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Bringing Children Back into Society

Where are all the toddlers?

For hundreds of years as a Western educated industrialised rich and democrat (ie. very weird) culture we've been denying babies and children their basic human rights, separating them from their mothers at birth, denying them that all important skin to skin, ignoring their hunger cues with 'scheduled' feeding, overriding their sleep cues with sleep 'schedules', storing them in containers away from the magic of being held in arms, separating them from their mothers for sleep, removing their access to the outdoors, taking them away from their communities to spend time with strangers and one of their most fundamental human rights - to be a part of society - that's been removed from them too.

As the mother of a toddler who is privileged enough (and has made some difficult financial choices) to be able to be at home with my kid, I often feel we are a species going extinct. As I move about my day running errands and catching up with friends we're often the only mother toddler dyad I see.

And I get it.

Firstly, it's extremely hard to live on one income. And then secondly, going out with babies and toddlers is daunting. The judgmental eyes as they scream or run about shouting and ignoring anything you say to them. The stress of trying to meet their needs whilst strangers randomly drop their wildly inappropriate unsolicited advice on you.

'I hate those baby sacks, they cut off the circulation to their legs' - a particular favourite of mine from a grumpy grandma at a restaurant as I passed her to walk Dolores to sleep in the garden.

Trying to keep your cool as you hold your child whilst they're crying and people continually feel the need to try to distract your child, feed them lollies (?!), dismiss their feelings.

It's the Wild West out there.

And it's not surprising.

The epitome of feral and free

People have forgotten how to co-exist with children because there aren't any and of those of us who brave the outside world with our kids so few of us feel confident, safe and courageous enough to let them be kids.

I certainly second guess myself all the time. It's not easy to allow your toddler to have their autonomy respected in our society.

Children are the epitome of feral and free. They listen to their bodies and they feel it all and in doing so they hold a mirror up to our unmet emotional worlds.

And when they do this people often freak.

A barrage of comments or a running for the hills.

Once upon a time children played freely, autonomously and in packs.

And now it's...

No ball games, no noise, no climbing, no walking on the grass let alone playing on it, no autonomous outdoor play, no communal parenting.

As a result it is uncommon to see children moving, making noise and playing anywhere. 

Particularly in places considered 'adult' ie. everywhere but the park or soft play. But these behaviours are now even being controlled in child friendly environments.

Children feeling their feelings are shushed, taken out of the space or reprimanded.

Children moving their bodies are told: sit still, stop running, no jumping, don't climb!

Children making noise are told to be quiet.

Children wanting to talk to other children or adults are stopped for fear of 'interrupting or disturbing'.

And what does all of this do? Does it stop the behaviour? With a severe enough punishment or a shiny enough bribe I'm sure it does but in most cases it simply ramps up.

Toddlers are build with the most marvellous brains. I am in admiration of the way they work. They will not give up their autonomy without a fight and I think it's great (and super f***king exhausting).

Children don't like being told not to feel so they cry harder and scream louder.

Children don't like being still so when they do they're given screens to make them more convenient for adults.

Children don't like being told to be quiet so they talk more or shout louder.

Children don't like who they talk to being controlled and so they 'misbehave'.

I get it.

On the weekend we took turns playing with Dolores in the garden during a restaurant meal and I ate half of my dinner sitting out in the rain. We don't go to restaurants very often but when we do for us it's important that she is free to play, make noise, feel her feelings, run and head outside to regulate herself whenever she needs. So we try to go to places that allow free flow to the outdoors as a bare minimum.

Respecting children's autonomy

A girlfriend of mine shared this weekend that she heard a child making lots of noise in a cafe and when she looked at the parents they were chill. Letting him be. And her response... she was celebratory of this incredibly rare act of respect.

And some might say it's respectful to keep your child quiet so that the adults can enjoy themselves.

This expectation causes a huge amount of stress for parents and leads many to stay home or in child specific spaces rather than enter society as a family.

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Post continues to discuss:

  • Family friendly culture in Spain when I was growing up

  • The adult gaze check

  • Feeling like gentle (authoritative) or natural parenting isn't working

  • Intentional defiance or developmentally appropriate boundary setting?

  • Childism and how it leads us to think it's ok to restrict and control and suppress the behaviours, emotions and expressions of another because of their age

  • The Victorian foundling home origins of modern parenting advice

  • Children's fast emotional processing

  • Are they faking it?

  • Toddler meltdowns as an emotional education

  • How adult emotions are processed in 90 seconds

  • How we can interrupt our children's natural processing

  • My vision for the future in terms of emotional literacy

  • My hope that we can bring children back into society and return to being a mother centric society

An image of me carrying my daughter on my back through the woods

Photo: @primalembrace / Lisa Chapman 2024

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