Sometimes parents are the worst people to bring up their own children. Over-invested, over-emotional, over-protective and over-competitive, we can go to great lengths to ensure that our gifted and unique children do not have to suffer the trauma of being stonkingly bored and occasionally directionless, take responsibility for personal injury, make self-determined important life decisions and above all strain their brain against the angst and agony of critical thinking.
Babies these days seem to hit the ground running but remain attached to the umbilical cord till middle adulthood surrounded by a thick impenetrable bubble of parental narcissism, all in a misguided attempt to make them secure and successful. These kids are enrolled in ridiculously expensive, highly nurturing super-schools well before conception, placement guaranteed with a holding fee the size of a Kevin Rudd stimulus package. Much gestational time is now devoted to an arts education in the womb, reading the Classics and playing Mozart (my kids came out humming the theme from EastEnders and fully cognizant of the twists and turns of a Stephen King novel).
I hate to burst your bubble-wrap but a business-class birth and exclusive breastfeeding for fifteen years does not create a super-race. Extended tummy-time for babies just makes them feel like puking up, quality day-care does not produce deviants, preschool is for socializing not achieving and Baby Einstein DVD’s do not produce Baby Einsteins.
Anxious, hovering parents produce anxious guilt-ridden children. This international phenomenon is known in America as Lawnmower Parenting, where parents mow down all obstacles in their child’s path (perhaps it should be called Machine Gun Parenting), in Sweden it’s called Curling Parenting where a wide-angled broom is used to vigorously scrub and remove the normal biffs and bumps of life and widely acknowledged as Helicopter Hovering in Australia. Then there are Humpty-Dumpty Parents, too afraid to let their eggs sit on a wall in case they fall off and can’t be put back together again.
My advice as an older and mouldier mother is to let go. Sit back at playgroup with a cup of coffee (instant will do), interact with the other Mums and stop swooping on your child each time they look back at you with a quivering lower lip. Stop guiding your child’s hands from behind when they finger-paint – it’s supposed to be a mess, not a Monet. Your pre-schooler’s Christmas craft toilet roll decoration is not a university assignment and there are no high distinctions given at Kindergarten level.
Let them get sticky and dirty, wear paint and glitter, fall over, tear their clothes, even skin their knees and pick themselves up again and again and again. Part of being a child is looking the part. You don’t need to take your child to see a clinical psychologist because they throw a tantrum and won’t share with others. It’s highly embarrassing for control freak Mums, but completely normal behaviour and a chance to have a good snigger at someone else’s expense for a change.
For the Black Hawk Helicopter parenting demographic there is a whole new world of designer protective gear. Tiny crash helmets and mini knee-pads are now available for all those adrenaline junky, risk-taking eight to eighteen month olds with a proclivity for base-jumping or sky-diving off the family couch. Good luck to the mothers though; on a hot day, I couldn’t get my toddlers to wear underpants or a vest, let alone a chain-mail grow-suit designed to deflect a full metal jacket. Baby-wipe warmers are popular too, although there’s nothing like slapping a cold flannel against a howling baby’s bottom to make it stop short in its tracks and rethink the crying game.
I was born in Britain circa 1962 and my mother used to feed me spoonfuls of cement to harden me up so I could run to school in the freezing rain, negotiating lollypop-man-free traffic without the benefit of a surgically inserted microchip and GPS. When we arrived in Australia I was six and, having been primed by my mother for enduring extreme conditions, used to walk miles in the blistering heat, in bare feet, with no sunscreen, no hat, no water bottle and surprisingly – no worries, just great memories.
Unlike the neurotic neighbour who would chase her two-year-old daughter up and down our street at six o’clock in the morning with a bowl of porridge in one hand and a temperature regulating spoon in the other trying to help her eat her breakfast.
It’s quite easy to go from helpful to hovering to hindering and even harassing. We have friends who schooled their toddlers in language, science and math every day. When I tried I ended up at a parent help centre crying hysterically because my four year old daughter (who is now a creative chef at a top restaurant) could not colour in between the lines.
Egg-shell parenting eventually leads to them and us cracking up. Children need to run with the wolves and even run with scissors occasionally. I know one single-mother who studied for her post-graduate degree with one eye on her books and the other on her two free-range children playing around a large, deep pond. When she asked her now adult children if she was a neglectful parent, they answered back that they’d had the greatest time ever.
And it’s more than OK for your kids to be mind-numbingly bored at times. That’s when TV and a bag of crisps can work wonders for the soul.
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PsychCentral (April 17, 2010)
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Last reviewed: 17 Apr 2010