short people
August 12, 2002 08:20 AM

I think I hate children.

I can be doggedly consistent. I can be flailingly the opposite. When it comes to children. I think I'm both.

But I don't actually hate children. I don't even hate them in the "southern" way. [Tradition has it that northern white people like black people in concept, but are more likely to be nasty to black people in practice, versus southern white people who hate blacks on principle - except for the actual black people they like. It's a silly stereotype, and one that has rarely borne testing in my experience.] What I hate is a composite of societal notions of children as cute and helpless. And parents. Specifically bad parents.

I realized this in two steps, starting with reading some John Holt and coming to accept that children aren't the little affection objects we make them out to be. Step one: eliminate "ick" response. Except with babies. Babies still gross. I don't see myself changing opinions on that one.

Then I spent an afternoon with a couple of sub-par parents last week. They weren't terrible, just very much the stereotype of how parents are. In a Dr. Spock sort of way. Big walls between young and in charge. A lot of we know what you need, don't tell us what you need. Some distance from reality, not in a good way. There's just something upsetting in the way many parents fixate on their kids, and yet seem to crave distance from them.

It bothers me. But it's not kids who bother me; it's their parents. Yes, kids go through ages where they're boring and not worth talking to (really, people do that, don't they?). And some kids are slimy little bugs. But mostly it's all just a result of the quality of parenting they receive.

That said, I think we could do some things culturally to make all parents a bit better. And no, I don't mean mandatory parenting classes prior to conception. Though it could hardly hurt - much. What I think we need is more understanding.

I suspect that most of the reasons parents feel overly concerned with and constrained by their children is that it's what's expected. They're supposed to avoid having lives (mustn't inconvenience us parent haters) outside of the astounding kaleidescope of child-transporting responsibilities available to them. They're supposed to feel their children are in constant danger and must be protected from even the slightest notion of that danger. And they're apparently also supposed to be completely out of touch with the reality of being a child [Seriously, I heard a parent talking about forcing a fairly normal nine year old into chess club. Why not just sew a "kick me" patch onto the back of his favorite jacket?].

So what we need is to change the "supposed to" collection. Or just drop it entirely (with the exceptions of things like "don't beat up your kid"). Children are perfectly capable participants in life. If we recognized that on a societal level, I suspect even bad parents would be much less irritating.

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