Befores and Afters: January cures
Is perfectionism love, or the ultimate love-killer?

'What makes a good mother?' Or, 'First World Worries'

When I was a younger woman, I thought I was going to make SUCH a good mother.

I was so patient! Tolerant! No troubles controlling my temper.

Besides, I knew so much about babies! Didn't I have a brother who was 8 years younger than me? Didn't I know how to change nappies and bottle feed? I was going to have no problem.



  Mummy angel



I got... unexpectedly pregnant, at 26, in the midst of my Generation X-er extended adolescence. My partner was living in another country. I was still flat-sharing in London and going to parties on the weekends.

Let's skip the birth for a moment, sweep past infancy and early childhood, and journey 11 years through time, across the world and back through space to a bourgeois English town on the outskirts of London... This is where our story begins.

What story?

The story: how to be a good mother/ parent. Or something like that.

I don't know what this story is, or what the end will be.

I just know - and I suspect I am not the only one - that there is a lot of scope for feeling like a BAD PARENT.

Has there always been?

I can't help feeling, when I read some of my favourite old children's books - Little House on the Prairie, for example, or Farmer Boy - that parents back then didn't spend time navel-gazing about how to provide educational opportunities for their children , taxiing them to after-school clubs and nagging them to do their homework. They sort of got on with their own Work, and the children got on with theirs, without complaint or much interference from their parents.

Of course, in 19th century Kansas the fathers did have to go out and shoot their dinner, and the mothers forage for food in their vegetable patches, cook from scratch and spend a whole day each week washing the laundry by hand.

In Enid Blyton's books, the kids made friends with adult strangers, spent all day away from home in the woods and climbed through secret under-sea passageways to mystery islands and tackled smugglers. What the heck were their parents doing all the while? Definitely BAD PARENTS.

I'm reading Gone With the Wind for the first time ever. Scarlett O'Hara is a shockingly BAD MOTHER. She even says she hates babies! Mind you, she had no choice, if she wanted to, ahem, marry and... everything that went with that. Babies were the natural outcome for a vibrantly healthy 16-year-old bride.


In my privileged, appliance-abundant middle-class world, I suspect that a GOOD MOTHER is one who provides OPPORTUNITIES  for her children, who helps them uncover their talents and passions and nurtures those, who keeps her children SAFE and HEALTHY, helps them develop their skills and ACHIEVE, is calm, patient and loving. Something like that.


I've got a guilty conscience. I have realised, this week, that I have been letting plates slip and crash to the floor, hoping they were not irredeemably damaged. I've taken my eye off the ball: I've let my kids get away with doing, basically, no exercise for the past 5 months.


In my defence, we moved country last summer, back from Switzerland to the UK. I was fed up with taxiing the kids to after school clubs that they invariably seemed to tire of after the first few enthusiastic weeks.

What the kids REALLY wanted to do, after they'd been in lessons all day, doing what they were told (more or less), was to PLAY. Alone. Or with friends. Or with me (or their Dad, when he is home).

And I couldn't be bothered to fight that, to keep whipping out my bag of mothering tricks - WHEEDLING, CAJOLING, BRIBERY - to get them out of the house and into whichever activity I had paid for that term. NEGOTIATING, making deals: ok, just one week off, then you go back, your father and I have paid for this course. LECTURING about VALUES: you need to learn commitment, stick-to-it-ness.

But shouldn't they be allowed to play, follow their own curiosity, have plenty of unstructured time...?

Problem is, we are not talking Enid Blyton-style tree-climbing, forest-exploring-type play. There is not much cardio-vascular work involved in Barbies or Minecraft, besides the pounding stress of avoiding dastardly Endermen, or deciding between survival and creative.






My worries are the epitome of First World Worries. I am well out of survival mode and fully into creative. I don't have to worry about putting food on the table, or keeping a roof over my kids' heads.

I worry because they are behind their friends in swimming, and gymnastics, and neither of them plays football, or a musical instrument, or does judo.


I want them to learn COMMITMENT, but I don't want to force them to do things they don't like. I want them to find a PASSION. But what if they don't? Is that alright?



