Tag Archives: self esteem

The fine line of pushy parenting

22 Feb

Little Miss Shy

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.

Pretty in pink: is my daughter doomed?

6 Feb
 Yellow Moon

Photo credit: Yellow Moon

According to government minister Jenny Willott in a debate today, pink toys are damaging the economy. Damaging it? Going by the number of pink toys in shops I’d say they’re supporting it. But Ms Willott was referring to something much more sinister and long-term. She argues that pink toys are steering girls away from careers in engineering and the sciences and therefore businesses are missing out on “vital talent”.  Toys – and the associated stereotypes – are to blame for the gender gap.

This puts me in a quandary. I’m not happy with the way toys are marketed at boys and girls. Lego Friends leaves a bad taste in my mouth. However, I resent the suggestion that my 5-year-old daughter’s future success will be mapped out for her by the toys she plays. If I listen to what was said in today’s debate then she’s doomed! I might as well start my search for a rich husband for her now. Like many first-time parents, I started off adamant that pink plastic and sparkles were not going to become part of our household. Yet 5 years on, my daughter last night set up a mini hair salon in her bedroom and I happily let her brush my hair and smudge lipstick across my face. The pink flood inevitably sweeps into your home, regardless of how much parental sand-bagging you do.

Am I worried that she’s going to think she can’t achieve a professorship in astrophysics? No. Am I going to thrust Meccano at her and make her play with it goddammit? No, I’m not. Of course I’d rather she got a buzz from building a 6-foot replica of the Forth Bridge in Lego. Of course I find bottles of Princess Aurora perfume and hair braiding sets intensely annoying in the way they reinforce gender stereotypes -but my daughter likes them. She has a little brother so there are plenty of ‘boys’ toys and ‘girls’ toys in our house – she can play with whatever she likes. Giving children free rein to choose what they play with is positively advocated. If my daughter that day chooses her Lego Friends café over a Lego digger then who am I to stop her?

When I look at the toys she plays with that are supposedly ‘girlie’ I see much more than a future vision of her propping up a nail bar. Take Hama beads for example: fairly girlish, arty, pretty, plenty of pink beads for budding princesses. But there is so much more to them. As my daughter focuses intently for half an hour on making a flower I can see her learning concentration, patience, design, symmetry, maths (she counts the beads when copying examples) and science (the heat applied to the materials causes them to melt and fuse – well, you didn’t think I told her it was magic, did you?).

Sure, there are lots of pink plastic toys for girls that are useless and serve no purpose. That’s what the children of yesteryear used to call ‘fun’ before we forgot how to have it. My little girl learns through playing with things that make her happy. By being happy she feels comfortable with herself. Without that comfort she will never have the confidence to open her mind and imagine what she is capable of. If her first step on the road to becoming an astronaut is sticking stars on a Barbie picture then so be it.

What Hogwarts taught us about saying sorry

16 Jan

Letter of apology

Last week I posted about the impact that a rainbow coloured notebook has had in our house. This week the notebook is making its presence known again by helping teach my 5-year-old some life lessons about saying ‘sorry’. To understand when a simple ‘sorry’ is required is relatively straightforward, even to a child. When it comes to those moments in life when we beat ourselves up unnecessarily, that’s a harder thing to understand.  Knowing when you’ve no need to apologise is just as important as knowing when you do need to.

I had found my daughter busily writing in her notebook. When I asked what she was doing, she looked up with a serious face and said: “I’m writing letters to my friends to say I’m sorry.” Her earnestness tugged at my heart. She explained what had happened. She had told her three closest friends that they were going to Hogwarts together. More than that – they were going on the Hogwarts Express and it would be picking them up in the playground. She had later told them that they weren’t really going at all. Apparently there was some (I suspect momentary and mild) disappointment and as a consequence she felt she had let her friends down. Severely.

