London - There is a new pocket-money reward chart up on the wall in our kitchen. Alongside the predictable chores like “make your bed”, “clear the table” and “don’t shout when I ask you to stop playing Minecraft on the computer”, is “do one kind thing today”.
This has confused the fearsome foursome. “What do you mean exactly by ‘kind’?” asks Gracie-in-the-middle, ten. She is naturally suspicious.
“Do something for someone else. Be helpful without being asked,” I reply. There is some eye-rolling.
“Bit touchy-feely, isn’t it?” my 11-year-old concludes cynically. “I’m glad you are touched by it and you will feel good doing it,” I say sternly. It’s best to adopt a “never explain, never apologise” stance with pre-teens.
My son, aged seven, mutters something about kindness not involving sharing his Hobnobs.
Our wallchart has made a reappearance after weeks of neglect, mostly due to a lack of parental input which meant we appeared to be paying them pocket-money to be rebellious, messy, noisy, homework-avoiders who never pull the chain.
“Oh, how lovely,” a friend of mine remarks when she sees the “kind thing” chore on the list. I have to sit her down and explain it’s not lovely at all.
It’s much more important than “lovely”. It’s about survival.
I’m craftily laying the groundwork for a more bearable old age, one in which I fantasise that Mr Candy and I hit the OAP jackpot to become one of the few couples not abandoned by our offspring.
“How cross do you think this generation of mollycoddled, over-mothered youngsters will be when they discover the hostile outside world is nowhere near as nice as Hotel Mum & Dad?” I ask my baffled friend.
“They’ll be furious and in shock. They’ll want revenge. We’ll be dumped in a falling-down old people’s home with nothing but our cheap wigs and even cheaper booze for company.”
My friend looks confused. She is yet to become a parent. “Listen, we’ve somehow come to believe there is no greater good than being a parent. As a result, we’ve put children on a pedestal and we’ve accidentally created an army of pampered little ones whose childhood has been bubble-wrapped.
“They wear helmets to ride scooters, for goodness sake and eat free-range broccoli. They can barely make toast by the time they’re ten. We’re raising kids more precious than Beverly Hills chihuahuas.”
The plan behind the act of daily kindness is a feeble bid to train my four youngsters’ brains into doing stuff for other people — amateur neuroscience if you will.
Hopefully, it’s possible that if they do enough kind things it will become like riding a bike and happen automatically without thinking, then perhaps they will look more kindly on us in our dotage.
I could have hideously and unfairly misjudged my lot, of course. They may be planning a mink-lined old age for their mum and dad and saving their pocket-money for it as I type.
But it’s a conundrum right now. Children tend to be at the centre of our worlds today, which in turn ironically makes them more inclined to be self-centred. My children are certainly more spoilt than I was. They’ve come to expect a level of intense care due to the trend towards helicopter parenting.
And I find myself bowing to the pressure to conform to this expectation of over-nurturing when I am with other protective mums.
Earlier this week, I watched a fellow mum’s eyeballs practically pop out of her head when she witnessed my four on a trampoline together with a tennis ball.
They looked like they were having fun and it seemed safe enough to me.
But she felt I was reckless and somehow uncaring to let them play this way.
But how will they learn about life’s physical and emotional challenges if they never face them?
How will they learn empathy in unpredictable situations if we lead them to believe in the Disney version of life?
It’s possible this much caring in childhood means they will be super-caring in adulthood, or it’s possible they will just expect everyone to be as mindful of them as Mum and Dad are. Which clearly won’t happen.
In the meantime the kindness experiment has started.
All we have to do now is negotiate what it’s worth in pocket-money.
Any ideas? - Daily Mail
* Lorraine Candy is editor of Elle magazine.