Last week my man and I found ourselves in North Yorkshire, visiting a beautiful medieval castle.
We entered the little shop in order to pay for our entry. A six-year old girl and a slightly older boy were standing there, holding their loot.
‘Move aside!’ Mum said to the boy hurriedly, leading him with her arm. ‘The lady and gentleman need to get in.’
‘That’s very kind’, I replied with a smile. ‘We are just queuing here to pay, there is plenty of room.’
‘Oh sorry,’ She smiled apologetically ‘My kids are spending their pocket money. Sorry’
‘Your kids look lovely and we have time.’ I replied. ‘No need to apologise.’
‘I’d like one of these bags Mummy, please, pleasssssse, I have enough money!’ pleaded the boy, pointing to a canvas bag behind the till.
‘That’s fine, you can have it’ said Mum. ‘It’s a nice bag.’
Turning towards us again she added ‘I’m really sorry to keep you waiting.’
‘Actually, we are enjoying watching your kids’ I said with a smile. ‘They are so lovely’.
‘Can I have a bag too?’ joined the girl. ‘Please?’
‘Oh’, Said Mum, looking back at us. ‘Would you like to go ahead before us? We are taking so much of your time’
‘No need, thanks, we’re not in a hurry’ I replied, getting secretly more and more annoyed.
Two minutes and ten apologies later, they were on their way out. ‘You have great kids’, I reassured Mum. ‘You must be so proud’.
It was clear that Mum had the very best intentions, but I was still left wondering- what kind of message are these two children getting? That they are in the way? That they shouldn’t take anyone’s time or space? That they need to be excused for existing?
And why did Mum feel such a need to apologise? Perhaps it is because many of us expect children to behave like mini-adults, having a quiet voice and perfect manners, getting on with things quickly and effectively, being barely seen and certainly not heard? I haven’t seen parents apologising for their children in this way in any other culture. It seems to me that here in the UK, children are expected to conform to adult behaviour standards very early in their lives. Surely, children and families pay an emotional price for this?