It was the words she was using in her letter that upset me most: “sorry I told lies”. ‘Lie’ is a strong word, too strong for what she had done – playing out her love of Harry Potter with some good old-fashioned imagination. She was putting herself through the wringer by writing formal apologies to her friends when in reality they were highly unlikely to be giving it a second thought. I tried to explain that giving her friends the letters risked making an issue out of something that wasn’t even there.  (Hard when in her mind something was very much there.) She’d not done anything wrong, I told her, and it was best to let it go for the bit of fun that it was. I was so proud of her but at the same time so saddened by the responsibility she was heaping on herself.

Teaching children to say sorry is part of basic manners. I hope that mine can learn to use the word ‘sorry’ in its strongest sense – when it can fix a situation and restore equilibrium – and never to punish themselves unnecessarily. The British are an annoyingly apologetic lot. We apologise for so many things simply because we believe we are inconveniencing other people. You really shouldn’t say sorry unless you’ve done something wrong. “Why did you apologise to them? They bumped into you!” I say to my good-mannered husband who will apologise at the drop of a hat.

In the end my husband confiscated my daughter’s letters and hid them away. It was painful to see her rail against this but it would have been even more painful to watch her solemnly handing out the letters in the playground. I love her for giving a damn and for caring about her friends. I hope she carries these positive qualities into her adult life. But I also hope that every time she feels the need to say ‘sorry’ it will be the right time and it will serve to empower her rather than sap her self-esteem.

PS. Safe to say, all is as happy in the playground as it ever was even though, to this day, the Hogwarts Express is yet to arrive.

Sad (or School Allocation Day)

17 Apr

School run

The last few days have been anxious ones for parents as they waited for news of where their little darlings will start their formative years in education. Primary school allocation day. Nerves have not been so frayed since this year’s mamas and papas twisted their hair and scuffed their Doc Martens waiting for exam results. The anxiety isn’t helped by what is seen to be a complicated (and seemingly random) allocation system. It’s another challenge on the rocky, emotional road that is parenting.

The wait between the application deadline and allocation date is a long one – three months. Quite what is happening during this period is uncertain. One can only imagine that FBI checks are being run, dustbins rifled through and shopping habits scrutinised. We were delighted to get our first choice (thanks to our close proximity to the school) but we still had three long months of not daring to count our chickens. Of course, none of the available schools are ‘bad’ but they do each have a different ‘feel’ that you need to be happy with. (Obviously, my choice was not at all swayed by the Convenience (C) equation: C = X + Y, where X equals eXtra time in bed and Y equals Years of life spent on same stretch of pavement making sure kids don’t run into the road or step in dog poop.)

I wasn’t prepared for how emotional today would be. Once the initial excitement of getting the school we wanted had passed, the significance of the moment started to set in. My little girl would be going to school. Really, truly. I even shed a tear or two, something I had not expected to do until she actually starts school. Four months of blubbing beckons for me as the build-up to September starts: buying her uniform, the school visits before the summer holidays, choosing a pencil case … Another chapter in my life as a parent is well and truly opening.

Am I ready for it? Excuse the selfishness but I think the girl will be fine – after all, her excitement today was focused around the colour of the uniform. The prospect of structure, PE and making new friends hardly factors. So back to me. Life is going to change. What are my concerns?

  • Can I accept that my daughter is growing up? Will I start dressing my 2-year-old son as a baby again and push him around in a pram in a desperate attempt to keep at least one of my kids needing me. (Buying a cat is also an option here.)
  • Will my precarious self-esteem survive life at the school gates? Will it be a bed of roses or the snake pit I’m led to believe it is?
  • How the jiggins will I cope with having to feed her tea every day of the week? I currently struggle with being imaginative twice a week. Does tinned mackerel constitute a balanced diet? (The aforementioned cat would be in for a treat at least.)
  • Will I be required to only leave the house in full make-up, possibly purchase Ugg boots, and, worst of all, join the ranks of the Ballet Mums skilled in the dark art of making other mothers feel uncomfortable?

