Sunday, 4 October 2009

Too much too young?

I have just read this article on the Observer website about the Lemacons - a French family who were living their dream, sailing across the oceans in their 30 foot yacht in part to to show their two-year-old son, Colin, how wonderful life can be; that it doesn't have to be materialistic and that happiness can come from the simplest things.

The family were 1,000km off the Somalian coast when they were attacked by pirates. A French rescue mission went disastrously wrong and at the end two of the pirates and Florent Lemacon lay dead.

The couple knew the dangers of entering those waters, infamous for pirates. They had already met one sailor who had been held captive and then released. But they thought their enthusiasm, goodwill, common sense and adherence to the official advice and guidelines would keep them safe.

They were good people, but something bad happened to them. It was a tragedy and I was sorry to read about it.

But what really struck me was Chloe Lemacon's insistence that this was a trip they were undertaking especially for Colin who was two when they set off on their voyage and celebrated his third birthday shortly before his father's death. The article is illustrated with the photograph of Colin being grabbed by a French commando. That, I'm sure, is not the memory his parents envisaged when they set off on their voyage of a lifetime.

Chloe says: "We wanted to show him a different life – what is good in the world, but also the tougher things, like poverty. We wanted to show him different values."

He was two. What can a two-year-old learn of 'different values'? She also speaks of the difficulties of playing with a two-year-old as the boat was thrown around by huge waves.

Call me old fashioned, but is this a case of 'too much too young'? Why take the most important person in your life - your child - into such a potentially dangerous situation? Surely a two-year-old can be taught 'different values' at home when he's two? Why not save the globe trotting for a year or two when he is old enough to remember it and old enough to take a full part in the adventure. What is the hurry?

I also recall the tragedy of a family kayaking the Amazon, I think. The mother drowned trying to save her children who were aged three years and 18 months. Forgive me if I have remembered the details incorrectly, but I do remember thinking at the time, firstly how tragic and secondly: What were they doing kayaking the Amazon with an 18-month-old child?

My daughters - now seven and five - don't remember the holidays we took when they were two and three years old. They had a high old time at Center Parcs as babies and toddlers, they met and played with other children, but they don't remember it at all.

Surely a child's early years should be spent living the simple life. Learning things like walking and eating, playing with Lego and going to space in imaginary rockets made out of big cardboard boxes. Let the little ones play with mud in the back garden and get absolutely filthy. By all means take them sailing, but even just rowing across a lake in a little boat is a huge adventure for a two-year-old; it doesn't have to be sailing through the Suez Canal into recognisably dangerous waters.

The Lemacons had their dream and they had started to live it. The early part of the trip sounded wonderfully idyllic. But they sailed into a dangerous place and the ensuing rescue went badly wrong. It is a profoundly sad tale.

Maybe I am over protective, but I think children should be children. They should live their own dreams, not those of their parents. I don't hold with giving tiny children global 'experiences' just as I don't hold with mad schedules of baby yoga, singing, French, dancing and maths while they are still wearing nappies and on first name terms with the Teletubbies.

Can't we just let children be children? I understand the pressure of appearing to be the perfect parent. I remember too clearly an expedition we had one summer to take ours to a zoo, which they hated. All they wanted to do was run about on the grass and chase butterflies. Eventually we realised that, stopped trying to provide them with an 'experience' and just let them 'be'.


  1. Absolutely spot on.

    Some years ago I led some pretty scary kayak expeditions to Nepal and Asia - and I remember being gobsmacked at the amount of people out there treking and rafting with tiny children. My own children were very young at the time and there was no way Jane or they were coming. As it turned out many of us on one trip caught a nasty strain of dysentery - a very dangerous thing for small children days walking away from any help. And that is only a minor hazard in places like West Nepal.

    It is one thing to make calculated risks for yourself, but when you have children it is wrong to apply those judgements to them. In extreme cases the law actually intervenes -usually involving a refusal to accept medical help - but sometimes peoples irresponsibility in other areas is staggering.

  2. I know I was considered a very mean mummy but several parents as I wouldnt take our kids to Disney land in Paris when we lived in the UK . I reasoned that they were far too young to remember it and it wasn't something I thought would benefit them anyway. I still don't.

    One of things which made us choose France as our new home was our disatisfatction with a Uk where if one wasnt dragging ones offspring about to lessons or clubs every night of the week one was failing them.

