Why are we obsessed with giving children experiences?

Whale Watching

Can someone please explain to me when it was mandated that parents provide an unlimited supply of interesting, exciting, educational, new experiences for their children on a daily basis?

When I was growing up my Mum’s idea of giving me a good time was dropping me at the local pool to swim unsupervised with my friends for a couple of hours with enough money for a paddle pop.

Today we seem to place ourselves under enormous pressure to entertain our children on a pretty constant basis.

When my children were little we did all the “group” stuff. Gymboree – this musical play group ends with everyone gathering around a large colourful parachute, cheerfully singing as we float the ‘chute up and down – Hippie Child threw up on the parachute. Montessori for Babies – Princess Child threw a tantrum so intense I’m sure it’s still talked about today.  Story-time at the Library – they didn’t want to listen to THAT story, it was a SILLY story.

We also undertook exciting experiences as a family. There was the time we decided a two-year-old needed to experience the wonder of the IMAX theatre (I’ve got no excuse beyond first-time mother and sleep deprivation). Our trip to the theatre coincided with Hippie Child developing a desire to escape from her family at every possible opportunity. We lost her at the Myer Boxing Day Sales, an assortment of outdoor events and every shopping centre we walked into for twelve months. Look the kid was fast – as proven by her performance on soccer fields and athletic carnivals in later years. As I watch her sprint the length of the field to defend her soccer goal, running down every opponent in the way I have flashbacks to Mt Ommaney shopping centre a laughing child dashing out of sight along the vast white corridors, me struggling behind with shopping bags and a baby in a stroller.

At the great IMAX experience while I queued for tickets Hippie Child managed to elude her father who shamefacedly had to drag me out of the lengthy line with the news our daughter was missing. As we searched and I realised she wasn’t anywhere to be found, I stared at the giant automatic doors which opened onto a busy Brisbane street feeling sure we were in deep trouble. But no, we found her next level up, happily ensconced with another family (they brought their kids Twisties she thought they were great parents).

When we eventually got into the theatre we sat her on the chair only to discover she didn’t have enough weight to hold the flip up seat down. Snapping shut on the tiny child she ended up sandwiched in the chair with legs around her head – Twisties flying through the air – yes I caved and bought her a packet of Twisties I thought she was dead alright! We weighted her down with my handbag – some benefit to lugging around four kilos of unnecessary rubbish. The movie began, a documentary on the Serengeti. As it progressed there was a pretty brutal scene where a lion chased down it’s prey and proceeded to eat every last morsel. As the camera panned to a shot of the bones I began to realise why parents of two-year-olds stick to animations – convinced I’d scarred my child for life in the dead silence of the crowded theatre a little voice declared “all gone – he’s eaten him all up Mummy”. She’s always been a fairly pragmatic kid. Footnote – the next day she developed a hive-like rash – doctor thought it was from the Twisties.

It isn’t like I confined these experiences only to things I enjoyed – no for some reason I felt it was important for my children to engage in activities I found terrifying. Dreamworld, the giant theme park on the Gold Coast – I hate rides of any description as far as I’m concerned the ferris wheel is unstable and the merry-go-round gives me a migraine. So when my family ended up on The Giant Drop, officially declared the ‘tallest, vertical free-fall ride in the world’ by the Guiness Book of World Records in their 1999 edition, standing at 119metres high (39 storeys), I was not on the ride with them. No I was paying 14 dollars for a tasteless coffee and stale donut convinced my entire family were about to plunge to their death. I was mentally composing how I was going to break the news of their demise to the extended family “no I wasn’t on the ride, I thought it was too dangerous, but I let my husband take our young children on because it’s important my fears don’t stop them enjoying unique experiences”. Seconds before the drop Princess Child turned to her elder sister and said “if I die you can have my toys”. You can tell she’s the organised one – got the last will and testament sorted before the plunge.

It seems this deep desire to give my children wonderful experiences has no end. The whale watching trip a couple of years ago. While I imagined myself whale watching on a large vessel perhaps with a glass of champers in my hand I somehow ended up on some sort of rigid inflatable contraption on a not-very-nice day riding the waves out of the river to the ocean convinced I was going to die. As Princess Child caught wind of my fear (it could have been the screaming that gave it away) she too began to panic. I calmed myself for a moment to say “kid I am terrified there is no point you getting frightened too I CANNOT HELP YOU”. My friend threw up over the Swedish tourists at the front of the boat, while her son hid his face in his hands and refused to look up for the entire trip, although when he talked at show ‘n’ tell about how he saw the whales he proved to be a gifted storyteller.

So here we are, desperate parents striving to give our children the best of childhoods. Determined they will enjoy an assortment of activities and experiences to develop their minds, feed their souls, expand their social skills and widen their horizons. Oh the pressure.


9 thoughts on “Why are we obsessed with giving children experiences?

  1. You are so right – we are so controlling that we no longer think children can learn anything unless it’s prescribed. Life by numbers – an algorithm where if you add x and y you get z – needs parenting by numbers. The truth is there are only a tiny number of things we really can control – maybe that’s a good thing?

  2. Pingback: Listening to our children. | Snap

  3. The world is a lot different to when ‘we’ grew up. Maybe our parents should write an article along the same theme. Each generation is different.

    I don’t agree with @creatingreciprocity though. I don’t see being a parent isn’t about controlling kids, it’s more about guiding them. Part of that guidance is providing with experiences like the ones you outlined Janine.

  4. Personally, I think it is healthy to teach kids to learn to entertain themselves to a point. They need to learn to be comfortable in their own company (less computer/T.V. diversions). That is not to say though, that they should not be taught to develop their likes and talents with adult supervision. I’ve always enjoyed a certain amount of time alone, if for no other reason than to get in touch with ‘me’. Kind of a soul searching mechanism.

  5. And you are doing everything just right…from what I see..”Family” the ultimate, institutional element you refuse to let run a muck…
    LOL!!! “if I die you can have my toys”. lol !!! She was full of fear…yeah right!!!
    Meeting Life Head on…and on it’s terms… I’d say you are both doing a great job…great eb and flowing yarn of togetherness also…great post…

    I could use your “Like” button selection too…As I have never had as many…not being a photographer to begin with…I was blessed apparently enough to get my “Weekly Photo Image” on this time before everyone got burned out on the whole..Distorted Theme… I’m shooting for 100 before moving on to another post.,.
    Bless You


  6. So true, we have this idea of being better parents if we offer them all these extra experiences. Gees, so many of them I thought would really stay up on the charts as “great ones” only to hear my kids after years saying…. “oh, yeh, I remember when you took us there to do that… well, don’t get your feelings hurt mom, but it was not fun at all!” Maybe we parents need to stop trying so hard, and get back to the simple things!

  7. After dragging a screaming child through a display of “big machines” for kids, my wife and I vowed to never again have a family outing that offered us nothing as parents. Now the kids go to places we like and they learn to like. I’ll still go to a playground or an amusement park but not as the sole goal of a trip.

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