It seems to me that an important childrearing tool has gone out the window since I was a young mother. I sound archaic even to myself for mentioning it but I have noticed that young parents today take their kids everywhere they go and that they are all tired. It's as though there is no such thing as a set bedtime anymore. Kids, even toddlers, get to go out, to restaurants, movies, even private cocktail parties. They stay up late, get overly-tired and fall asleep from sheer exhaustion, often after exhibiting inappropriate behaviour, rather than when their parents tell them to. It makes everyone involved cranky.
I understand that the dynamics of a working couple have changed the way kids are brought up. When are you going to have quality time with your kids if not after hours? And I can also totally appreciate how tempting it is to bring your little darling along when socializing. But past a certain age, a sleep deprived child who comes to believe that the world has no limitations is not a pleasant thing for the rest of us.
Anyone who knew me as a child will tell you that I used to create mayhem on a daily basis. My poor cousin, my main partner in crime back then, was often in trouble thanks to me. Not only did I get us into countless scrapes, I would embelish scenarios which just sort of popped into my head as I went along, often leaving him to clean up our messes because I was already on the next adventure. But our mayehm had a schedule.
Like most kids of that era, we had basic rules to obey which included, among other things, not leaving our garden without permission. This was in the days when, outside of school hours, children were expected to entertain themselves and to go and play outside right after breakfast with orders to stay out until they were called in for lunch. Except for bathroom breaks it was best if you did not show your face before being called or you were likely to be given a mundane task to perform, like having to set the table or peeling potatoes. Barring bad weather we much preferred being banished to the garden.
What our hours of freedom taught us was invaluable. We learned how to fend for ourselves, how to problem-solve, and how to let our imaginations run wild. We learned to rely on ourselves and on one another, thus becoming capable later on of facing the world with a healthy dose of self-confidence.
We also absorbed quickly that certain punishments were not worth the crime, thus showing us concretely that all acts have a consequence and that we are all responsible for any action we choose to take, even at the age of six.
Whatever adventure the day held, when we came in to clean up for supper, we knew that playtime was officially over until the morning. No amount of wheedling would alter that. During dinner we were expected to practice the table manners that were constantly being drummed into us. We could not get up, run around, or leave the table without first asking to be excused. It was also expected that we would help clear the table after the meal was over. If we hurried with the chores we could catch a program or get time to read. Bedtime was absolutely not negotiable and the longer we dawdled the less time we had for the fun stuff.
I wasn't quite as strict when raising my own kids and our Canadian winters meant that I could not just open up the back door and let them run out to play, though I have to say that on sunny days I did just that and they turned out fine. But I was a stickler about not being disturbed past a certain time in the evening, especially when we had company. Bedtime wasn't any more negotiable at our house than it had been for me as a kid because I always felt that if I didn't get some "me" time and some "couples" time, I would go mad. I needed to recharge my batteries, connect with my husband and the outside world. What was that famous quote....if Mamma ain't happy, nobody's happy? That was certainly the unspoken rule when I was a young mother.
Parenting, like anything else worth doing well, requires guidelines, parameters, hard work, dedication, routines and a loving but firm hand that cannot be twisted with wheedling, pleading or bribery. I honestly don't know how couples today survive without those all-important daily moments of peace and quiet. I'm beginning to think that often they don't.