My worries for my daughter are another blog post entirely. For the moment, I’m wallowing in my own regret at the speed with which time passes. Sometimes it’s difficult to focus on the parental joys you have already experienced and those that are yet to come. Every stage of being a parent involves some form of letting go and accepting that life is changing and changing rapidly. The pride that can bring is often tinged with sadness. As I watch my daughter head off for her first day at primary school I’m sure I’ll be grateful that it’s just her new found independence I’m worrying about and not the length of her skirt or the boy waiting for her at the school gate. That is all still to come. God help me.

Yummy Mummy or Boring Bob?

27 Mar

women's magazines

I am at an age where I’m old enough to be someone’s mother. I am actually a mother as I have two kids. What I mean is that I am now old enough to be the mother (maybe even grandmother) of the generation I consider to be ‘young’, the wannabes, the men and women who will be our next future. And that makes me feel old. Listen closely enough and I can sometimes be heard uttering the telling phrase: “Policemen are so young these days”. What’s a girl woman to do when she finds herself at the top of  a slippery slope grabbing on for dear life with her stubby fingernails?

I’m not a big fan of health and beauty magazines aimed at women. They’re very pretty to look at and sometimes even include an interesting feature amidst their trivialisation of women (under the guise of empowerment of course). They have the ability to tweak the love handles and poke the pimples of anyone harbouring a dash of insecurity. One day they could even be the cause of my daughter valuing lipstick over the human race. It was to my horror then that I found myself reaching for the latest issue of the Boots Health & Beauty magazine looking for inspiration and solace. Such depths of self-pity had I reached.

Egged on by the promise of “tiny and oh-so-doable steps” and just the hint of the chance to CHANGE MY LIFE, I stumbled across Louise Kearney whose goal was to “look glam at the school gates”:

“When I drop the kids off at school, the other mums always look so well turned out and cool – I wish I knew their secret! … I’d love to re-invent myself as a yummier mummy, but I’ve got no idea where to start.”

Louise may have been smiling in the photo but it was a desperate cry for help and it struck a chord. My two children are now old enough that I can start to reclaim my body safe in the knowledge that I’m not planning a pregnancy that will come and b*gger it all up again. Like Louise, I will become a school runner from September when my oldest starts to drag me daily into the snake pit that I’m led to believe the school playground to be. Oh clever, clever Boots magazine! Louise could be me. I was practically ripping open the laptop to order the magical products prescribed to cure lovely Louise of her baggy mumsiness.

Most exciting of all was the discovery that I was already halfway there to achieving the status of aged, yet desirable, woman. I have a bob. There was me thinking I had a boring old haircut. But no, look in the mirror again and feel the power of the bob. According to Lord Trevor of Sorbie, Louise’s ‘hair expert’ in the article, a razored bob is the way forward: “Trust me – a shorter style will help turn back the clock”. I trust you Trevor, I trust you.

Content that I now had the tools to be gorgeous, I let my guard down and dipped into the rest of the magazine. Little did I realise that my new found confidence was about to be shaken. On page 24 I received the following slap in the face courtesy of the magazine’s columnist, soon to be 40-year-old (gasp!) Katy Regan:

“Plus I’ll ditch the bob, which my twenty-something make stylist informs me ‘is a look only women over 35 go for these days’!”

Only sad, desperate old women over 35. The bob: the blue-rinse for the 30-something generation. How we’ll laugh at them behind their backs when they ask for a cut a bit more ‘Ann Hathaway’ and we tell them that a bob would much better flatter their face shape. It hides the wrinkles and the jowls, darling. Know thy place.

The world of women’s magazines yet again reveals just how superficial it can be. Whilst I am frightened by the industry’s output and the negative impact it can have on self image, I am even more frightened that there are people (usually women) writing this content and failing to see the hypocrisy of it. Scarier still is if they are producing the content in full knowledge of their influence but are choosing to subjugate any twinges of sisterly solidarity. Of course these magazines have their place and should never be taken too seriously (indeed, I feel I am getting a bit serious here and may need to pause to adjust my blue stockings). But the potential of even the most lightweight and frivolous of magazines to do harm should never be underestimated. Especially by an old duffer with a bob like me.

Me! Me! Me!

