IRECENTLY had to look at myself and wonder, am I turning into a pushy mummy? Deep in my heart I feel uneasy when I see tennis stars like the Williams sisters, as well as various Russian girls, who all have their fathers as manager/coaches and are pushed to the utmost limit.
Do these parents sit their kids down from day one and say, "Look, honey, you won't have a childhood as you'll be working six hours a day in the gym and on the tennis court, but with this sacrifice you're gonna be great some day. Is this what you really want?"
And when they do, is it fair? If given the chance, all kids want to be number one. Is a normal playful childhood the better option than one of years of slog -- even if the child loves a particular sport, musical instrument, etc, and shows a natural ability for it?
I would hate to think of myself as an opportunist who lived out my own failed dreams through my child (who is far more beautiful and talented then I ever was). But recently I got a bit of a shock when I found myself getting pushy with my daughter when she represented her school as a sprinter in the Dublin Schools Athletics trials -- and later, when she got a chance to audition for a major feature film.
Both events stirred self-serving and over-zealous tendencies within me of which I wasn't proud.
Visions of "cheerleader mom" with daughter in tap-shoes and rhinestone cowboy hat, singing Mr Golden Sun, had me squirming. The more I thought about it, these visions began morphing into full-blown Kathleen Turner in the movie Serial Mom.
Yet long after I'd banished such thoughts through deep breathing, Tibetan bells and aromatherapy, I still had these itsy bitsy psychotic urges to put creatine in her cornflakes on the day of the sporting event, and then ring round the country like a mad woman about the movie even when it turned out the movie was already cast.
Thankfully the breathing worked and sanity prevailed. My fun-loving and balanced child was left to enjoy what she loved doing at her own pace, her own competitiveness and aspirations being her own business.
Yet I had to ask myself, is the Pushy Parent Syndrome a good or bad thing? If the child has true aspirations to excel in a certain area, as long as these aspirations really are the child's and not those of the parents, is that OK?
Is a child capable of disconnecting from the parents' desires and be truly self-driven, when that child defines itself by identifying with the parent?
I'm not sure if this is possible as children constantly seek parental approval. Yet parental aspiration is the very thing that gives children their ambitions and aspirations. They emulate.
Mind you, with me it was the opposite. I have memories of my mother, who was an actress/director, directing the play Onkel Onkel by Gunter Grass. She cast me as Sprat -- a murderous, delinquent 11-year-old. I hated the thought of acting and was (and still am) very self-conscious. The thought of standing alone on a stage or in front of a camera, with all eyes on me, was terrifying. It still is.
My childhood appearance in this play really was embarrassing, especially given the very grown-up content. I was terrified the nuns in the convent would find out about it and think I was a scarlet woman.
Believe it or not, I was a very conservative child and my mother had to bribe me to act for her with a fiver a week -- which in the early Seventies was a lot of money.
Even with money in hand I was still mortified, and the thought of anyone finding out that I was in a trendy leftie play at the Project Arts Centre, and not the Gaiety (a real theatre in my pious child's eyes) was too much to bear.
Determined that I should evade detection and disgrace, I changed my name to Anne Craig on the programme. Nobody would know it was me, especially my classmates.
This disgrace aside, as the theatre was my mother's world there were opportunities to appear in other plays: Weideking's Lulu had another child role, another brat, who had a massive stage tantrum.
So with her standard fiver a week, Anne Craig was unveiled again. My mother was emphatic that these decisions were my choices and, as everyone else in the play was getting paid, it would have been odd for me not to.
Yet on deeper reflection, was my prissiness and disapproval of the acting profession merely a front for my fear of failure? What if I was no good? By having an, "Oh well, if I have to ... " attitude, any bad reviews would be Anne Craig's and not my own.
A child's desire to please his or her parents is so strong that the thought of failing has much deeper repercussions than, say, failing a swimming coach or a teacher. So, in essence, if a child is truly capable of deciding from an early age that they want to pursue their talent beyond all other things and that they must work their little asses off to achieve their dreams, maybe the parent is the best person to encourage that child?
But is a parent capable of staying grounded and balanced and not becoming a nightmare? If I were my child's agent/manager/coach, I would turn into Madame Dufarge from A Tale of Two Cities and heads would roll. Serial Mom wouldn't get a look-in.
When we look at Lindsay Lohan's mom, the Jacksons' dad, or Britney's folks, it isn't a good advertisement for this sort of carry on -- yet I'm sure it must work with some one somewhere? The Partridge Family, maybe?