Parent Power = Kids' Confidence

Posted at 18:14pm on 6th July 2008

It was the doll’s clothes that reminded me. My daughter had decided that, at nearly four years of age, the twins were old enough to play with some of her most precious toys. So they’d arrived at my house armed with a doll’s buggy each, Katy, Lillibet, and the latter’s entire wardrobe. My heart did a little skip of pleasure. I recognised the tiny Liberty-print dresses, with their puffed sleeves and patch pockets, the lace-trimmed matching knickers, coats and headscarves, from long ago. I had made them for Lillibet decades earlier, from scraps of materials left after dressmaking for my daughters and myself.


Later that day, I came across Samantha Smythe’s post on Pester Power. She had written about the marketing ploys used by big-brand advertising executives, whereby children are targeted because ‘if you get the children, you get the parents.’ This isn’t simply about persuading kids to put pressure on their parents to buy them the latest ‘must-have’ electronic toy for Christmas. This is serious exploitation to beguile children with the ‘coolest’ car, or 'hottest' holiday destination. They now hold such sway in family decision-making, it seems, that the parents’ own wishes are dictated by the wants of the youngest members. Nowadays, kids rule.
The gist of Samantha’s message – with which I heartily agree – was that parents should be parents and children, children. And clearly they are not. At some point in the years between my childhood and those of the twins, things had changed.


It made me wonder when the rot had set in. And then it came to me. The doll’s clothes were the clue. It was in the seventies, when the fashion gurus persuaded us all that it was ‘hip’ to be look-alikes with our children. I remember making identical A-line dresses for my little girls, in a tiny floral black, white and red Liberty print – and a matching one for myself. Likewise, a green and navy floral fabric, teamed with plain emerald green, became another set of dresses for each of us. Naturally, Lillibet – being my daughter’s ‘baby’ - sported a similar pattern and style on her perfectly pink plastic body. It was considered the height of chic, this dressing alike – but I think there was a more profound purpose behind it.

We were all being subtly indoctrinated to believe that we had to be ‘friends’ with our children – equals; that the parents of my day had ‘missed out’ on this vital relationship with our parents; that the ‘generation gap’ was a ‘bad thing’. Whilst throwing myself whole-heartedly into the practice of all the sartorial bonding, I remember feeling uneasy about the psychological implications behind it. In an article I wrote for a women’s magazine some years later, I openly questioned the merit of this blurring of the generations.


One of the study questions at UV Readers’ Group – [see The Family Balswick & Balswick] in My Diary 21.5.08 - looked at this whole aspect of parental authority. Parents who do not have the respect of their children often resort to force and coercion (dominance) the authors concluded. But conversely: Parents who have the respect of their children have legitimate power (authority).

‘Because I said so,’ may have been the mantra of my childhood, but when I needed them my parents were always there for me. I doubt that I would have called them friends. But the support they gave me when my marriage broke up; when my daughter started on drugs; when she ultimately died; and when I remarried, surpassed anything offered by friends in terms of quality and quantity. That is not to say that my friends were unsupportive. Far from it. But they had their own families to look out for. And besides, they hadn’t the same depth and breadth of life as that experienced by an older generation.


You knew where you were, when parents were the adults and children the kids. Having to be in early on a school-night didn’t endear your parents in your thinking or make them your friend. But it certainly protected you from the responsibilities faced by today’s knife-wielding youngsters. And ‘my Mum will kill me if I’m late,’ relieved you of any loss of face, because all the other mums were wielding the same authority. As for cars and holidays, being dragged off in the family jalopy to Brighton on a Sunday might not be seen as ‘cool’ by today’s standards, but for we children it was the highlight of the week because it was a family event, involving parents, cousins, uncles and aunts.

Surely we owe it to our offspring to allow them the security of having parents who make decision based on the maturity and experience which they, themselves, lack? Rescuing Lillibet from the careless inattention of the twins, I feel sure she would agree.

Related Posts: Child Pornography

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