17 Jan

Raising considerate children

A day off work waiting at home for a delivery is not without its dangers. First, there is the guilt over sending the kids to nursery whilst you put your feet up and enjoy visiting the toilet in peace. Secondly, stuck inside and craving interaction with the outside world, your usual defence mechanisms are weakened and this can lead to you answering the door in a reckless fashion. Cue people of a certain denomination ‘spreading the word’. Cue a parenting blog post. Yes, really. Inspiration moves in the most mysterious ways.

I don’t believe in God myself but I do make time to listen on the doorstep. I will inevitably shut the door clutching a selection of leaflets and, because I feel guilty at having taken leaflets that could have gone to someone more likely to be converted, I do try to at least flick through them. (Thus, I expect, earning myself brownie points should there turn out to be a god.) Amongst the latest batch of leaflets, little did I expect to find a whole pamphlet on parenting. Whilst it didn’t leave me questioning my lack of faith, it did leave me questioning my parenting skills.

The feature article was entitled ‘Raising Considerate Children in a Me-First World’ – “If you are a parent, how can you help your children to reap the benefits of being kind and to avoid being contaminated by the self-absorbed culture that surrounds them?” I was transported back to Christmas Day and an image of my 4-year-old surrounded by piles of toys and wrapping paper. She asked “Are there any more presents?” whilst I sat thinking about how lucky my children are and wishing she could find contentment and happiness in a lump of coal. Everyone wants their children to be happy but how can you ensure this without the negative consequences of them believing that they are at the centre of the universe?

The article outlined 3 “traps” that can create inconsiderate, self-centred children:

1. Overpraising

“Do not dole out praise just to make your children feel good about themselves” – a slapped wrist for parents who “have been unduly influenced by the self-esteem movement”. Of course, you shouldn’t praise your child for everything and bad behaviour should be addressed in an appropriate way. If my 4-year-old threw a plate of spaghetti at the wall I certainly wouldn’t praise her for the wonderful mural she had created. However, as someone with low self-esteem who is terrified of passing on my own neuroses to my children, please do excuse me if I choose to lavish praise on them to make them feel good about themselves, however small the achievement. A lack of self-confidence has the tendency to saddle you for life. That self-doubt (whether it be a drop or an ocean) can permeate everything you do and hold you back rather than propel you forward. I would much rather my children approached everything believing they can do it well, rather than wondering whether they will do it well enough.

2. Overprotecting

“Whilst it is natural to want to protect your children, overprotecting them can send the wrong message – that they do not need to take responsibility for their actions.” In my opinion, there is a difference between protecting them against the consequences of their own actions and protecting them against adversity in the world around them. My children are both under 5 and are firmly wrapped up in the cotton wool I have spun just for them. Every day in the car I have to switch the radio off when a news bulletin comes on describing death and destruction in the world. Yet my 4-year-old still picks up odd words and asks questions – as much as I can sensitively bat away those questions, I know that little snippets will be sticking in her mind and sowing seeds of worry. She is not old enough yet not to be overprotected from the world around her. As for my children’s own actions, no, I won’t completely ignore it if, for example, they fail a test. However what I will do is ensure they understand how they can do things differently in future. I hope I can give them the confidence to accept responsibility and move forward, learning on the way.

3. Overproviding

“In a survey of young adults, 81 per cent said that the most important goal of their generation is ‘to become rich’ – rating it far above helping others.” This is about stuff. Stuff and money. Stuff and money and things. It is also where I hold my hands up and look shiftily at the floor. I acknowledge that I am guilty of buying my children things as treats to make them happy and – okay, okay, I admit it – things that they ask for. I also acknowledge that I’m not doing a good job of trying to instill in them a sense of the value of things or that treats sometimes have to be earned. Am I creating monsters? If I am watching a full-on tantrum in a toy shop then I would say ‘yes’, I am. If I am watching my oldest sellotape tissues to a toilet roll and use it as a sword to attack her brother then I would say, most definitely, ‘no’. Like all children, they take pleasure in the most modest and unexpected of things and, thankfully, are not complete slaves to the best that money can buy.

