When should children get a vote?

When should children get a vote?

We are moving north, way north to the very top of Australia; warm weather, camping, big storms, guilt-free 4×4 ownership… that sort of thing. When deciding on such a move, families weigh up a variety of factors such as; the price of avocados, the availability of vintage terry-toweling singlets, and the likelihood of crocodile-related death (to name the three key ones).

Now, we are a family of four (six if you include the cats) and, unfortunately for the other four, only two of us got a say in this significant decision that clearly has a large impact on us all.

We recently took the boys north to visit our new home, to sell them on the idea, and ultimately bring them in on the plan. The itinerary was filled with dogs to pat, swimming pools to jump into, exotic fruits to be enjoyed in all forms; peeled, smoothied, frozen and ice creamed. We looked at sunsets, swam in rivers, ate fish and chips on the beach and importantly never wore jumpers (Monty barely wore clothes).

We chose the morning of day three to share the news over breakfast; a public cafe in case of violence. We workshopped the wording and the timing and agreed we would present the outcome as already decided, not a ‘strong potential’, nor a ‘likelihood’. Importantly this was ultimately a good decision for everybody, a grand adventure… but we were not voting on it.

Despite said workshopping our presentation fell flat. Milo (we’ll come back to Monty) was not at all bamboozled by any of the preamble, nor our blatant 3 day charade. His little brain took 8 seconds to process the information then went straight to the heart of it:

“Canberra is my home. We only just got back! Why do you always take me away from my home?”… he opened with.

Silence from us.

“I have made friends, and I like my school. Why would you do this?” … he continued, tears now streaming and snot bubbling.

More silence, but also miserable, sad, hopeless looks from us.

“I hate this place. I’m not coming.”

We looked at each other desperately but neither of us could think of anything cogent or useful to say.

Milo’s sadness had by now progressed smoothly into anger and he started pummeling me in the chest with his little fists. It felt like dozens of frozen quails flying into me at speed, one by one. He then grabbed my forearms with both hands and dug his fingernails in as hard as he could, leaving little moon shaped welts. Desperate to process and expend his feeling of helplessness and rage he then collected all the cutlery from the table and flung it onto the floor. He was careful not to choose anything breakable and he did it in such a way as to minimise injury to us or our fellow diners.

While Milo sobbed and snorted we briefly turned our attention to Monty who was sitting quietly, eyes slightly watery.

“What do you think Monty?”

“Can we bring the cats?” Monty asked, voice cracking slightly.

“Yes of course we can,” we replied. Monty nodded and continued eating his scrambled eggs.

By now all four of us were capable of conversing in a vaguely productive manner. It felt like an hour but had probably been no more than five minutes. Milo had stopped crying but was scowling and red and puffy and enraged and dejected all at once.

“You should have at least bought me chips before you told me something like that,” he said, again achieving absolute exquisite truth. We could only agree.

After breakfast Milo wouldn’t talk to anybody for an hour or two. We stole whispered conversations together, oh shit have we completely made the wrong decision? Perhaps we should delay by a year? Other topics centred on self-loathing, flagellation and regret.

But then, sometime shortly after lunch, Milo piped up “ok fine, I’ll come. But I get to swim in a swimming pool three times a day! And we have to have two swimming pools. No, five!”

“Of course!” we agreed (we can deal with that one later) and since then he has moved through resignation, acceptance and now perhaps there’s even a hint of excitement.

Parenting is littered with these types of decisions, made on behalf of our children. Sometimes we convince ourselves the decision is in their best interest, despite their views to the contrary. And sometimes we save ourselves that charade and just acknowledge we are making choices for us, and that’s probably okay.

Goodness knows we could have managed that situation better with Milo, but also goodness knows how we might have done it. Certainly children work their way through disappointment and frustration in a completely different manner to adults. Adults cling to their perspectives and opinions. A jilted adult wallows and processes and protests and argues and must be coaxed out of its inertial emotions. Milo seemed to work through his disappointment, accept it, file it and then embrace his new reality in the time it took us to find and buy a papaya and lime juice. He then set about shaping that new reality as best as he could, extracting a ‘non-core’ promise of a house with five pools from his parents. Bravo.

I presume one day the boys will get a vote on some of these big decisions, but I don’t know when that will be. As a wise friend of mine pointed out; if kids had their way they would be eating Happy Meals and living at Disneyland… not papaya and lime juice in the far, far north of Australia. Time will tell which is the better choice.

Children do not care about sunsets

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