Business columnist, with a political twist, for NZ Herald

Happy childhood, happy life?


The famous American satirist Kinky Friedman, who penned Cowboy Logic and other quirky works, once wrote "A happy childhood... is the worst possible preparation for life."

In fact there have been a great many philosophers who have come to the same conclusion, including Dylan Thomas, who famously said "there's only one thing worse than having an unhappy childhood - and that's having a too-happy childhood".

Thomas was reportedly indulged by his parents and wrote most of his best stuff while under their comforting, watchful eyes. On moving away from home, he was unprepared for what life outside the family nest threw at him and he died a wretched alcoholic at the age of 40.

It is annoying for children to constantly be reminded of what they've got compared with what their parents had - "You don't know you're alive, we never had X, Y and Z when I was a child!" - and yet, it is almost impossible to avoid saying this to today's crop of young kids.

Because even though many members of Generation X had comfortable, happy unbringings, our mothers did not have, as their focus, the specific goal of making their children happy.

Today, we fret about giving our kids an enjoyable life. We want them to look back on their youth with a fond glow of contentment. Nothing wrong with it, I suppose, but it's a hell of a lot of effort for something that, many people believe, could ultimately backfire.

While praise and positive encouragement is what we are all encouraged to do these days, does it really make for better adults? Or does it create children who grow up into a world that can never value and "appreciate" their unique talents the way the parental units do, and so cause a lot of misery?

I was pondering this the other day again when I went to get my son out of the car and he started whining about a blow-up crocodile he'd seen at the $2 shop, and wanted, and whinged about, all the way home.

Toddlers are famous for their repetitious banging on about sundry things, but this really made me blow a fuse. Here was a child who has a steady stream of interesting things to do and see, nice toys to play with, and lots of time to play.

I had just interviewed Petra Bagust about a trip to Cambodia where toddlers had nothing to eat, no toys, and were often raised by sickly grandmothers and great-grandmothers.

I told him: boy, you are damned lucky. My parents never blah blah blah... if Í'd whined for something they would have etc. etc. ... I was lucky to even get x, y, z... and so on.

He listened quite patiently to my rant and then said: "So Mum, can I get the crocodile?"


Don't get me wrong, children should be encouraged and listened to, and loved, of course. Most of us do this in spades as it is. And I don't think the Cambodian children will be better for having severe adversity in their lives - if they even make it to adulthood.

But we have to face facts - many of our pooches are overly pampered.

Will we then have failed to fulfil our most important function - ie. preparing them to tackle life in all its wondrous and harsh forms?

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Business columnist, with a political twist, for NZ Herald

Dita De Boni is a columnist, commentator and TV producer/journalist. She first wrote columns for the NZ Herald in 1995, moving to daily business news in 1999 for four years, and then to TVNZ in Business, News and Current Affairs. After tiring of the parenting/blogging beat for the Herald Online she moved back to her first love, business (with a politics chaser), writing a column for Friday Business since 2012.

Read more by Dita De Boni

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