with, as quickly as is humanly possible.
I’m sorry to say it, but it’s the same with other people’s kids. We all love our own offspring, we find what they do absolutely fascinating. We talk about them endlessly. We rearrange our entire lives for them. Yet, despite all this, our kids are ONLY of interest to US. For everyone else they are (at best) dull and (at worst) actively irritating.
- That Johnny has gone up a shoe size is not something the poor saps who used to be our friends (back when we were able to converse about other subjects than our offspring) care about.
- That the little one is going through a stage of vividly coloured bowel movements isn’t something the rest of the world wants to know about.
- Nor should we be sharing our hopes that our child will become a brain surgeon just because they’ve happened to establish where their own head is located.
Any enthusiasm that parents are given by friends – about these topics of conversation – is feigned – you can tell by the dead eyes.
It’s not just those without children who are subject to irritation as a result of our obsession with the next generation. Other parents get wound up too. We’re all guilty of getting caught up in an idealized view of our children, thinking they’re the centre of the known universe. This mindset often has the side effect of blinding us to what’s actually going on with said child.
I’ve never been quiet on my feelings regarding soft play centres (click here and here for more). To me, many of the frustrations that occur in these places hark back to a general blindness to what our kids are actually like. “My son’s a little angel, he couldn’t possibly be a soft play thug,” is a phrase that’s all too familiar. Equally hyped-up parents, over eager to give their child the ‘perfect’ ‘premium’ experience, push other youngsters out of the way – literally not ‘seeing’ anyone else but their own kid.
It may sound extreme, but I’ve seen it happen, time and again.
On another occasion, in a restaurant, I watched in horror as a child of 3 or 4 leapt onto the sofa occupied by a very elderly lady and started jumping up and down. The woman didn’t know the kid and the mother of child simply watched on – ignoring the pensioner: “It is bouncy?” the mum asked, as the kid sent the old lady’s possessions flying. Whether this was the result of this parent assuming the woman would enjoy the arrival of her little one (being in his presence would be the highlight of her day, surely?) or simply the mum not noticing that the pensioner existed, I’m not sure. Either way, an obsession with allowing our kids to do anything they like – at the detriment of everyone else is worrying.
As a parent, I’m not immune to falling victim to an idealized view of my son. It’s something I actively push back against. In my view, thinking you’re the centre of universe is not a helpful thing for a child – little brats are created this way.
Don’t get me wrong, I’m not suggesting a return to the ‘Seen and not heard’ style of parenting so popular in years gone by. Far from it. What I am saying, however, is that we all need little reminders that our children are not necessarily the be all and end all to everyone else.
Without these nudges, to remind us about life outside our family, interactions with us parents can easily become like my childhood neighbours’ slideshows: occasions to be endured and done with as quickly as possible.