The past few months we have had a lot of people with children visit us in France. People stayed with us for a few days up to a week and spend their holidays with us in our house. These were family members or friends that took the time to drive all the way from NL up (or down) to us. Which we were grateful for. This week the last couple with their daughter will arrive and we will be able to close the holiday season for people with children. After that – we will still have people visiting us, without children though. The children will have to go back to school.

So it’s the right time now to look back at this children filled period in our lives. It was a really interesting experience for us. We don’t have children ourselves and we have lived the past months in a house full with children of all different ages. And how did it go? Well, our house is spacious and has a lot of inside and outside space where people can entertain themselves separately or together. At the same time the interior of our house isn’t really set up in a way that children can play soccer inside the house. It’s not like we have crystal life-high horses in our doorway, actually not at all. We have mostly secondhand stuff in our house, but we still have a lot of things that can break and things that we are happy with. We aren’t exactly minimalists so to say and at the same time we own a lot of cacti that are on reaching distance.

We did believe though that even though we have all these things in our house that we prefer to keep somehow intact for a longer period that our house is a friendly house, for people in general. To my own surprise our house was declared child unfriendly a few weeks ago and it got to such big proportions (probably in my own head) that last week we had another family visit us and the moment that they set foot in our house they declared that they had heard that the house was child unfriendly and that they had brought a baby swing to make it a bit more child friendly (yes, boohoohoo on us, we only have a children swing). Besides that the house was filled with things children were not allowed to touch.

Whut?! Did I hear this correctly? Seriously?! Child unfriendly?! I know we don’t have baby gates around the stairs, and our electricity sockets are just the regular ones. Knives are used in the kitchen and then our tables can leave nasty bruises on small children when they run into them while playing, but that’s how far I would go when saying that the house is not child friendly. I was so surprised and at the same time not amused. I could have written a blogpost at that time as well, but probably it would have had some more angry words in it than this one. I gave it some thought, talked to a few people about it and decided that our house is very child friendly but probably less parent friendly! 

childfriendlyLet me explain what I mean by that. We have seen that children have enjoyed themselves very much in our house and garden the last couple of months. Some played outside with stones or balls, others played inside (without balls), some climbed in the trees in the garden, other picked fruits and nuts from the trees or the vegetable garden. Some played with year old nutshells they discovered in the grass. Some children discovered bugs for the first time in their lives and chased ants. Others played the piano and made real music. Hey, most of them even played with us. There were no children that were bored (as far as we could see). And yes at the same time there were a lot of things they couldn’t touch or at least not if they weren’t accompanied by a grown-up, preferably their parents. They could only play the piano while trying to play music, not just push on the buttons with a ball or any kind of object. Ideally accompanied by a parent if they were too young to understand this. These limitations sometimes/rarely made children cry, but isn’t life about getting to live with the limitations you are confronted with? You can push the limits, but there are limits.

Now the questions is: why do some parents think that if they come to a house with their children that a house is not child friendly when children aren’t allowed to consider everything that is in reaching distance a toy? I believe they think that because they are referring their feeling of discomfort to their children. Yes, it’s much easier for a parent to drop your child of in the ball arena of IKEA. You don’t have to worry about anything that might break (or anything they might break). Unfortunately visiting real people in real houses means that they can break both other peoples objects and can bump into something unexpected (like a table) themselves. It’s the real life, and the real life is just good enough for children, they can handle it perfectly, but probably  real life is a pretty scary and exhausting place for parents. 

So next time you as a parent want to label something child unfriendly, rethink and if necessary rephrase, reconsider if it’s really child unfriendly. Or is it just giving you as a parent a feeling of discomfort? Do you have to stand up a few more extra times to accompany your child in his/her discovery of the real world. If that’s the case then it’s probably more parent unfriendly and it has nothing to do with beeing child unfriendly. And then ask yourself what you expect the world to solve for you and what you can solve yourself. Probably everything around you will then look more friendly.

childfriendly2Yes, I might have a very idyllic view on how parenthood can be and how adaptable children are to new situations. And yes I might be wrong. So you might throw at me that I will sound differently one day when we might have children and our children are playing soccer with one of the ceramic 99 feelings of Artmind. But hey only time will tell so feel free to print this page and save it for that time that one day might come (or not). In the meantime I have seen enough differences between children and parents to be able to say that I think that most children enjoy themselves more in our house and garden than the ball arena of IKEA. I do think that the ball arena is more parent friendly than our house. 

The images used in this post are images of the “Poucette” exhibition for children in our local walnut museum. Copyright lies with them and the original illustrators.