As a very imperfect parent, who tries bloody hard but never quite feels that that is enough I’m always a sucker for a news story about the failing of parents. So I found the comments by MP Claire Perry today interesting. She is David Cameron’s advisor on childhood and she was asserting that parents today stifle their children with too many activities, leaving them unable to fend for themselves in later life.
She says mothers are the problem and we ‘baby’ our children but with all this helicopter parenting we’re not keeping an eye on the real evil in our children’s world, the internet. We are not well enough informed to warn them of the dangers. Apparently. Predictably Mumsnet has commented, saying that parents are pretty much just too tired and trying hard to do a decent job to be stifling their kids. That’s certainly the view you’d get if you spent any time on Mumsnet. Which, I understand, many do.
Personally I agree with a lot of what she says. I do think that filling every waking moment of a child’s life with an ‘activity’ and hovering over them in case they make a mistake or heaven forbid hurt themselves is pretty nuts. Many of my happiest childhood memories are of days spent in the woods building camps with my sisters and cousins, or scrumping apples on bike rides with my Dad. My mother was the antithesis of a helicopter parent, I’ve said it before. My parents never had organised activities for us, unless you include long summers spent playing in pub gardens drinking Panda cola and eating salt and vinegar crisps or walks in the countryside where we’d run off and play the ‘witch game’ or some other creation of our imaginations. Or of course the bike rides my dad took us, and any other friends or relatives who happened to be staying, on. They were very responsible parents and they were brilliant but their lives did not revolve exclusively around ours. And that’s as it should be. I loved my childhood, I was very lucky.
When I lost my mother at 16 years old I was devastated (that hardly comes close to how I felt actually) but I had the wherewithal to get by and I made a pretty good go at ‘getting by’ as it happens. That’s because I could, I had the natural ability to survive without the need for someone to tell me how. I lived in a shared flat by 19 years old and by 22 I’d bought my own flat in London. I’m not asking for recognition, but I’m asking if that would have been different had I had a helicopter parent? Maybe.
Much of the guilt I feel as a mother is bound up in my resistance to hover over my children’s every moment and somehow that makes me feel like a bad parent. I want them to have experiences that will shape them and I want them to discover and learn independently of me as well as with me. As a working mother I don’t really have the choice to hover anyway, and I hope that this is giving them independence.
So perhaps I should celebrate finding redemption from an unlikely source, a conservative MP. Weird huh? Maybe my imperfect parenting skills will give my children resilience and resourcefulness when they are older. I read somewhere today that you must listen to the little things your little children say otherwise when they get older they won’t tell you the big things, because to them it’s always been big. I certainly listen to them, I write most of it down.
All that said I do genuinely enjoy spending ‘active’ time with my girls. Time where I’m involved in games with them, making stuff, cooking, drawing, exploring in the woods, playing catch or anything else really. Those are the times I really feel close to them, I feel like I am 100% present in their lives and really being their mother in a way that will mould and shape them. The exhilaration of these moments is quite unlike anything I ever felt before having them and leaves me happy at the end of the day. It’s the considerable credit to the shouty mother debit.
Today was one such day. After a shaky start where we were all a bit fractious, we went to Bocketts Farm and spend several hours feeding the animals, playing on the bumpy slide and a really wonderful 1/2 hour at the end of the day with just the 3 of us on the big bouncing pillow playing catch and ‘let’s push over Mummy’. It was the closest thing to heaven that happens in my life. And I hope they will remember it that way too. These days it’s less about building camps in the woods and more about purpose built children’s play areas. The irony is not lost on me, but it’s the reality of the world we now live in.
I’m certainly no paragon of parenting virtue, I’m pretty hopeless most of the time and I’m almost permanently wracked with the sort of guilt that should make me a very good Catholic, only I’m not a Catholic, so I have no idea where it comes from. And actually the single biggest thing I miss about not having my mother is not being able to ask her advice when I’m really struggling to hold it all together.
Because if I loved her so much she must have done something right and I just wish I knew what that was. I always get the feeling that she’d make it all better.