I feel I can write about this subject from the point of view of the mistakes I made with my children and why I wish I could go back and do it again. Despite being a single parent with little money at the time, I was determined to ensure my daughters had the best education even if that meant mortgaging the house again. As a former teacher, I believed the way out of disadvantage was through education.
My elder daughter, clearly academic, won a scholarship to an independent girls’ school in Birmingham from where she launched successfully into the corporate world. The younger one fought pitched battles with me to attend the local girls’ comprehensive even though she won a much coveted place at one of the city’s grammar schools.
What’s wrong with all that you might be saying?
Simply this… I pushed my elder daughter into a career she came to hate and my younger one ended up anxious and terrified of failing at university. It was my fault.
I hear of people selling up and moving into a catchment areas for the top state schools or borrowing huge amounts of money for private education. Imagine the pressure that puts on those children to succeed. Others have been tutoring their little darlings since nursery and boasting about their prowess to anyone who will listen. The amount of times I sat by the poolside listening to the boasts of mothers who had convinced themselves Little Johnny/Jane would represent the UK in the Olympics. (God help the poor kid if they didn’t).
We should be helping them develop their qualities rather than their focus solely on their cognitive abilities: resilience, kindness, problem solving and emotional self-control. To be able to accept failure helps develop personal growth and is character building. To see oneself as having a valuable and unique part to play in society without expecting huge rewards or a lot of ego stroking shapes the child into a rounded human being.
We are exposing our children to dangerous levels of stress once we plan the course of their lives … notice their lives not yours. You don’t know what the backlash will be until it’s too late. Too many stories of young people committing suicide because they can’t meet their parents’ expectations and worse still, they can’t talk to them about how they are feeling.
We say we want to protect our children from hurting themselves and being hurt yet pushing them into careers that might be unhappy with is hurting them. Why aren’t we focused on their happiness? Think about the burden of disappointment they might carry if they decide to opt out. My daughter is a highly qualified solicitor with a brilliant legal mind. Aged 28, she couldn’t hack it anymore, saying this is the life I wanted for her and not what she chose. I was shocked at the level of resentment. It took four years, after the sudden death of a colleague, for her to find her way through and out of the wilderness.
If I could go back, I would not hover, push, cajole or lay an expectation on my children a second time. My daughters have always been self-starters and I believe they would have succeeded whatever role I’d taken and maybe our relationship would not be as strained as it is today.