Sunday 11 December 2016

How to stop worrying about...being a bad parent

E Jane Dickson

Published 16/02/2011 | 09:35

1. Don't listen to the voices

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I can just remember the time when "parent" was a noun, comfy and inoffensive as "sock" or "muffin". The minute it became a verb, the game was up. Now we are supposed to be "parenting" for all we're worth, shouldering our way from milestone to milestone with countless shouty experts telling us where we're going wrong.

The problem with "parenting" and its million associated manuals is that not one of those manuals will be written about your child. To find the "nearest fit", you'd have to try out a dozen competing theories, by which time you and your children will be basket cases beyond the help of textbooks.

A basic paediatric handbook which tells you how to identify rashes and when to call a doctor is invaluable. Beyond that, though, it's pretty much a matter of instinct and example; if you are a reasonably sane and balanced person, the chances are your child will turn out the same.

As a last resort – for those less sane and balanced moments – TV parenting programmes can have a remarkably cheering effect as it is almost impossible to watch these hideously engineered and over-edited family situations without feeling that you, by comparison, have played a blinder.

2. No pushing!

Your child is not going to be the best at everything. Get over it. You probably weren't brilliant at everything, so why set yourself and, crucially, your child up for a fall?

Support kids in the things they're good at (this bit's easy) and encourage them in the things they find difficult (boring, but essential).

Sooner or later they'll find the thing that matters to them. It doesn't make you a bad parent if their every waking hour is not filled with improving activities.

When other parents list their child's remarkable accomplishments, congratulate them warmly and sing a little tra-la-la song in your head. To be sucked into competitive parenting is to be bound upon a wheel of fire. Innocent babes will turn, overnight, into "the opposition" and you will never sleep again.

By all means let your child know you think them the most marvellous individual on the planet, but keep it between yourselves. Don't boast about his or her extraordinary potential for fencing/ ice-dancing/ contrapuntal harmony before they've had a chance to prove it. If it doesn't work out, you will look a fool and they will feel like a failure.

Don't boast, even if they turn out to be world-beaters (because who wants to be a world-beater's mum with no mates?). Delighted modesty is a much better look.

3. It's not just you

One of these days, your chick, your darling, the jewel of your womb, will turn round and tell you where to get off. It may not be personal (though there are times when it will be crushingly so) and it may not be fair, but it will bring down previously unimagined "Where did it all go wrong?" doubts upon your head. This is where you're going to need those friends you cleverly didn't alienate by boasting about your pre-teen paragon. Because it's really only by talking to other parents of teenagers that you can gain the necessary perspective. It is highly likely that they will be having identical face-offs within their family, and you, from the safe distance of "other people's children" will find yourself talking the parents off the ledge, pointing up the many excellent qualities of the young person in question and making large allowance for hormonal disturbance, changing times, etc. At some point in your wise-woman spiel, it will occur to you that these reasonable arguments can equally be applied to your own child. And – for as long as you can hold that thought – everyone's a winner!

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