In today’s post I am linking to an article in yesterday’s Guardian, that sums up how I have felt for quite a lot of the last 20 years. It gives me an excuse to talk about it here.
I suppose it is only natural for people to place their hopes on their children’s shoulders. It is, after all, the aspiration of most parents that their children have a better life than them. Whether better means wealthier or happier or more fulfilled or with a better work/life balance is a subjective matter and believe me I’ve had several judgemental representations on the subject.
For what it’s worth no, I’m NOT all about money and standing. I’m the same as most people say they are: they just want their children to be happy. Realistically, however, it’s far easier to be happy and fulfilled when you have choices and options and a reasonably comfortable home and a reasonably stable existence.
That Guardian article, posted by a friend on Twitter, expresses exactly the sort of thing that goes on all round me. Hell, I have even engaged in this sort of competitive parenting in my time. You get so caught up in it, especially in my suburban environment and let’s face it, it’s very easy to do when your child is at the top of the class, outshining all in reading and maths and French and vocabulary and musical abilty. Yadda yadda.
This was me for a while. I even played that stupid Kindergarten, Reception class game of comparing the stages of the Oxford Reading Tree. Silently, of course, because even then I knew how undignified it was. But I used to nod and smile smugly when other mothers told me that their children were on stage 4 when my child was on stage 7 or whatever it was. You see? I can’t even remember. No-one compares reading ability in adult life. I’m not cut up about being on Stage 14,652 when you’re on stage 15,003, for example. And that is exactly how ridiculous this is. Why are people so desperate for one-upmanship?
I have never wanted my children to discuss or compare their marks in public. I have always thought it better that my children save their good news for the walk home or the quiet and safety of the car rather than making a stick for some other poor parent or child to beat themselves. If my child has received a Recommendation for an outstanding piece of work (and because my children are messy, disorganised and often don’t try that hard, also because I have never done their homework for them, this has rarely happened,) I shall not rub your nose in it.
The thing is, when you’re at the top of the tree, there’s nowhere to go but down and this happened in a big way to us. I’m not keen on going into the details for obvious reasons but it’s funny how quickly the realisation hits you that suddenly your child is not the best thing since the thing after sliced bread and, if you’re a little more balanced than me, you learn to deal with it.
If, however, you’re less balanced than me you make up stories about your child’s progress and cross your fingers that no-one will find you out:
- You might say that your 6 year old daughter has read all of the Harry Potter books by herself and understood every word;
- You might protest loudly that another child is still infectious from chickenpox to prevent that child attending prizegiving when you suspect that the other child might receive a prize that you think is your child’s entitlement. After you have spent an hour every night from the age of three doing maths, English and drawing with her;
- You might be so jealous of the singing ability of another child that you make up some story about that child exposing your child to porn websites and then acting them out on a sleepover. You might then email the children’s headmaster on Christmas Day making graphic and false accusations that sow all sorts of seeds of doubt about the other child’s character in the minds of those in authority. And the other child and their family will forever have a cloud of gossip over them;
- You might have a word with a teacher that your child is not to sit with another child because of their supposed malign influence over them, knowing full well that you have to bribe your own child not to hit you;
- You might wheedle a child’s GCSE marks out of their parent and then secretly discuss with that child what their parent thought of their grades;
- You might not contact a former friend and parent of your child’s former classmate for years and then oh so subtly, the week after the A level results are published, text them to ask how their child is “getting on”;
- You might go on Twitter and commiserate in crocodile tears when another parent is having a hard time with their child, casually slipping in that your child is marvellous and teachers have Oxbridge hopes for them.
All of the above are personal experiences. A lie can travel half way around the world before the truth has a chance to get its pants on.
I have found it very hard to be a good enough parent when surrounded by people with superlative children. I have never wanted to be the archetypal pushy parent – goodness knows I see so many of those around me and their children never look happy – but on the other hand I do wonder whether I have failed my children by not pushing them hard enough. It’s been a slog.
At the moment it is exam results season and people are posting their children’s results on Facebook. It’s not something I would do because I know how small it makes me feel when my children aren’t self-motivated enough to push themselves to all A*s. I know you’re proud of your children, and I know they might have overcome considerable difficulties to achieve splendid results. I’m not talking about that. Well, not really.
But when I see the latest Facebook post of so-and-so’s daughter with 4As at AS level, and I know that that person posts nothing but boasts about her children, well it’s a little galling..