    With only a very small knowledge of a very small part of a very big country in which we live here in Brittany the French are usually refreshingly sensible when it comes to children being allowed to be children. Ironic then that it is a French couple whose disastrious plans went so awry.

    I agree with Mark, sometimes peoples iresponsibility is stagering.

  3. Totally agree with you - surely early years are for being loved and nurtured and even the park or back garden is an adventure in itself?

    We too took our three year old to the zoo - only to find he ignored the huge delights of elephant and giraffe but loved the sparrows which pecked on the path in front of him. Elephants and giraffes of course he came across every day in his picture books but those common little birds were strangers. And no, he has no memory of the visit.

  4. Totally agree with you on this. It just sounds like the parents wanting their adventure and justifying it by saying they were doing it for their son. What a shame they were bottom of the league when it came to common sense being handed out.

    Under 6 or 7 years old, children have so few memories of holidays and "stuff" and they are far better just being allowed to be children. Bucket and spade holidays are the order of the day - not trekking in Nepal or white water rafting . . .

    The old adage, "More money than sense" springs to mind.

    Some would think my kids had a totally deprived childhood as we simply didn't have the money for lessons for this and that, and holidays were staying with Dorset friends or at my b-in-law's (but he did live near the seaside!) They appear to have survived into well-adjusted adulthood and don't hold the lack of Disney against me!

  5. Well said. I'm always amazed at the way people travel to far flung parts of the world and assume that if they follow the guidlines they will be safe from danger.

  6. Totally agree with you. Children miss out on the nearer things of life sometimes. Mine loved messing about in boats, climbing trees, all the child-things. We didnt take them anywhere much till they were old enough to benefit from the experience.

  7. Mags you have said it all here. I couldn't agree more. Let them learn at home using the experiences around them which are based in reality not force feeding them some western vision of what it is like to be poor, etc. Good for you! x

  8. We have relatives in my husband's family that run their children ragged. The children are always tired and cranky from swimming, kindergym,riding lessons, play dates and parties, and I'm sure would just love to stay home and relax more. I don't understand it at all. I was a nanny a long time ago where the mother left for overseas for a while, and the father worked very late hours.All these tasks were left to me to juggle, and I refused to take the children to ballet as it involved driving them on long dangerous winding roads through the hills in the dark of winter -so another mother took them.Unfortunately the children began to see these activites as their right, not a priviledge that may have been better appreciated in small doses.I agree with everything you've mentioned.I don't think people genuinely want to do wrong by their children, but you've hit the nail on the head, in that much is misguided.

  9. I'm not a parent unfortunately, Mags, but if I was I would hold my hand in the air with yours and shout "here, here". I totally agree with you.

    My childhood was spent at my grandparents' caravan - half terms, Easter, main summer hols.... where I met and played with a network of other kids on the site and we grew and learnt together, in a safe environment. I'm sure I wouldn't have learnt anything more if I had been in the Amazon or Timbuktu - people at home are still people who can teach the same lessons of piracy! And we could have faced danger in the sea off Somerset as well as any river Amazon........xx

  10. Well done for saying this. As a 71 year old mother of three and grandparent of nine - and an ex-teacher which is more significant to this message - all too often it is the parents who are living the life, and dragging their children along with them. Though I hasten to add that this is not a criticism of my own children and the lives they lead.

    The age of abstract understanding does not arrive much before seven or eight and as you say, playing on the beach or running through the long grass in a meadow and collecting ladybirds is far more adventurous and exciting than being dragged along in their parents' dream.

  11. Our three boys have grown up slowly and surely meeting each new stage of life with confidence but being allowed to have a childhood. Its so important to let them develop their own imaginations through play and life experience without having it all slapped in front of them on a plate.

  12. Very wise words, Preseli Mags. Difficult to say at what age children can meaningfully process experiences such as this, and I know it's different for every child but totally agree that two is WAY too young. A family I sort of know recently took their seven- and three-year old to the Middle East and into Palestine not long after the terrible bombardment of Gaza earlier this year. I'm not sure what the experience was supposed to be about for them, but sure as hell, it wasn't about the children.

  13. Couldn't agree with you more. Let children be children - the old adage that they're often happier with the box a present came in than the present itself etc. These people were either seriously deluded or just wrapping up their own inability to defer gratification inside a fatuous notion of child-rearing. Doesn't make it any less sad, but honestly people!


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