What does letting kids enjoy their childhood really mean?

Kids having fun

Girlies having a great time

Does anyone else struggle with this question? Well, I’ll be honest…it didn’t start off as a struggle. It was clear cut to me. I have 2 young girls and I want to bring them up to be competent, self-sufficient, and mature girls, young women and eventually adults. I want them to be able to fend for themselves from a young age, not be spoilt, indulged or feel entitled and most importantly, learn good habits from a young age. In my world view, there is absolutely nothing wrong with that.

Where do these strong views come from? Where I think it always comes from. I guess that was how I was brought up (although I’m sure my parents didn’t have a particularly well thought-out strategy – it’s just the way they happened to raise me). And naturally, I think I turned out strong and independent and capable (apologies – there is no space for humility in this reflective post. I have to be honest here in order to get some honest feedback). And if something worked, then I feel it was worth applying to my kids as well.

When I first met my future husband, I realised that he did not grow up in the same way that I did. Extreme examples of how different our lives were – I was taking public transport to school all by myself at the age of 8 (I did grow up in super safe Singapore though). While my mother-in-law didn’t allow her daughter to sleep in her own room until she got married!!!! (some context: my husband grew up in Bangladesh and they always had household help living in their house and my in-laws didn’t trust who might enter their daughter’s room).

Some other everyday differences – from a fairly young age, cleaning my room, making my own bed, washing the dishes and sweeping the house, serving drinks to guests etc were non-negotiable. I was also given a monthly allowance that I had to learn to manage,  from the tender age of 9! And I was not really given many material things.

Naturally none of these applied to my husband’s family. Their material wishes were largely indulged (although they claim that there were many limits). They of course had household help to sort out the more mundane chores. But there was also an overwhelming thought that kids should be kids and should be indulged  – adulthood was looming and would always be there for them to have to do all of the above. Why place such responsibilities on their young shoulders. My mother-in-law felt it was the job of a mother to indulge her children’s every request.

In light of the different ways we had been brought up, my husband’s initial view was that our kids should be allowed to be kids and be sans responsibilities. However, over 20 years of living in the West and having  2 kids born and brought up in Australia has completely changed his mind!!

So now our kids  – aged 8 and 6 years by the way – are expected to make their own beds, tidy their own rooms, make their own breakfast, lay the table, bring their dishes in from the table to the kitchen and put away their own clothes after the laundry has been  folded.  I’ve actually racked my brains and that is all they are really expected to do. And now I’m thinking they have it too easy!!

But here comes the ‘struggle’ part. My sister-in-law, who still lives in Bangladesh, visited us for 6 weeks and has left thinking we are really hard on our kids and that we don’t let them enjoy their childhood much.

There are other factors contributing to this view too. I have major limits on screen time for my kids, which includes  TV and other technology gadgets. And perhaps, more importantly, for my foodie sister-in-law, she finds it pretty galling that I limit their intake of ‘yummy food’ and also insist that they eat varied and well-rounded meals (i.e. I don’t just cook what they like. I’m very strict about them trying new things and sometimes eating things they don’t like very much). I also limit their intake of biscuits, crisps, lollies, ice-cream etc.. on a daily basis. I insist they eat fruit and other healthy snacks first.

When someone (especially a close relative) stays at your house for a long time and sees the way you parent and leaves disapproving of your ways, it makes you think. I look at her kids and her lifestyle and I don’t want it for my children. My sister-in-law throws birthday parties for her kids that have a minimum of 80 guests! The parties are major productions with themed decorations. All  of her peers celebrate birthdays like that (even grander) and she did tell me that she never wanted her child to ask why other people had such fancy parties and she didn’t. 

Me, I would have no qualms telling my children that we  didn’t think it was the best way to spend our money.

Barbie cake

A Barbie cake is all my baby needed for an awesome birthday party!

Don’t let me mislead you. I am an uber strict parent. Perhaps too strict. There are lots of rules in our house.  For example, ‘Dining Room Rules’ include bringing plates, cups and cutlery back to the kitchen, tucking in their chairs and switching off the lights (my husband REALLY struggles with the ‘tucking in the chairs bit’). Kids have to put their shoes inside the shoe cabinet when they come home. Or they have to place it neatly, if outside (my husband REALLY REALLY struggles with both of these too!). Everything ‘belongs’ somewhere. (I am an uber neat freak and clearly have some ‘control’ issues).

Perhaps it is these many little things that my sister-in-law responded too. Broadly I think I would prefer to stay true to my parenting style. However, her ‘disapproval’ has definitely made me think through my style. Am I too harsh? What, of the many things I believe in, should I stop or pause and what is ok to continue? 

To be fair to my sister-in-law, she never said anything outright. Certainly not to me. But through the bantering relationship she has with her brother (my husband), her views come through loud and clear.

Where do you stand on this spectrum? How far should children be allowed to be children (and what does it really MEAN?) and what are the limits? I would love to hear your views!


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