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Pushing our children too hard

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.

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Turf War - mothers and daughters

I’ve been asked to go to my younger daughter’s place she shares with her partner to puppy-sit for a day. It will be the first time I have been in the apartment on my own and I know my fingers will be itching to rearrange the cupboards, put a load of washing in the machine and do a general tidy up in the small patio area. However, I will curb these urges and do what I’ve been asked. Feed the puppy, walk the puppy, love the puppy and relax with a book. Hmm.

  I remember my former mother- in- law coming each year from Iran and completely taking over my household, believing she was helping. My lip was torn to shreds from the constant biting down on it. During her prolonged stays I would find myself swigging from the sherry bottle as soon as I got home from work, a practice I carried out in the shower as she would have been horrified. My nerves were shredded but my husband at that time thought it was all quite normal. ‘It makes her feel useful and gives her something to do. You should be grateful.’

  This was my territory and my turf. Everything she did was like an attack on my competence. ‘I’ve cleaned this properly,’ she would say.  Or, ‘Now you’ve got more time, why don’t you do your nails, get your hair done ( complete the sentence to suit).

  Even my own mother didn’t interfere and she knew how things worked. My MIL, being in a strange country and not speaking the language, rearranged my home to look like hers in Iran. Even the fly swats were hung up over the window as in her kitchen.

  The problem with mothers of adult daughters is still see them as a child or teenager needing correcting. In turn, the daughter reverts to teenage behaviour and the mother falls back into her old patterns. Daughters fight off over-involvement sometimes for the sake of it for fear of losing their hard-won identity. This can mean moving miles away from the parents, particularly the mother, to avoid feelings of being consumed. Mothers act out their hurt by refusing to help out with childcare and even avoid making any contact at all. It’s like they want to punish their daughters for having a life that doesn’t include them.

  I wonder if there is some jealousy afoot here?  Life for many women in the fifties centred on their family and domestic duties which were time consuming and tough compared to nowadays. They wanted their daughters to do better – go to college, get a training, be independent and not have to rely on a man. Mothers of the eighties are those same daughters and they want even more for their own daughters but they don’t see that nurturing independence means there is a price to pay. The daughter doesn’t need her mother to fix her problems but she might want some practical help from time to time and can’t understand why her mother goes passive-aggressive on her. ‘Sorry Darling but I am so busy you know. You told me to get a life….’  The daughter wants her mother to be happy for her, to be her friend after all the years of battling and fighting to be free and finds herself rejected.

  So what’s going on here?  Quite simple. The generation of mothers has an expectation, or should I say hope, that her daughter will invite her to help decorate her house or buy the cushions she’s been ogling. It makes her feel useful in the way it had made my foreign mother in law, who spoke no English , feel wanted by her unfathomable English daughter-in-law. I’m sorry that I didn’t understand that at the time. After the divorce twenty years ago I never got chance to say that.

 

  It’s about making too many assumptions about what is acceptable. Would this same woman go into her friend’s house and rearrange her cupboards? Of course not. So it should be with the daughter. I’ve asked mine to write me a list of what I need to know about the puppy’s needs ( don’t have a clue about dogs) and whether or not she wants me to do anything – shopping, meal preparation and so on. I’ve made it clear it’s her home and I won’t judge her for how she lives. It’s interesting how she used to be so messy as a student and yes, I did go on at her about germs but she’ss more like me now… a bit of an obsessive tidy-upper.

  After a few years of very little contact, I choose my words carefully and respect her boundaries. It doesn’t feel natural as she is still my little girl in my mind but I am proud of how far she’s come with her award winning business and the fact that when she was awarded her Hon Doctorate by Aston University, she said her success was down to being raised by a strong mother. So, I didn’t do a bad job and all those accusations of ‘You’re a horrible mother,’ although heartfelt at the age of fifteen, were par for the course of separating.

 So, back to the puppy. I hope I don’t lose it, stand on it, forget to feed it or anything worse. I won’t because it will be like loving my baby girl all over again.

  

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