Tuesday, 8 June 2010

When children are pets

We tease people who regard - and treat - their pets like children; and we shamelessly do it too. But what about people who treat their children as pets? Many (too many) children are loved, clothed, fed, housed and educated; but that's it.

As one who has chosen to leave no descendants, I think about this often. I'm a proud member of Elizabeth Gilbert's 'Auntie Brigade', a woman who has no children of her own but gladly takes on the role of an aunt to the children of friends and family - delighted to help, support, indulge, teach and foster. Also read this article in the San Francisco Chronicle on Ms Gilbert's Auntie Brigade.

Many working parents are off to work early, dropping little one at school on their way. They're probably home from work after 5pm (or later!) and thus have only a few hours to spend with their child, time distracted with catching up on their day, making dinner, checking homework and completing the bath and bed routine. Many probably spend more time each day in their cars, commuting to and from work, than with their offspring...

And what do they do on weekends? Stay home, watch telly, go shopping or visit friends and family. Ja, real stimulating. And it is little wonder than the children of these parents are walking-talking pets.

This concept came to the fore for me this weekend when playing with two little girls (both 10yrs). The one - the friend - is the daughter of parents who were flight attendants - well travelled and interested in the world (they work in other industries now). As a result, she is informed and curious and interested in things beyond the garden gate and her general knowledge is very good. The other is the most wonderful little girl; but her general knowledge is shocking, although she is a >80% student at her school work. Her parents interact very little with her during the week and over weekends; they do no reading (lots of tv watching happens), no outdoor activities, no sports, no walks in the neighbourhood and very little going out on weekends. Her world is very, very small and unstimulated. Sure, this lovely girl is loved... but she is a pet. And I can bet that her lifestyle would not be any different with a stay-at-home parent because that's just the people her parents are...

On the other hand I know many amazing full-time working parents who spend their weekday evenings doing homework and extracurricular educating, surfing for interesting content on the internet,  reading, playing music, talking... And these same working parents spend their weekends doing activities with their children; swimming lessons, zoo visits, attending science expos, outdoor sports, camping in the garden... This is what being a parent is about.

Unfortunately I think that too many parents are like my little friend's parents and too few are like those special parents, who invest far more in their children.

In parallel, too many pet owners treat their animals like plants. The animal is provided with shelter, food and water and for the rest they're left alone at home all day during the week, getting attention and affection only at their owner's convenience. This is not the way to treat a pet. If you don't have time for an animal, don't get one. Ditto with a child.


Leon van der Westhuizen said...

ESPECIALLY children.
They consume an awesome amount of time and resources.
But, the rewards are incredible. They love you unconditionally (at least until they turn about 13), even when they say they don't.
They come running to you when you get home from work, even though their heads tend to be just the right height to cause possible serious injury.
They jump on you just when you sit down with a cup of tea.
They want you to tickle them and then scream to stop as soon as you start.
They ask you questions that you wonder where on earth did they hear about this? And then you answer that question, and you see the light come on.
They join you in your bed at 04:00, all of them, and the cats.
They fall asleep on you shoulder or lap and suddenly look like angels.

I wouldn't have it any other way.

Unknown said...

to echo Leon...some of the best sleep i get is when my little guy (now 4) falls asleep on me while we are reading or watching a show or just hanging out. that having been said...
in my 'former life', i didn't have kids, and really didn't see them in my near future. i guess you could say that i was part of the Uncle Brigade...and was happy. these two things pose an interesting internal conflict...