Does Mummy know best? No not always. But most try their utmost, as do most fathers, to raise their progeny to be respectful of people and property; to know right from wrong but still have a sense of fun; to laugh, and to cry, sometimes at the same time; to value hard work despite seeing the lucky few who seem to score top marks without sweating anything. In toto they hope their children will be good citizens of whatever world they have been born into, with hopes, dreams, joy and integrity.
Thoughts on parenting have been brought to the fore after reading horror stories about ‘precious’ and ‘precocious’ children, and the rising impatience of ordinary men and women tired of being labelled ‘uncaring’ and ‘out of touch’ as far as the raising of the next generation.
Parenting is meant to be instinctive, but it isn’t always, certainly in those early hormone-filled days of crying, feeding and nappy changing. However once the pattern of your new life is set, most of parenting is common sense and learning to trust ourselves, whilst accepting we might make the odd mistake. And we follow what we learnt from our parents. The ‘how-to’ books are useful guidelines but not to be slavishly followed at the risk of losing sight of reality, both that of the child and the parent.
Children are noisy, grubby, time-consuming, and expensive but heart wrenchingly the most rewarding aspect of a parent’s life. That does not though mean they are the be-all and end-all of our lives. I was reminded of this when I watched as my daughter reprimanded her daughter. The infringement was minor, as most are in a two-and-a-half year old’s life, but a pattern of accepted behaviour was being set. As my granddaughter wailed at being on the ‘naughty step’ my daughter commented, “I’m not meant to call it that apparently. ‘Time out’ is what the books say.” She heaved her pregnant self up onto a stool at the kitchen counter, had a sip of decaf coffee and continued, “Which actually makes sense. A time out for both us I suppose.”
And she’s right. Children should naturally be the focus of their parent’s lives. It is our responsibility to nurture and protect them but parents also need time off. Time to recalibrate and recharge. Constant parental approval does not always create a happier child. Oftentimes instead a monster toddler turns into a teenager imbued with a strong sense of entitlement and not particularly pleasant to be around.
I, like most of us, learnt parenting on the job, stumbling sometimes from misstep to misstep. I struggled with patience, and sometimes lost the struggle. I struggled with the brain-numbing sameness of school – the cycle of homework, plea bargains, tears and sometimes tantrums from either my children or myself.
But we had fun too. School holidays were joy. Lazy mornings with no agenda. No routine, and spur of the moment decisions to take a train, a car, and occasionally a plane to somewhere, anywhere. They learnt, almost by osmosis, never to point their feet at a Buddha image; that poverty is cruel and hurtful but that our guilt does not make it go away; that beauty and fun sometimes come from the simplest of things; and that shouting louder does not make a foreigner understand your words but that sign language and a smile go a long way in intercultural exchanges.
Children, I believe along with most people, need to be loved unconditionally but in order to turn into good global citizens they also need to have boundaries. Limits, which are naturally pushed: an extra ten minutes play time, another story before lights out, just one more biscuit, half an hour later than normal curfew, and so on are the negotiables of life, and where we begin to learn the art of compromise. Rudeness, intractability, and a sense of entitlement and privilege are the non-negotiables.
If I cast my mind back to my childhood in Africa and Asia many years ago, the behaviour most guaranteed to invoke the ire of my mother was the cheeking of an amah, a gardener, a driver – people all there, I was reminded, helping make my life easier. Playground skirmishes were, mostly, sorted out by the protagonists. Borders were learnt not to be crossed by the administering of sharp reprimands, an explanation and occasionally a slap on the thigh.
I am not advocating corporal punishment though I certainly used it; I think we have all come a long way since then but children, regardless of who is bringing them up, need to know how far they can go in order to find their moral compass. And they will not find that if their parents do not check them. And they will not find that if the MCF (My Child First) brigade, as Catherine Ostler in the Daily Mail calls a new breed of parent, insist no-one else reprimand their offspring, be it grandparent, teacher, or the woman nearly mown down on the street by a toddler zooming by on a trike.
Before the birth of my granddaughter, my daughter asked me the hardest thing about being a parent. I said, “Consistency!” In, I like to think a jocular manner, she replied, “Well you were great then. You were consistently horrid!”
I am delighted she is showing loving consistency in her parenting.
Just occasionally Mummy does know best!