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This Child-Centric Society

September 2, 2011

This is from a blog written in 2007

All this Mommy and Daddy blog talk got me to thinking: When did American society become so child-centric?

I ask this not to be facetious but I genuinely want to know.

I was born in 1957 and while having kids was a way of life for my parents and their friends, we didn’t seem to be the center of everyone’s universe, at least from my perspective. Yes, they spent time with us, did kid things with us, attended our school plays, sporting events and whatnot but they also did adult things with their adult friends, no kids allowed.

Every Saturday night, my parents would go out, sometimes alone, sometimes with another couple and I was left home with a sitter. I actually looked forward to Saturday nights because I got to stay up and play cards (Canasta!)with the sitter or watch Ed Sullivan, drink tea with honey (only one cup was allowed), and eat a Swanson fried chicken TV dinner. Yes, having a TV dinner was a real treat to me when I was 9 or 10. Who can forget the scrumptious, greasy fried chicken, the mashed potatoes that you could remove from its compartment with one fell swoop of the fork, and the gelatinous, but tasty, apple cobbler? God, I lived for Saturday nights.

But I digress. Today, you see kids EVERYWHERE you don’t want to see them: at R-rated movies, at the racetrack at midnight, at bars, at fancy restaurants, even at adult-themed parties. God forbid these parents should hire a sitter for one lousy night.

And, it’s no wonder that the majority of my current crop of friends are childfree. That’s because even on the rare occasion when the kids are left at home with a sitter, the conversation ultimately turns to toilet training, breastfeeding, Mommy and Me classes and sippy cups. Sorry, but life is short and my brain has better things to do. Many of these folks were really cool people before they had kids; it’s almost as if the cool part of their brains got discarded with the placenta.

But to me, the telling factor that children have surely taken over the universe is the homes in which they live. That’s right, walk into almost any house with kids today and you’ll know right away who wears the plastic-lined pants in the family. The house will be strewn with kindercrap, not just in the child’s room or playroom but in the living room, the dining room, the kitchen and even the parents’ bedroom. All kinds of cheap, plastic, made-in-China crap guaranteed to hold a child’s attention for two minutes tops.

When I was a child, my toys had to be picked up and returned to my bedroom or the playroom when I was finished playing with them. I certainly was not allowed to leave them all over the house or on the furniture. I remember crying because our dog at the time had chewed up one of my favorite dolls that I left in the living room. My mother had no sympathy for me, telling me that if the doll had been put away on the shelf in my room, this would not have happened.

But getting back to my original question: When did we become so child-centric? In my opinion, I think it happened sometime after World War II. In the years following the war, people had more disposable income and more imporatntly, more leisure time. Leisure time was almost unheard of when my grandparents were raising families. You worked, came home to eat dinner, listened to the radio, read the paper, went to bed, and got up the next day to do the same damn thing all over again. Vacations were only for wealthy folks.

In post-war middle-class families, more moms stayed home and could, therefore, spend more time with their kids. Once or twice a year, most familes took vacations together. Naturally, since parents gradually began to spend more and more time at home with their kids, a cottage industry grew out of it. Advertisers began marketing directly to kids so that said kids would pester Mom and Dad incessantly until they caved in and bought whatever cheap, imported, plastic bauble or sugar-encrusted cereal they wanted.

Also, for the first time in history, it was no longer a scandal to get a divorce. So, you had more divorced parents, split households and a lot more guilt. The guilty parties would then overcompensate for their perceived failures not just with material excesses but with time as well. Spending more time with your kids is not a bad thing, mind you, but more and more parents began to involve their kids in their own lives, dragging them everywhere, even to places once considered oases for adults.

Call me what you want but I kind of like the phrase, “Children should be seen and not heard.” I should not be hearing them in upscale dining establishments unless they can sit quietly and cut their own meat. I should not seeing OR hearing them cry out in R-rated movies or at a bar or a museum (unless it’s a kiddie exhibit).

To parapharse the old American Express ad that stated, “Don’t leave home without it,” my message to these kid-centric parents is “Do leave home without ’em”–at least once in a awhile.

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