The emergence of a generation of self-centred individuals seems to be weighing heavily on society’s conscious. The policy in China of only one child per couple has, it is commonly believed, created children who, being used to being the sole focus, have grown up selfish and prone to neglect their parents. Indeed, China has recently introduced a law to force children to visit their elderly parents. In the last few days, research in the US has suggested that high-self esteem in students can actually lead to less successful lives. (Of course, the definition of success is debatable – if my kids end up scraping gum off the pavement for a living but are happy, healthy and contented then I would consider that a success.) My own recent experience in a very rich foreign country (which shall remain unnamed) and the proliferation of kids there with an enormous sense of entitlement and a complete lack of manners left me very conscious of the little people I am bringing into the world. Reminders of my duty as a parent to help my children become considerate members of society appear where I least expect them – and for that reason my door will always be open.

You’re beautiful, you’re beautiful, tra la la laa

25 Jun

It’s been some time since the last C&P post. I blame the dribbling, vomiting and farting baby #2 who arrived exactly three months ago. (He’s gorgeous by the way – the adjectives there were just for effect.) Postpartum hormones have left me liable to cry at most things from the cutesy to the darned right evil. Being responsible for little people has made me more sensitive to what can be a relentless and frightening world – something shared by parents the world over I’m sure. If I could buy rolls of cotton wool in toddler size then I’d be picking fluff off the playmat right now.

Last week there was one incident that made me more sad than anything else has recently. Here’s how the conversation with my two and a half year old went:

Her: Mummy, can I have some of your make-up on please?

Me: No.

Her: [through sobs] But I won’t be beautiful!

Me: Oh sweetheart, but you ARE beautiful.

Her: [still sobbing] I’m not beautiful. Without make-up other children will say I look like a boy.

After calming the sobs with cuddles and plenty of reassurance I was left wondering how on earth my little girl could have got this into her head and what kind of society do we live in that could have a girl thinking this from such an early age. I do recall on occasion telling her that I put on make-up to ‘make me look beautiful’ – an off the cuff remark but is this what has stuck in her head? (What I haven’t explained to her is that a 34-year-old who hasn’t taken care of herself and wasn’t blessed with natural beauty needs a little help whereas a two-year-old doesn’t.) She doesn’t watch any grown-up TV. We never have a copy of Glamour in the house. I can’t believe that exposure to a class of two-year-olds at nursery has put this in her head. Do they chat foundation and lipstick over the sand tray? Paint their nails when they should be painting something impressive for ma and pa’s fridge?

The sexualisation of children has been a hot topic recently what with a new crackdown on inappropriate marketing aimed at children and criticisms of a children’s beauty parlour opening in Brentwood, Essex. Even David Cameron has managed to speak a few words of sense about it. These (including David Cameron) are things I can help my daughter to avoid (and let’s not forget my son, the pressure on boys shouldn’t be underestimated). I can’t protect her from everything though and influences can come from seemingly innocuous places. Today we watched Disney’s Pocahontas – like most Disney heroines and princesses she has a tiny waist, an enviable bust and luscious hair. She’s beautiful, yes, but she ain’t a real woman (well, Pocahontas is but you get my drift). My girl would love to be a princess. How long before she starts to cut out the chocolate buttons to try to be one?

Two pieces of advice I got stood out. “Show her pictures of Pauline Prescott, Jodie Marsh etc – that should scare her off make-up” – my friend Jennifer is spot on, that would be enough to scare anyone. Another friend recommended dressing my daughter in pretty dresses to make her feel beautiful. This is less clear-cut. Wouldn’t that just be reinforcing the external messages? To be beautiful you must have a pretty dress, pretty make-up, pretty hair. I feel a vicious circle coming on …

To be honest, I can’t see my daughter ever wanting to burn a bra. Equally, I hope she never aspires to be Jordan. If she doesn’t feel ‘beautiful’ then I will do all I can to help her with that. But lightning strike me down if I ever start with her nails and hair rather than her self-esteem.

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