I grew up in the seventies. We lived on a cul-de-sac, which was inhabited mainly by other families. It was sheltered and it was safe. Life was very different to today. We went to school and we came straight home afterwards. Our parents didn’t take us to after school clubs and we didn’t do official ‘play dates’. None of that was necessary, as all we had to do was jump over the back garden wall, knock on the neighbour’s door and ask if ‘so and so’ could come out to play. No one ever locked their doors and it was not uncommon for someone to walk in the house unannounced, without having phoned ahead or even knocked before entering. That’s just the way it was.
It’s a different world now and one where we no longer feel at ease letting our children roam free. In my day our parents had instant child care on their doorstep. If we weren’t at our house, we would be at one of the neighbours’; they never worried too much about where we were. Entertaining the children must have been a piece of cake back then, unlike today, where it has taken on a whole new level. Because we don’t have this way of life anymore, we now have to physically take our children everywhere in order for them to see friends or partake in activities.
I know it’s not compulsory, but after school clubs are the norm around here and my children are no different from anyone else. After all, I would feel guilty if they didn’t get to do the things their friends do. I limit them to three clubs each and as there are three of them, that is more than enough. As it is we are picking up or dropping off from somewhere every day of the week.
Is it any wonder that our children are no good at entertaining themselves when left to their own devices? On the one hand they are lucky to be able to experience so many different things; Taekwondo, gymnastics, dancing, swimming lessons, table tennis, cross country, the list goes on. But on the other, there is very little ‘down time’ after school. Homework is often done on the hoof, reading just before bed, dinner shovelled down somewhere in between and before you know it you’re back at school again and the whole cycle starts over.
I love the school holidays because it is a break from all this rushing around, but I find the children asking, ‘what are we going to do today?’ They are so used to their lives being planned out that they don’t know what to do if it isn’t. I find myself challenging them to go and find something to do. It may take a while but eventually they will get in to something and they’ll be fine. But it’s only so long before an argument breaks out and even I find myself needing to get out of the house for a change of scenery.
What the children miss is the freedom to go running in the street and playing out with their friends. I don’t blame them for getting fed up with each other after a while, but as we don’t have young children on either side of our house there is no one else. There may be other families on our street but I haven’t met them. They, too, keep their children ‘locked up’ and get on and do their own thing.
So, we do what we normally do and get in the car, heading out for an indoor soft play centre, if it’s a wet day, or the park if it’s dry and the children are able to let off some steam and have time away from each other. My mum and her friends would have been spared this trip because we kids would have been happy enough playing in the garden with our friends. I’m sure I would have probably cried if my mum had told me that we had to go out somewhere. I envy the mums of those days for being able to enjoy some quiet time or getting on with some jobs instead of having to sit on a cold park bench or endure a noisy play centre that sells lousy coffee and food.
Am I being nostalgic for the old days or am I right to feel this way? Do the children of today have it better than we did?
What do you think?