parents

Are backyards really the key to a happy childhood?

You don’t need a backyard to come out in front.

Is it possible to have a wonderful childhood without a backyard? Does a backyardless family run the risk of creating children deficient in memories of tree climbing, trampolining and totem tennis? According to the Sydney Morning Herald, for the majority of children born in our major cities, the backyard is a thing of the past.

Census data has revealed that 50-60% of the freestanding houses in Australia’s middle suburbs are occupied by people in their 50s and older. They not only refuse to move, they have the hide to stay there until 75! Or older! This means that young families are having to live in tight suburban blocks, townhouses or apartments with little or no backyard!

boy backyard playing 2
Our romance for the backyard is more about the nostalgia of our childhood rather than the reality of our children’s. Image via iStock.

As a mother of five with a backyard, rarely visited by her children, might I suggest that our romance for the backyard is more about the nostalgia of our childhood rather than the reality of our children. This generation of kids don’t really like going outside. These are inside kids.

Ours was a childhood lived outside. We didn’t have ABC 2 or ABC 3. We didn’t have computers. We didn’t have mobile phones. We didn’t have after school activities. We also didn’t have a big hole in the ozone layer. If you consider exposure to UV rays, the backyard quite possibly poses some degree of health risk. You can’t get a melanoma watching Peppa Pig.

You can’t get a melanoma watching Peppa Pig.

I spent most of my childhood in the backyard because mum didn’t want me in the house messing up her stuff. Kids played outside, not because it was good for us – because it was good for them. Mum could drink Cinzano spritzers and read the Women’s Weekly, knowing her kids weren’t breaking anything.

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When I was a kid there was nothing to do inside. Unless you count reading the Children’s Bible or making paper dolls out of newspaper. And in an era when some parents still hit their kids, it was generally a good idea to stay just far enough away so they couldn’t get a preemptive whack in. Inside was where you went when you were being punished.

I have a suggestion for the backyard problem. Stop building such big houses! It seems house sizes have gone up at the same time the average building block has decreased. If you want a backyard, then don’t have so much house! And guess what, kids used to share their rooms! Sometimes four at a time!

The backyards of our past are no more. You would be lucky to find one that hadn’t been ‘blitzed’ within an inch of it’s life. Grass replaced by decking. A swimming pool. A kitchen herb garden. A zen garden of rocks with a Buddha head water feature. The backyards of our past featured a few old car bodies, an incinerator, a hills hoist, and lots and lots of dog poo. If you have a backyard these days I bet it’s been morphed into one of those ‘outdoor living areas’. Maybe a designer swing. But the space where the kids could have played backyard cricket will showcase a lap pool.

Backyard cricket
But what about the backyard cricket? Image via YouTube.

Families without backyards are forced to engage in activities that involve full parental participation. Mum and Dad can’t hide in the house peering at their brood poking spider holes with sticks. They have to drive you to the park, get out of the car and keep on the look out for strangers. These opportunities to get out of the house are actually quite wonderful, and for a backyardless family, will result in adventures to the beach, the local playground, ballet, or even just a quiet amble around the neighbourhood.

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Dogs don’t miss backyards. In my childhood – dogs lived outside. They never ever ever came into the house. Now dogs live in the house. They must think of dogs who live in backyards with sadness, imagining a life in exile with nothing but grass and dirt for comfort.

My children are scared of the backyard. It’s the place where snakes hide. Where a magpie nests. It’s hot. And scratchy. It involves a lot of work. Mowing, weeding, pruning, replanting, digging, carting, devising… In fact, to maintain a backyard you need a whole weekend. Every weekend. Forget trips to the beach or birthday parties. You have to put in the hard yard work. If baby boomers gave up on their backyards, in a few short months our middle city suburbs would be feral.

Kids with technology istock
Today’s kids are more than happy to stay indoors. Image via iStock.

Sometimes in winter I encourage the kids outside to sit by our outdoor fire to roast marshmallows. Sugar is always an effective bait to lure them from their lair. They saunter out, and sit obediently, strangely perplexed by a request that involves such a degree of discomfort, when only metres away the couch is waiting with their name on it.

In the end the kids sneak back to the safety of the great indoors, and my husband and I find ourselves finding solace in our backyard, drinking red wine, looking at the moon and chatting. Relieved to be out of the house, the place of our endless toil, at one with the suburban wilds. We talk about the future. How when the kids grow up and leave home we will have this 6 bedroom home and this beautiful garden to ourselves. And guess what? We’re not moving.

Do you think you need a backyard to be happy? 

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