Our sons willingly agreed to a National Trust walk. Is it Stockholm syndrome?

Being in lockdown during the winter, with young children, brings new challenges in terms of keeping them occupied. They would happily play on their consoles all day, every day, and I would in fact have a much easier weekend if I allowed them to do that. But then I have that nagging feeling that their brains are being dissolved, and that one day in the future, the police will notify me that my son has gone on a gun rampage that they have traced back to the day during the second lockdown in 2020 when they were allowed to play Grand Theft Auto.

What this means is that I tell the boys we are all going for a walk a bit later on, and they say that’s fine, because when you are six years old, “later on” feels like an eternity away. When it’s 9am, “this afternoon” feels like it will never arrive; you have oceans of time to relax and kill people on screen.

Then “this afternoon” rolls up on you by surprise, and your parents tell you that it’s time to go for that walk, and you decide to scream as if you are being assaulted, shouting that this is not fair, and you don’t understand why we have to walk all the time, and we went for a walk last week, and your friends aren’t ever made to walk, and that this is a breach of your human rights.

Because the National Trust places are all open, we have taken to visiting various gardens near us. I really don’t know what we’re expecting from the children. When they appear bored by looking at bushes, we tell them to stop moaning and enjoy it, but to be honest, if our nine-year-old started remarking on how wonderful a garden walk was, I might find it slightly creepy.

What tends to happen instead is that we get annoyed at three children for not enjoying an outing that is not aimed at them, and that we forced them to go on. It feels unreasonable, to say the least. Then my wife will say, “Well, maybe if some people were a little bit more positive about this trip, we would have enjoyed it more.” There will be a frosty atmosphere in the car on the way home. Such is the joy of the lockdown excursion.

But a couple of weeks ago, something changed. We managed to get them into the car without any complaints. We had a walk with only three arm-punch-related incidents. On the way home, we all talked about how pleasant it had been. Last week, something even more remarkable happened: the kids asked us when we were going for our walk.

Had we actually managed to do something right, parenting-wise? Had we educated our children in the value of a walk in beautiful scenery, a supremely middle-class pursuit that I, in fact, had first to be trained by my wife to appreciate? The early days of our relationship saw numerous Sunday afternoons in which I lay on the sofa, while my wife asked me what we were going to do with the day, and I explained that I was actually doing it. Then she would explain walking to me and that some people do it, not to get to a destination, but to take a circuitous route that brings them back to where they started, in what I would describe as a complete lack of appreciation of the fact that life is short.

What’s far more likely is that, in some sort of lockdown Stockholm syndrome, the boys have decided it’s far easier to accept their fate; they were merely asking when we were going in order to mentally prepare themselves for the ordeal. Either way, we won.