Of all the very many, very stupid and annoying things that have been said about children and childhood in the last few weeks, perhaps the stupidest and annoyingest is this, from Poet Laureate, Andrew Motion: “I used a quote from a child psychologist in the opening of my new book on childhood which said: ‘Every day for a child is like going to Paris and falling in love for the first time.'”
Now, I feel relatively well qualified to comment on this. I’ve been a child, I’ve lived in Paris (and so centrally that I was actually on the Seine), I’ve fallen in love, and I’ve had children. Pretty much in that order.
The idea that childhood is, or ever has been, a daily round of marvels, excitement and pleasure is so totally wrongheaded that I barely know where to start in refuting it. And I assume this is what Motion and the nameless child psychologist are suggesting by their analogy.
The fact is, childhood is not a golden time, except in retrospect. It’s tricky. It’s puzzling. It’s frustrating. It’s often boring. It can be scary. Of course, there are fantastic things about being a child – pleasures and emotions and freedoms you’ll never come close to recapturing as an adult, but let’s not get carried away here and start believing that, unless as parents we’re making our children’s childhood into a daily wonderland, we’re failing (again). Most of us are caring for our children to the best of our abilities, and in a social climate that feels increasingly hostile to families. Thanks all the same Mr Motion, but we don’t need you to pile on any more guilt. We’re doing that all by ourselves.
Actually, I think comparing childhood to visiting Paris for the first time may provide quite a good insight into how it feels being a kid these days – but not in the way Motion means it. When you’re a child you feel like an alien. You understand – if you’re lucky – a third of what’s said to you. You’re ignored in shops, bars and restaurants. Your attempts at conversation are ignored or greeted with disdain. You’re pushed out of the way. The food is weird. Traffic comes at you from unexpected directions. You get shouted at and you don’t know why. You can’t afford any of the fantastic stuff you see in the shops. Everybody has better clothes than you. You’re worried you won’t find a loo you can use. I could go on.
Now don’t get me wrong. I love Paris. I go there frequently. But it’s not the easiest city to manage if you don’t know the language and customs. Maybe if we regard our children as slightly confused but well-meaning tourists in our country, that will give us a better insight into how they feel.
Only problem with taking this simile to it’s (il)logical conclusion – it makes us parents The French! Talk about piling on the guilt …