When I started thinking about what topic to choose for my next blog, I was drawn to the debate of Pushy Parenting. The more I thought about it, the more I realised that being a Pushy Parent (PP) is actually only half of the subject. The other half involves the Living Through Our Child Parent (LTOCP) and that is where it gets interesting. What line do we have to cross to become one, the other or a mixture of both? Is taking a relaxed approach to our children’s accomplishments and attributes also taking a negligent approach?
In the very early years of parenthood, most especially at sports days, I was incredibly focused and conscious of not entering the pushy camp. It was farcical that one would even venture towards becoming a PP however, they could easily be spotted on the sidelines. Even school announcements requested “that parents refrain from wearing spikes in the Parent Race”!! However, as the years progressed and I witnessed my elder two children becoming willing and able competitors, I started to realise that my children might not be classroom geniuses but they were actually quite good at a number of sports. In turn, I had to become more conscious of staying on the right side of the PP line whilst still actively encouraging them in their abilities and strengths. It was tough! They began to collect various medals, rosettes and trophies proving their prowess and we, as a family, started to thrive on their successes. We even ventured into tongue in cheek conversations along the lines of swimming in the Olympics or playing rugby for their country! Whether this equates to being ‘pushy’, I am not wholly sure but I liked to think of it more as positive assurances that they could win or, at the least, give it their best shot!
What makes me laugh is that all this happened before our eldest daughter was 9 years old. It is now much more apparent that when children hit this milestone, they become acutely conscious of what they enjoy as an individual and where they want to focus their attention. Not only are they maturing but so too are their strengths, talents and accomplishments. However, parental power and influence means that many a child is unable to be free spirited and relaxed. It is at this time that children hit a wall whereby they feel pressured to pursue avenues that they possibly would not choose for themselves. The sheer dedication and determination of parents who have committed their time and energy, mixed with the belief that their child can and will succeed culminates in disaster as far as the eye can see. Possibly, alongside this element of parenting is when Living Through Our Child syndrome is introduced. This can be merged with a child who starts to feel guilty that they may let their parents down if they do not succeed. In all honesty, do we want our children being led to believe that they are achieving for the sake of us, their parents, or is it healthier for them to be succeeding for themselves and their own satisfaction? I think the later!
As parents, we are scared. We are getting older and wiser. We are reflecting back on years passed, what we achieved and because, possibly, we didn’t achieve to our full potential, we put the pressure on our children to do it for us. We believe we have an insight into how success can be made and, with the best intentions in the world, we desperately want our children to get the most out of the world they are living and to do this they need to be successful. We are a nation of achievers and we are putting our children under undue pressure to walk before they can run. Whether it be sporting, academic or musical talents we are losing sight of what our children stand for as little people and jeopardising our relationship with them. Of course, we all want the best of everything for our children. We want them to have a fulfilled life but this can easily be lost in wasted time and energy whereby the entire family unit is saturated by a pace of life that bypasses the little things.
In all honesty, when did we as adults recognise our strengths? There are exceptions to the rule but in general, our strengths mature and develop over our lifetime. At the age of 40, I am still learning what I can achieve. Experiences and situations throughout my life have enabled me to discover new and varied skills. Why indeed are we expecting our children to develop not only their personalities, but their talents in a matter of a handful of years? Surely, we should accept that they too will discover them along the path of life. We do not have to throw every club, pursuit, sport, musical instrument, academic subject at them or expect them to pick up our lives where we left off. Of course we can guide and encourage them but let us not become a culture of pushing children to strive for limits that are detrimental to their childhoods. What we become negligent of is their innocence and we use our influence to turn them into status symbols that need to excel and exceed on every level. We pitch them against other children and we strive for acceptance, not from them, but from our own fellow contemporaries. Whilst we expect our children to arrive home with trophies, we are using them as our trophies. Did any one of us embark on parenthood with the notion that we would push them to limits we ourselves would struggle to achieve?
Schooling can have a huge impact on children and the environment in which they are educated has a lot to answer for in terms of a child’s development. In my view, primary school is exactly that… a priming period. It is ideally a few years of building basic skills in literary, maths and elementary life skills. It is a time for children to thrive, be nurtured, develop friendships and start to learn about themselves and what lies ahead in the world ahead. Secondary school obviously releases their independence and, in turn, they become more mature, responsible individuals who are more secure in where their strengths and weaknesses lie. The transition from Primary to Secondary education is a period that has become pressurised and stressful in many families lives. There is an enormous demand for schools and this results in children literally being hot-housed in order to achieve placements into recognised and exceptional schools. The notion of the children being faced with the reality of living within the premise of this particular school is overlooked and the pressure intensifies not on us, but on them. Do their results and achievements at this level of education reflect on us as better parents?
Personally, I still have a great deal to learn on the parenting front and each year new challenges arise. I do believe, however, that eventually, through trial and error all children will find themselves. I would like to think that whatever they do in life, we will stand by them and be passionate, proud and encouraging. Maybe we should dismiss the notion of PPs or even LTOCPs and fly the flag for PPEPs.
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