Monday, 9 September 2013

Wired generation

Modern mothers have so much more time to interact with their babies than did their mothers, or their mother's mothers. What impact is this going to have upon forthcoming generations?

Talking with my mum and her sisters, I was shocked to hear that my mum had no washing machine at the time my oldest brother was born. No washing machine and terry towelling nappies. No dryer. She was twenty one, on her own in a rented flat in Newcastle at the time, 300 miles away from her family, with a husband who was either working or studying most of the time. Once I had processed this (how did she cope?!) I was reflecting on what her everyday reality must have looked like, and decided it must have been pretty different from my own new-mother experience. How on earth did she find any time to spend with my brother, in between dunking, bleaching, rinsing and hanging out nappies? Go back a few generations more and it quickly becomes clear that for most of history, for most people, mothers have not had much time in which to mother.

I have a washing machine. I have disposable nappies. I have online grocery shopping. I have a breast pump, an electric steriliser, an electric bottle warmer, musical mobiles, a vibrating baby bouncer (actually, I don't have most of those last items - see post 'consumer parenting' but still - I *could*). Not to mention a vacuum cleaner, microwave, mobile phone, running water etc etc. Most of all, I have a husband who actually feels like he ought to share the parenting burden as much as he is able.

This makes parenting much easier than it used to be. Or does it? What it clearly does is free up a whole shit-load of my time (pun intended). In the 1950s, housewives were promised that if they bought all the new appliances they would be liberated from domestic drudgery, free to enjoy all their time making themselves pretty for when hubby got home. What happened? Prozac.

The modern equivalent of this revolution is that parents who used to spend most of their time cooking, washing, cleaning, shopping, and washing (with some left over for chatting over the fence to their neighbours or hanging out in the street watching the kids play together) now spend little to no time on domestic tasks (hang on, is this just me?!), have no friendly neighbours or community to speak of because they moved far from where they grew up for work, and have most of 16 hours available to lavish on their little angel. Or, when they're sleeping, to research different ways to aid their child's development, to stimulate them, to encourage their unique personalities etc etc.

So babies basically used to spend most of their time quietly entertaining themselves in their cribs, sucking on wooden spoons and generally doing a pretty good job of surviving and developing while being pretty much ignored by their mummies. Now they're on their exersaucers, doing baby yoga or playing on mummys iPhone (apparently) 24-7. Or getting constantly raspberried at and read to by mothers with waaaaaay too much time in their hands. When are the little cherubs going to learn to entertain themselves. To chillax?

My mummy always used to say to me 'only boring people get bored!' I always found this a bit harsh, and to this day hear it only as conclusive proof that I am, indeed, exceedingly boring.  But the point is that children need to learn to draw on their own inner resources, so they don't wind up as a hyperactive workaholic like me, with an attention span so bad I can only  bear to watch films at home with the lights on so I can read at the same time (sorry simo).

So are we raising a generation for whom ADD might seem like a nice relaxing lie down? Or am I just being a luddite with no imagination who underestimates the resilience of human nature?

I guess we'll find out. But I for one would like to try to let my baby get bored every now and again. Who knows what he might discover :)

1 comment:

simone duca said...

I am an only child and lots of people with siblings have asked me if I was ever bored when I was a baby.

Well I don't think so. At least from what I'm told though. Apparently I was very happy just looking around and chewing on something while sitting somewhere. Constantly taking in information. To an adult I might have looked like a bored baby. Perhaps I was, who knows.

My opinion is that without experiencing what we, as adults, call boredom we wouldn't be able to experience excitement, engagement and interest. A bored baby won't stay bored for long and will find something entertaining even on its own.

On the other hand, it also seems plausible that baby's perception of time is so different from that of adults that the idea of a bored baby is meaningless. Think for instance that a five-month old needs four times longer than an adult to show signs of visual awareness of an image.

Perhaps slowing down our overstimulated lives would make us both more relaxed and in sync with baby. Just throwing it out there :)