Sunday, July 11, 2010

In defense of Peter Pan


Breastfeeding in public has become an active topic around my neck of the online woods for at least 6 months.  I contributed my bit to the Carnival of NIP (very much on one end of the spectrum).  The mainstream media have also been plugging away regularly on the topic, soliciting the feedback of Joe and Jo Q Public on the concept of children being fed anywhere, anytime, in front of them.

Answers fall in the following general categories:
  1. Breastfeeding is wonderful and natural and women need to be encouraged to do it, not hidden away.
  2. Breastfeeding is OK and I don't mind as long as they are discreet and maybe use a cover
  3. Oh my god, have some consideration for everyone else and feed your baby in private - pump it into a bottle and use that rather than whipping your breasts out in front of everybody.
OK, so you already know I'm biased!  But variations on number 3 go all the way to "stay at home until your baby is weaned" and this makes me pause for thought beyond the automatic outrage I have as a BF mother at the attitudes people have.

Children should not be seen or heard
Our society has reached a point where large sections of the adult population feel entitled to not see children at all - breastfeeding, bottlefeeding, running around having fun, whatever!  24/7, 365 days a year, children are taken care of, invisibly, by somebody else (thank goodness).

Adults like me (a younger child of two), from coming of age until I had my own children
  1. live alone or with childless peers of a similar age
  2. go to study or work where nary a short young person of insufficient years is tolerated, and family responsibilities are kept invisible
  3. finish the day with activities scheduled after small children are tucked up at home safely
We have no idea about children except as an unwelcome surprise intrusion into adult space, and no idea about their carers except as objects of mild pity and scorn.  And many of us will defend our preferences vigorously!  These preferences for the adult world only please are heartfelt and genuine - and based on the most artificial separation between children and adults in human history.

How did this happen?
The small, mobile, nuclear family has as much to do with this as the workplace.  With fewer siblings, there is no continuum for children to learn about childcare in the family.  Families are more likely to live in different cities or countries, and only in direst circumstances in the same house!  So how could children absorb the childcare needs of their cousins, or hear stories of growing up in grandma's day?

And then the saddest punchline is that then some adults like me have children.  And we and our children are at the mercy of our own ignorance, our exposure to childhood experts that span a full 360 degrees of advice, and if we are lucky, our parents' faded memories of how they raised us 20, 30, or more years ago.
  • Don't get me wrong:  I'm the biggest fan around of not having to produce every child I fall pregnant with as the natural course of things until it kills me before my time.  I just feel sure we don't have to throw it all away along with the 10 children.
There have been some lovely posts recently on what kids can teach us:
Is it really a good idea for a large proportion of us to lose touch with the magic (as well as the more obvious annoyances) of children?  Who never learn to live with, communicate with and understand the needs of a child?  And be a proudly defiant subculture?  Only children are often considered disadvantaged by lessons they never had to learn in their families, and surely there is a parallel here.

Any of us born grownup?
We were all children, for better or worse.  If you refuse to understand what children are, or what you were, as a child, how can you hope to understand the adult that grew from that child?  That goes for the adult in the mirror, across the dinner table, or across the boardroom table.   The things kids do naturally read like a menu from the self-help books.
  • I am not saying you must have children of your very own to do this - simply that avoiding children as distasteful biological necessities that happen to other people, or even just casually scheduling your life with no contact, is probably not healthy  

One of my favourite communication books is How to Talk so Kids will Listen and Listen so Kids Will Talk
by Adele Faber and Elaine Mazlish.  It's great for talking with your kids but the very same methods work their magic with anyone of any age who appreciates honesty and consideration.

And let's turn this to the dark side and look at...

Things children learn from the adult world
  • things are more important than people
  • schedules are more important than people 
  • invented fantasies on the screen are more interesting than your own imagination, other people, or real life
  • you will spend most of your time working at something you probably don't like to earn money to buy things, and the rest of the time you will be too tired to do much else
  • you have a limited time to enjoy any activity
  • fun and excitement are annoying to other people
  • your activities are strictly defined by whoever's in charge
  • joyous use of your body "just because" is weird - physical activity must be to some organised purpose - unless you're drunk or otherwise drugged
  • men don't care for children
  • and plenty more...
And thus these children become the next wave of adults.  Why would Peter Pan want to grow up?


  1. Thanks Jess for a wonderful and insightful view into the world of adults minus their children.

    It is a crying shame of our so called enlightened times that children are shunned away and out of sight, often left with strangers for hours and days at end.

    The loveliest and most balanced people I have met in my life have had very loving and caring parents who spent a lot of time with their children. No coincidences there. And no rocket science either.

    Wishing you all the best in your quest to give your children the best possible care.

  2. So glad to have your vision here Arvind!