Wednesday, 8 June 2011

Perfect parenting? The cougar is bailing out of the race...

Gossip Girl Taylor Momsen blames her parents'
ambitions for her unhappiness
In the news I see that a nine-year-old boy has climbed to 1000 feet, all alone, in a hot air balloon, setting a new world record..  A four-year-old’s art work is exhibiting in New York.. and of course we had the lovely little Ronan Parkes singing his little heart out on Britain's Got Talent. 

I should probably feel warmed by these tales of  young success. But for some reason I don't. To me, they feel like yet more evidence of the new culture of overly pushy and ambitious parenting - and I'm just not convinced that the children are, ultimately, going to thank them for it.

Of course, for anyone who wants to justify subjecting their children to an intense regime of  extra curricular music lessons, sports academies and tutoring, the recent press coverage given to Chinese parenting techniques has been heaven sent.  “Look,” they can say. “Those Chinese parents keep their children locked to a piano for three hours at a stretch. And they scream at them if they get an A-minus, and not a straight A..  If we don’t do the same, our children will clearly achieve nothing in life...”

So even more yummy mummies all over the country are now running themselves ragged, dragging their equally exhausted kids to the next session in self-improvement before coming home, collapsing on the sofa with a large glass of Chablis, and patting themselves on the back for being such good parents, and sacrificing so much time, money and energy for their children.

But somehow I sense that all the classes and coaching sessions that dominate the columns of family calendars up and down the country are not really done for our children’s benefit  and futures – but rather to increase the parents' own sense of self worth.

With so many women leaving having children until they are older and more established in their careers, new mothers these days are used to working hard at it from 9-5, and feel more at "home" in the competitive cut and thrust of the workplace, than they are at, well, home. The most ‘active’ helicopter parenting that I have witnessed has been in the more upmarket London suburbs, where the yummy mummies have left high pressured jobs in fashion/marketing/PR/finance to look after their children. Robbed of their 9-5 disciplines, and maybe feeling slightly guilty for no longer bringing in their share of the household income, they clearly feel the need to prove just how good they are at their latest project - child raising - and throw all of their time and energy into it.

In the absence of a promotion or pay rise, or a pat on the back from the boss, they now gain their rewards from climbing the ladder in the playground, and from being able to bask in the reflected glory of their children’s achievements:  “Oh, my Oscar did GCSE science in year three...  Yes, I started taking him to this wonderful tutor as soon as he was old enough to hold a test tube …”

Maybe I’m just bitter that, as a busy working mum with no nanny around to help out, I simply wasn't able to leave a meeting at 2.30 in order to ensure my daughter made it to ballet/drama/extra Latin in time.  Maybe, one day, my children will return home and berate me for the fact that they can’t speak four languages, execute a neat pas de deux, or entertain their friends with a Grade 8 piano recital? But somehow I don’t think so. They have found their own passions and talents along the way, without me pushing or even steering them in any particular direction.

And, if I need any more reassurance that a busy child isn't necessarily a happy child, a study by clinical psychiatrist Dr Levine, has found that children of affluent parents are more likely to suffer from depression and anxiety than normal teenagers. Why? Because they are struggling to please their over ambitious parents. 

So maybe my lax parenting is perfect parenting after all! All I know is that my kids seem perfectly happy – and to me that’s the main thing. And if the Chinese – or even the yummy mummies - think I’ve failed them, frankly I don’t care.

What do YOU think? Please post your comments below…