Perhaps you have seen the ads (they come by every August). Last night as Daughter and I were watching the news together, an ad came on for Staples or some other such store. The music playing was “It’s the most wonderful time of the year” (that ol’ Christmas tune) and a man was gleefully pushing a shopping cart down an aisle, leaping for joy in slow motion. Behind him were two children sitting on a sofa that he was pulling along behind him: one looked half comatose from boredom and the other wore one of those pre-teen expressions of disdain while she chewed on her gum and rolled her eyes. The message was clear: the man was overjoyed that soon his kids would be back in school and away from him for most of the day.
I asked Daughter if she understood the story of the ad, and she said she didn’t get it at all. And so I explained it to her: around this time of year, families get ready for their kids to return to school. Apparently, this is a great time for the grownups as they can’t wait to get away from their children all day. When she asked me why they didn’t love their children I said that of course they loved them, but when kids spend most of their lives in school, doing after-school stuff etc., it gets to the point where a family just isn’t used to spending lots of time together and so when they have to (like during summer vacation) things don’t often go so well. Pretty soon the parents are looking forward to having their kids back in school.
I tried really hard not to sound too negative or judgemental but when you break down the context of an ad like that, one can’t help but realize what a sad reflection it is on our society that this story is just taken for granted. I’ve actually had clerks in stores say to me during check-out (around August) “bet Mum’s looking forward to back to school!”. They mean well, but I don’t think many people stop to ask themselves why a family can’t seem to get along for more than two months before everybody is begging to get away from each other. This also explains the desperation around June to get kids registered in day camps, of which there are hundreds and which fill up very fast – the parents want the kids “kept busy”. There seems to be a cultural assumption that parents and kids should be separated for most of the time otherwise they’ll drive each other crazy. How sad is that?
I believe that relationships need work, and that is challenging when the children are off in their world of school and extra-curricular activities and parents are off in their world of work (two such very different worlds!) for so much of the time. When you are a homelearning family you spend a lot of time together doing similar things together and you are sort of forced to learn how to get along with each other. Not that I find it all that difficult most of the time (though certainly, we all have our challenging moments with kids!). I like being with my kids and I’d be very, very sad if they were away from home 6 hours a day, five days a week. From my perspective (that of someone for whom it is not normal) it seems far too much time, such that the children basically lead a life apart from their parents. In our society we seem to think this is a Good Thing but I humbly disagree.
Nevertheless, I wish more people looked beyond the humor of back-to-school ads and cartoons and stopped to ask themselves why we, as a culture, think it’s normal for parents to be happy that their kids won’t be around much.