As parents we like to think we know what’s best for our children. We want them to have a good start. With our benefit of hindsight, we don’t want them to make the same mistakes we did. But ‘knowing what’s best’ is a spectrum, one end of which is occupied by the unpleasantly Pushy Parent. At what point does pushing your child stop being for their benefit and start being detrimental? It’s a tricky area for parents to manouevre in and one that’s perhaps impossible to get right.
Every Saturday morning my 5-year-old daughter has a drama class. Fifty per cent of the time she’ll happily dress herself in the kit and bounce off down the road. The other fifty per cent she will cry, refuse to get changed and spend an inordinate amount of time sitting on the toilet to avoid going. On those weeks – and following a long battle – she will finally get ready and leave on the condition that if she says she still doesn’t want to go when we get there then she can come home again. Invariably, she is coaxed by the teacher to stay and will bound out at the end of the class having had a wonderful time. Kids don’t know what’s good for them.
Or do they? I feel for her entirely. She’s not being completely irrational (for once). It wasn’t until recently that I realised quite how much like me she is. I’ve always described myself as a closet extrovert – some people never see the extrovert whilst others would never believe the introvert existed. When I tell people that my daughter is shy no one can quite believe it. Nor can I. The little girl I see dancing, singing, bossing and going bonkers at home turns out to be quite different from the little girl in the classroom. She’s like me and this is not what I want for her.
I remember very clearly how hard it was to put my hand up in class. Even at university I would sit silently in seminars afraid to put myself forward in case I got it wrong. What remains now is a real sense of frustration at what could have been had I just had the guts. Maybe I could’ve been an astronomer had I not been afraid to take a degree course that involved going on field trips abroad. (Now I press my nose against the velux window in the loft room and look up.) Tempting as it is, I don’t want to live ‘my life that wasn’t’ vicariously through my daughter – that would be just plain selfish. What I do want though is for her never to have to look back and wonder what she could’ve done had she not been shy.
It’s hard to persuade a child to be brave – that it’s okay to get things wrong. They don’t have to be perfect. After all, mistakes help us learn. Children naturally seek comfort so why should they push uncomfortable boundaries? How far parents should push those boundaries for them is not an easy question to answer. There is a point where you must stop and ask yourself why you are pushing and who you are pushing for. If it’s for yourself then hopefully the bad parenting klaxon will sound and knock you squarely on the head.
Whilst my daughter continues to dash out of the drama class bursting to tell me what she’s been doing – the earlier tears a distant memory – I will continue to push her to go. It’s painful to see her cry but each time she will take a little step towards being brave enough to go out and grab life by the horns. And I’m tremendously proud of her.