Anyway. I've asked around about swim lessons. I've signed my daughter up for gymnastics. We held a crisis meeting and explained that they needed to do at least one physical activity a week after school. My son signed up for a swimathon in March. We are going to start family swimming sessions at the weekends.


The thing I've always thought about parenting is: it keeps taking you right back to Square One.

What makes a good parent?

Failing, acknowledging it, and trying again?

That's the kind of 'good' parenting I am aiming for this week. ;-)


How do you go about instilling your values in your kids?

How do you manage the negotiations and taxi-driving?

Do you ever feel a sense of failure for not 'keeping up' in some areas?


Come on - make me feel better! ;-)


Elizabeth, aka The Writing Parent








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Hi there!

I am fortunate enough that my kids are still quite young I don't have to resort to any bribery, to get them to activities, they just have to go... But they are also rather the athletic type, always ready to take on a new sporting exercise and show off ( I think :) ). You do, however, bring up an excellent point regarding pre- and post-industrial society parental concerns (and a lot of literary license I hope... Where WERE the parents in Enid Blyton??).

I believe that the key to a successful and fulfilling life is finding your passion, your talents and grow into a person who masters those talents and embodies that passion; so, clearly, that is what I want for my children. But I don't think I found my passion until I was 30! And I'm still working on figuring out my talents, maybe undoing some bad parenting on my parents behalf in that process, not sure...

The thing is, if you encourage them one way it may not be their passion or talent, but there is a chance it might just be, and I think as a parent we must learn and study our children (and our spouses!) and be their number one fans in what we think they excel at... Now. If that is Minecraft I don't know what I would do.

It is tricky isn't it???

The Writing Parent

Hi! Welcome and thanks for your insightful comments!
I also feel that it is my 'job' to help my children fulfil their potential - and I stress if I don't think I'm doing it right. But you raised some interesting points:
1) that some kids have 'athletic' interests/ passions... and some simply do not!
2) that a lot of people DO NOT find their passion in early or mid-childhood. For some people it takes much, much longer than that.
3) also, that parents may not always be the best arbiters of their children's 'passions'! ;-)

An old Danish student of mine in Copenhagen said something to me 10 years ago that has stayed with me. He said:
'Children should be allowed to follow their own curiosity.'
He didn't think it was the parents' job, as much as possible, to dictate the directions in which that curiosity should go. And he felt that children LEARN best when they are following their own curiosity. His own son did a lot of computer gaming and his view was that he was learning valuable lessons via this forum of his own choosing.

I also remember a point from an article I once read in defence of gaming, which talked about how, when the novel first became a popular form of entertainment, middle-class (British) parents were up in arms about the potentially destructive effects this untested form of brain-washing would have on their offspring!

However, these two points have to be balanced against the awareness of the importance of exercise and fresh air, and the many articles decrying the harmful effects of 'screen time'.

And maybe that is the answer? - BALANCE. What do you think? A bit of everything you love - and sometimes some encouragement to try and stick with things you don't love too?

It is very tricky, as you say! But we keep trying, and we do the best we know how :-).


Michelle Obama famously insisted that her daughters do one sport which they chose themselves and one which she chose for them - thereby allowing them to follow their own interests AND learn to stick at something that they didn't necessarily like but was good for them anyway... I try and apply that to my own kids to some extent - I insist that they do swimming, because it's an essential life skill, and they play football (their choice).

Maybe every half hour on a screen can be earned by a half-hour doing a physical activity of some kind? Or even just playing outside?

I don't think I was super fit as a kid - I certainly played outside a lot, and roamed far and wide with my friends, but I wasn't exactly EXERCISING! And sometimes when I think about the sorts of things I got up to with my friends (naughty, potentially dangerous things, I mean), I wonder whether I wouldn't have been better off honing some creative or coordination skill on a screen...! ;-)

The Writing Parent

Thanks so much for the Michelle Obama info - I didn't know that! Makes a lot of sense and I am thinking of adopting her strategy!

Your childhood sounds rather Enid Blyton-esque - no?


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