We’re not doing our children any favours by filling every minute with activities, so stick to simpler pleasures, says our dad-in-residence Giles Coren
The May bank holiday is upon us once again, with its eternal demands to take our children on some special day out that’s educational, stimulating, fun, safe, constructive, physically challenging, intellectually engaging and, of course, mind-blowingly expensive. My question is, why?
When I was a kid, on sunny bank holidays, my dad sat in the garden on a deck chair, a hanky on his bald head, doing The Telegraph crossword while my mother came and went with whisky sours. My sister and I were given a bucket each and paid a penny for every pebble we collected from the flowerbeds.
Every hour or so, we’d come with our full buckets to my increasingly sozzled parents and, after a rough spot count, be given 50p each. Then my dad would take the buckets and empty them into a big pile by the garage and we’d start again, usually giving ourselves a head start by quietly half-filling our buckets from the garage pile.
'We are creating expectations of a supremely cultured, adventure-filled life of vast wealth and excitement'
Magical times. But, in this era of the Tiger Mother, there is insane pressure to fill every moment of your child’s life with violin lessons, mandarin lessons, tennis lessons, trips to the science museum, baby yoga… All of which will somehow intangibly improve their lives later and, I guess, enable them to make more money (which I think is what all this Tiger rubbish is really about).
But, honestly, who wants to be surrounded by incredibly bendy little Chinese-speaking violinists with a top-spun second serve and a sideline in recreational atom-splitting? I think it’s storing up trouble for later, creating expectations of a supremely cultured, adventure-filled life of vast wealth and excitement that is so unlikely to materialise as to make all this preparation positively harmful.
So, I’m opting out. Sure, when my kids are home from school I’ll kick a ball about with them in the garden, read them stories at bedtime, make pancakes with them, test them on their flags and capitals (as my dad used to do with me in the car on the way to the pub) and chat to them in bad French if they really, really want me to.
But the thing you want to remember about tigers is that they don’t do all sorts of ridiculous stuff all day and night. What they do is they put a lot of effort into catching a deer or a buffalo or something, they eat it, then they have a nice sleep. For two or three days. Which is just the sort of tiger parenting I can relate to. And, for that, you don’t need a violin, tennis racket, library card or chemistry set.