I've lost count of the number of times that I've been vacuum-packed onto a tube recently, practically pole-dancing a stranger, whilst a miniature person wallows on a seat, rather than his mother's lap. I'm now perfectly trained to expect family lunches to be completely dominated by my two (adorable nieces) and their whims and fads. And I'm positively surprised when Willow Smith, Harper Beckham and Zuma Rossdale don't appear on a best dressed list, despite none of them being even teenagers yet. In short, I've accepted that we are in the midst of a kiddie takeover, where Peppa Pig has more clout than Rihanna.
As Rory Stewart recently wrote in The Observer, our society has become so youth-focused, that we no longer see the older generation as the authority. "We have become reluctant to make sacrifices, except on the altar of our children", writes Stewart.
It would be retrograde to claim that children should be seen and not heard (I'm not a mother, but I'm pretty sure that's no longer the Mumsnet mantra). Long gone, though, are the days when children sat on laps not their own seats; when children kept their lips buttoned during boring conversations; and, if their mum so demanded, went trout fishing on a small lake for nine hours straight. A lot of my childhood, whilst terrifically exciting, also had interims of serious boredom. Being bored builds character. Being bored, as a child - whether that be waiting for a long family meal to finish, masticating furiously upon a piece of then-detested roast chicken, or during Sunday's church service - is the foundation upon which a happy adulthood is built. As, now, I spend so much less time bored and am infinitely grateful for this fact. As an adult, if I am invited to a dinner that I know will be tremendously boring, I can just say no! As an adult, if I want to eat sweeties all day and lie on the sofa, rather than go to the ballet, I can! There is no way I would have appreciated these adult jollities to such an extent, unless I had been, at times, chronically bored as a child.
Not only was I chronically bored, on occasions, but it was repeatedly stressed to me that in terms of status, I was the least important person in the room. "When you grow up and you own your own house, you can do what YOU want in it", I was told, when I tried to hide the remote control up my bottom, so I didn't have to pause The Witches. I was by no means a perfect child (about as stubborn and bossy as I am now, I would surmise, though I can at least now maintain eye contact - hurrah!), but I knew that to randomly scream during my mother's conversation with another adult was never OK. Not even as a joke. I knew that if I was left to my own devices, I had to make my own entertainment. I knew that if there was a spare seat, it was still not mine. I was allowed to grip a gam and hold a hand, but that special seat was for some whey-faced commuter, much like myself now. I knew that whilst my mum was happy to discuss Enid Blyton's stories for the entire lunch when it was just me and her, when all my older siblings were home, we spoke about Really Confusing Things and I definitely couldn't complain.
The list goes on. In short, things have changed and children now rule the roost. I can't deny that Stewart's words and my own observations puts a shivery shot of fear into my very bones. Having spent my whole childhood deferring to adults, will I now spend my entire adulthood deferring to children? Give me some power, people! Elizabeth Kolbert wrote an interesting academic piece for The New Yorker, where she argues that in letting children take over the world, we let them "inhabit a broad savannah of entitlement" -- a wonderful phrase which I intend to manipulate, somehow, into all of my sentences for the next week. But she has a point. I'm not even a parent, yet and I'm already stunned by how much more authority children have than when I was a child. Of course, it's far more preferable that they feel loved and wanted and not shamed into silence by distant, Victorian parents, but when Willow Smith dyes her hair a new colour, should I really be reading about it in the gossip mags? We're feeding the fire of youth-centricricism, as well as furthering an already unedifying spectacle of paparazzi kiddie-baiting.
To re-iterate, I dont have children and this isn't an exercise in motherhood-shaming. You should be able to bring up your children however you want - and in terms of personal importance, they are the most important things in your lives. It's more a worry that in societal terms, the power of a child is placed above the natural authority of an adult. In short, no amount of screaming or stamping of feet (mine) is going to get me that seat on the tube.