I believe that parenting styles are innate. Of course, you are never quite sure how you are going to feel until you have a child. I thought momentarily that I would want to stay at home and enjoy a different style of life from the working one I had experienced before. In the event, I found the whole thing incredibly boring, and after doing the bare minimum three months of breastfeeding took myself back to work and a sphere in which I was more competent and confident.
However, I admire the parents, usually mothers, who I see reading the latest tome by the latest expert. I am basically too lazy to believe that I am capable of any but the smallest adjustments in how I comport myself with my children. I cannot imagine dramatically changing how I am bringing up my children on the basis of a book.
A laissez-faire type of mother is not going to become a demanding “tiger mom”; I cannot imagine how that could possibly happen without doing violence to oneself.
For what it’s worth, I could never be a tiger mother. I am cognisant that childhood, as we are constantly told, has become ever shorter, as children are exposed earlier to the facts of life around them, whether that is sex, war, terrorism or alcohol. I am ambitious for my children, but not at the cost of their happiness.
I am neurotic and anxious but I have not allowed myself to be a “helicopter parent” – the kind who hovers worriedly over their child. My job as a mother is, at least in part, to build up resilience, and you can only do that when things are allowed to go wrong and children are permitted to make mistakes.
My style might best be described as “love and logic”, after the parenting philosophy first outlined in 1977 by Jim Fay and Foster Cline. To “love and logic” I would add a hefty dose of humour – as logic is useless, I think, when facing down a hysterical toddler.
The reasonable tones some parents use when explaining to a sobbing two-year-old why they can’t have another ice-cream set my teeth on edge. “Mother knows best” has probably been abused, but it still has a place in my book.
We are so immensely blessed in our tiny part of the world not to be starving, terrified or discriminated against, and to enjoy the benefits of clean water, abundant food, access to education for all and free healthcare. (Although in this, as in all things, there are a luckier few and it is all a question of degrees, as anyone who must have recourse to a food bank will testify.)
I understand the need for children to act appropriately at times – in a restaurant, at Mass. I want them to speak to me politely and correctly. I do not like tantrums or answering back. I do not want my child to interrupt me when I am speaking to anyone else, and when I say it is time to go or to come, I expect them to spring to attention without whining.
But I also want them to make the most of the endless summer days: rock climbing, rockpooling, hanging out with their friends, being silly, sometimes eating too much sugar and dancing naked in sprinklers. I don’t want them to spend hours and hours of every day being small adults, because they will have plenty of time for all that when they are actually adults – there is no escaping it then.
Do you walk around naked in front of your children? Do you talk to them about politics or gun crime, or protect them as long as possible from the horrors of life? What kind of films do you let them watch? Do you explain how your gay friends had babies with a surrogate mother? How do you respond when your child asks you whether you believe that the world was created in seven days? To what degree do you need your children to follow your path?
We all have friends who do it differently from how we chose to.
I have a sister who is a proponent of “attachment parenting”, and I am dumbstruck by her endless patience and self-sacrifice, at the same time as wondering whether she is making a mistake in validating her children’s demands above her own. I know that she disapproves of the occasional slaps I give my children, and is horrified at how hard I tease them on occasion, while at the same time admiring their politeness, table manners and ability to hold their own.
Ultimately, none of us will know whether we have made the right choices about how to bring up our children until we can see they are contented, well-adjusted grown-ups themselves. Until then, we can only trust our own instincts and hope that they will come to understand the best intentions behind those choices we made.
Alex Polizzi is a television presenter and writer
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