Independence Time

Today was haircut day for me and also haircut day for my daughter. She is only four and her hair doesn’t grow at the rate of knots that mine does, so I take her every few months just to have a trim (and for somebody to untangle her curls without her shouting at them). When I took her today, I had the small conundrum of it being the first time I’d taken her without my husband and son – aka the back up team. When we go as a family, I can sit comfortably with the knowledge that once my daughter’s hair is finished, she can go off with her dad and brother to the park. Today, we were on our own so I packed with us a little bag of toys, raisins, and books, to keep her amused whilst my hair was being cut. In the event, everything went fine, apart from the odd ‘daughter is bored’ moment when she wanted to sit on my knee or swing the chair I was sitting in – though it wasn’t reflected on my stylist’s face, this probably wasn’t a great help.

Whilst she was having her hair cut, my daughter sat on a chair next to me, with her gown on, and patiently let the stylist cut her hair. She didn’t once moan or get restless. She was great. And as we walked back to the car, I found myself wondering why I had worried about how it would be and realising that as she gets older I have to start pulling back and letting her navigate situations by herself, with the safety net that I’m there, but not interfering.

I read a very interesting piece by US Developmental Psychologist, Alison Gopnik, in The Guardian, about raising children and how we adopt a style of parenting in modern times that doesn’t allow children to find their feet themselves. We do too much for children and we try to set things up so they are going to do well, be successful, not get hurt etc. I can’t argue with this. I’m massively guilty of it. I can think of many examples where I have tried to stop my children feel sad about something or hurt or frustrated or bored. Instead of just letting them feel those things so that they can work out how to deal with them, without me interfering. And I can think of many examples where I have intervened in a sibling conflict by telling one sibling how they should respond to the other in order to make it right. These reactions come very naturally to me and they are borne from a place of trying to make it better and trying to do the right thing. But what if it isn’t our job as parents to make it better? What if the right thing is not as we see it? What if our job as parents is, on a basic level, to provide a safe base for children to explore the world, without us stifling them and trying to teach them everything we know? You may be thinking this is what you do anyway. But if we really think about it, how many times do we try to steer children into the direction we would take instead of letting them figure it out themselves, and crucially, letting them choose the wrong reactions and the wrong things to say in order for them to find the right ones?

I remember a physical example with my son from when he was becoming a toddler and he went through a period of hitting his head on the floor. I instinctively tried to protect him from hurting himself. I would throw cushions under his head just in time so he wouldn’t feel the pain. When I told the health visitor what he was doing and what I was doing, she told me to take the cushions away. She told me to let him hit the floor, feel the pain, and realise for himself that it was a pretty bad idea. And I did just what she said. And he stopped.

So maybe I need to think about Alison Gopnik’s words and take away those metaphorical cushions. It’s time for some independence.

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Wanted: Space to Mess Up

It was 1999. I was 18 and I had just started university. I was excited, naive and very thin. I was totally absorbed in uni life. I had made lots of friends and life was awesome. Before I left for uni, I had separated from my First Love and I made it my mission to have huge amounts of fun and not worry about being with anybody seriously during that first year. Mission was being accomplished apart from when I happened across a handsome man a year above me who I dated for a bit. His name was Chris. He played rugby and had a square jaw. He was what my friends and I would call a Hottie and I couldn’t believe my luck. But, as is the way with life, my luck ran out. Chris and I were not meant to be. Our relationship came to an abrupt end about a week after we met although in university time, it felt like years. The night he ditched me, I went out and got drunk. Very drunk. And I went to a nightclub, by myself. And did some dancing. And chatted to some people I didn’t know (and cried to them about being ditched). It was all very undignified. And then I came back and passed out on my bed.

The following morning, I woke up and recalled the strangest dream that I had been sick all over my bed. Unfortunately, not a dream. Now, being eighteen and of an innocent (dumb ass) disposition, I applied no logic in this situation. I just got dressed and went to see my friend who suggested I buy more bedding and put my quilt cover in the shower. Ah, I thought, what a sensible plan, so I did exactly that. My friend and I chatted in my room for a bit whilst I showered my quilt. I felt pleased to have a brand new set of bedding and I didn’t feel a bit hungover. Life was great again. But not long after we began talking, there was a knock on the door. A security man stood in front of me. “Excuse me, Miss, ” he chirped in a friendly voice. “I’m just checking out everyone’s rooms because we’ve got a major flood coming through the ceiling downstairs, we think from a shower.” Ah. Erm. Oops. Shower door open, quilt marvellously clean, water gushing back at me. Room flooded.

I was lucky not to be in trouble for that. I guess the people who managed my halls were used to idiots like me every now and again. But a few days later, when somebody left a present of sick in the hallway outside my apartment, the finger of blame was pointed straight at me. In this case, it actually was not me, but the damage was done. The hall staff came to see me. My flat mates called me Chunder Girl. They told people my tale and laughed at me a lot. We all had to pay a pound towards the cleaning of the hallway. I had a few nights where I didn’t drink in an attempt to appear mature and in control and not at all like a Chunder Girl and a couple of weeks later, the whole sorry sick mess had blown over.

Fast-forward 17 years and I’m the furthest thing you could think of to a Chunder Girl but I do sometimes think about that time, and other such embarrassing moments from my younger days, of which there are many. I have the odd flash back. Something will remind me, perhaps a song or a smell. And I have a silent, inward chuckle, but also feel relieved that all of those younger, experimental and often stupid moments are well and truly confined to memory and not forever imprinted onto social media.

I have been thinking a lot (and reading a lot) about the generational groups at the moment. I’m apparently a member of the Millennials, though I feel more affiliation with Generation X’ers, but the generation after mine is Generation Z and I fear they will be the ones who have to grow up in the goldfish bowl, not knowing real and true privacy. With all aspects of their lives online and in cyberspace, they no longer have that completely personal space where they can be assured that they can do utterly ridiculous things without the worry that everybody is watching and, worse, that nobody will forget. I feel sad about that and I really feel for them. We’ve seen enough high profile people fall apart in the public gaze and now it seems the public gaze is on the normal folk too.

I hope I can help my children when they come to the awkward late teens/early twenties phase, to be able to navigate it without feeling they have no space to get things wrong and make mistakes. Don’t ask me how yet, I haven’t got that far, but I’ve got a few years before they are there. And perhaps by the time they are, a little bit of old fashioned privacy may have returned. Here’s hoping.

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