Well? Do they? Do children have any intrinsic human rights or only what their parents allow them to have? Is a meal a right or is it a generous gift? What about clothes? Warmth? Toys? Are they given from the magnanimous generosity of their parents or are they due to the child by virtue of their mere existence?
Having grown up with a mother who flirted with the fine edge of sanity and spending my summer hols with a persononality disordered aunt and butter-fingered (#metoo) uncle, I was raised to feel that everything was a great gift. Saying ‘thank you’ wasn’t good enough. I had to grovel. To be aggressively, overly, nauseatingly grateful. To be a lick-ass in return for food, clothing and especially anything extra like a new toy or a rare trip to the seaside. I felt horribly beholden.
This question didn’t come into focus until I became a mother myself. Well, a stepmother. I pondered it, elbows deep in the washing up, when I suddenly found myself the chef executif for five hungry kids. No sooner had breakfast been cleared away when it was already time to start lunch. By the time they’d had their snack with telly, I was knackered.
Did I resent it? No! Of course not. Good food and plenty of it. That’s how you grow strong, healthy children. Do you begrudge your garden water or your car petrol? Then why are children made to feel guilty for their daily food!?
How my step-kids ate! As if they were breaking a thirty days’ fast which, in a way, they were. Eating between meals or after tea wasn’t allowed by their custodial parent. If choir or football practice went long and the missed their tea, they went to bed hungry. Too bad, so sad. That’s why I sent leftovers home with them after their visits. In retrospect, this probably irritated their birth mother. A hot coals kind of thing.
Having children (birth or step), has a way of making you reflect on your own childhood. Even before the children came into my life, I was already wondering. Making changes.
Money was no object for my mam, yet she still pinched the pennies and squirreled away the pounds. My comfort was of no concern to her, just as her own comfort was considered sinful extravagance. Although she could afford warmth, she preferred to huddle in layers of wool jumpers. Although I complained my clothes were uncomfortable and ill-fitting, it didn’t matter. They were my clothes; I had to wear them. You may well believe the food was disgusting.
Is it so extravagant to heat your home to a comfortable temperature? To bring uncomfortable clothes to a boot sale and buy new pieces that actually fit? To cook delicious food and plenty of it?
Normal people do these things for themselves as a matter of course. Unless you’re dedicated to the mortification of the flesh for the eternal salvation of the soul, few people would force themselves to wear uncomfortable clothes and shiver over an inedible meal. So why are children expected to grovel for these very things?
So why are children begrudged the comfort adults lavish on themselves? Why?
Should we teach children to say ‘thank you’? Of course we should.
Should we teach them gratitude? Naturally.
Should we teach them the value of a pound? Obviously.
Yes, children should be grateful for what they have, but citing ‘starving children in Africa’ is merely a distraction, a moot point.
Children have every right to live comfortably and well. Until they can provide for themselves, we owe them no fewer comforts than we enjoy ourselves, within our budgets. It’s not about the money. It’s about respect. Respecting our children as much as we respect ourselves.
Good ingredients don’t cost much and learning to cook them well is free. Clothes from charity shops are cheap, plentiful and almost always in perfect condition. (I wear them myself!) Children deserve entertainment, good books, cultural experiences to give them a full, rich life. They’re not extras. Not magnanimous gifts given to a groveling child because we are so generous. I would argue they’re basic human rights.
Childhood shouldn’t be a production of Oliver. No child should ever have to beg, ‘Please sir, I want some more’.