I used to feel bad about not being around for my children as much as other mums. Like many, my work responsibilities take up an awful lot of time. I try to make all plays and concerts, but I have only ever made a single (disastrous) sports match – and running up to school at the last minute because they’ve forgotten some homework or their flute is pretty much out of the question. I would see the oh-so organised mums who knew exactly what was going on at school – in the classroom and the playground. I would worry that I should be more like the pushy parents who would constantly block the classroom doorway, pulling the teacher aside to discuss the homework, or their kid’s latest crisis. I would gawp at incredible creations brought in for cake baking competitions that clearly had been done by a master baker, not 4 year old Ryan, feeling sorry for my girls’ literally half-baked offerings. Was I a bad parent? Was I letting the girls down?
I used to feel bad – but not anymore.
Sitting having coffee with some friends one day, one of them complained at how long a science project was taking to complete and how they had spent the best part of the weekend gluing model planets to boxes. I knew about the project but it really hadn’t impacted us that much. Kaia had just got on with it. Turns out she got a pretty good mark.
I began to notice other things. I noticed how many of the children of these “hands-on” parents, were quite timid when they came round for tea – hesitating to ask for what they wanted. I saw how their attendance at school was down, kept home at the slightest sign of a sniffle.
I began to experiment. I stopped interfering in my daughters’ sibling arguments. I refused to become involved or be used as a referee – and lo and behold, they started sorting out their differences.
As parents, we want our kids to be happy. When they’re upset it’s so tempting to jump in and try and fix their problems – and of course, there are situations where we absolutely should get involved. But if we want our kids to be happy – we have to balance their (and our) momentary discomfort, with the ability to be happy in the long-term.
And key to long-term happiness is self-efficacy and resilience – in other words, the knowledge that we can meet the challenges that life throws at us, and bounce back when life gets hard. And our kids can only know that if they are allowed to learn to, or indeed if they’re made to do, things on their own. It’s like building a muscle. You can’t walk into a gym and expect to lift a 15kg weight if you’ve never lifted 3kg. So, don’t expect your child to thrive at university if they’ve never packed their school bag or made their lunch. Don’t expect them to be confident in an interview, if you’re always speaking for them rather than allowing them to speak for themselves. And don’t expect them to have a sparkling career, if they’re not able to boring chores without grumbling.
We want our kids to grow into happy, confident and resilient adults. In order for that to happen – we have to allow them the space for the growing to occur.
And of course, we get to put our feet up just a little bit more…