What if a treat goes wrong?

Nicola, long ago, climbing an apple tree

This blog post is by Nicola Baird sharing ideas about thrifty, creative and eco-friendly ways to raise children. This post looks at the difference between a treat and an adventure. For more info about my book Homemade Kids, with lots of ideas about parenting click here.

Would you divorce your mum (and dad) in your 40s and then date the falling out to the time that your mother gave a tomboy 10 year old (ie, you) a handbag for a birthday present? “It showed she didn’t know me at all, she just wanted me to be more ladylike” (I paraphrase) said the hurt child, now 48, in last weekend’s Saturday Guardian. I was amazed by what seemed to be an over-reaction to a very long ago hurt. But parents take a lot of blame – sometimes justified, often not…

Treats are a big deal – for the giver and receiver. I know my own mum (who is now in her 70s) is still deeply upset about the time she was about six years old and her dad organised for her to have two guinea pigs. The very same day they were eaten by the family’s dogs. My mum still maintains it wasn’t her that left the hutch door open. Not only did a longed for gift get tragically spoilt, she was also never given guinea pigs again.

But the way we try to over-protect and anticipate every misadventure our children have, means that even a looked-forward to trip to pick your own fruit can be problematic.

Near the outskirts of London there’s a Pick Your Own place called Parkside Farm which has fields of strawberries, raspberries, blackcurrants, courgettes, tomatoes etc. At the weekend I took Catherine, 16, Lola, 14 and Nell, 11, – as a treat – to pick fruit, something that makes a great childhood memory. When we got home laden with berries there was then a major jam making session (which the kids weren’t so keen on, and with so much hot sugar around, maybe that’s fine).

Despite being in the fields the farm wasn’t a calm place – adults kept losing their partners in the tall fruit rows and then finding they’d left their mobile in the car; people were walking around with plastic bags tied over their shoes to avoid spoiling them and lots of littler kids were being yelled at to “walk, don’t run or you’ll fall down” by stressed adults who hadn’t realised how muddy fields would be after the morning downpour.

Going back home on the train with £35 of soft fruit (!) my party complained that they’ve never had an adventure. Actually one child remembers being circled by a shark and walking up a Lake District mountain in bare feet; another was growled out by a badger in a badger sett; another has swum with dugongs. And all have got mud on their clothes without being told off. But the kids are right, spontaneous adventure doesn’t happen much especially for those children who live in the city or only leave their home if they are driven. There’s a good piece here about how underparenting can be far better for children in the telegraph. In contrast my adventures as a child:

  • Getting up at dawn and riding bareback six miles to swim my pony in a mill pond
  • With another 8-y-o saving my 5-y-o sister from drowning
  • Being chased by a bull and having to get the pony to jump a huge wooden gate so we could escape safely
  • Finding a cake on the road (in plastic), and taking it home to eat

Nowadays parents tend to offer treats – from sweets to day trips – and be around all the time. Trouble is that when expectations are mismatched things can go badly wrong, especially if someone in the party gets tired or hungry.

What’s more, a treat is not an adventure, but if there’s a way for us adults to make it one, then let’s see if we can do it. Here’s to underparenting…

Over to you
Find out what your children think is an adventure – it might just be a sleepover in the garden – and see if you can help it happen without taking over…

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4 Comments on “What if a treat goes wrong?”

  1. ! i agree, as kids we were left unsupervised much much more than our kids ever are! and it was fun! but cities have become so large and unfriendly and unsafe these days. As kids we went everywhere on our bikes, Indian roads are just too crowded to do that anymore. but I do agree with you, even with these limitations, we as parents could definitely let children create their own adventures, even within. Cheers to underparenting!!!

  2. That underparenting article was really interesting, and I definitely agree. I would say I get it right in some areas, but not others. I probably tend to do too much for them at home, just because it’s easier sometimes to get on and do it myself, but they both do know how to cook and do housework, and shop. But I do let them go out and about without me – meeting friends up at the park, or going to the shops.

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