Thursday, 14 February 2013

Growing pains

Hermaphrodite Mum
Three kids and a single mother

Middle Child told me at bathtime last night that he wanted to stay living with me until he was 40 years old (his equivalent of old age). This was in response to my lament that he was growing up too quickly. With tears in his eyes, he told me he didn't want to become a big boy. We are both afraid of his increasing independence and what it spells for our relationship.

This is the central contradiction of parenting: on the one hand we want our children to progress and meet all their milestones, but on the other we can't bear the idea of our babies growing up and living beyond our influence.

Don't grow up too fast, baby!
© Photographer: Rebecca Abell | Agency: Dreamstime.com
Last week I was dropping off my nine-year-old, the Quiet One, at school. Normally we say goodbye in the school hallway - public kisses are no longer permitted. I have to content myself with a wink and discreet shoulder squeeze. On this occasion, however, I popped into her classroom to remind her about some homework that needed handing in. She was horrified by my intrusion. "Mum, you are embarrassing me!"

Girls, particularly in the West, seem to grow up too quickly. I was listening to Libby Purves a few weeks ago on Radio 4's Midweek programme. One of her guests was reminiscing about attending school in India: he recalled how 17-year old girls were content to play hopscotch in the playground. That would never happen here. A slew of factors - pop culture, commercial pressures, the fashion industry and rafts of examinations - means that our children are too eager to ape the grown-ups. They cast off their innocence like a Boden party dress, in the race to keep up with their peers. Suddenly it's all about skinny jeans, Gangnam Style and rather inappropriate dance moves.

When my two eldest children were babies, I thought it would last forever. Now I see how quickly those years pass. I watch Non-Walking Toddler's progression with a crushing sense of nostalgia. And yet I am desperate for her to start walking! When she took a few tentative steps between the sofa and the coffee table the other day, I cheered her on like she was running 100 metres in the Olympic finals. We are hardwired to push our children onwards, even if our hearts protest.

Quiet One brought some friends home this week. Over sausages and chips they discussed which of the boys they liked most in the class. "Girls," I said, "don't grow up too quickly. You can always go forwards, but you can never go back to the past." They looked at me like I was talking nonsense. They were right. How can we expect them to resist the culture we impose upon them? Their budding minds are designed to absorb these formative influences. The challenge lies with us - we need to give them less screen-time, more adventures, more time outdoors and some immunity from everyday pressures. 

Parents will always have an eye to the past and an eye to the future. The trick is striking a healthy balance. When I was putting Middle Child to bed, he amended his earlier statement. "Actually Mummy, I think I will only live with you until I find a wife and build my first house." Yes, very wise, little man.


Hermaphrodite Mum is a fictional creation of Emma Clark Lam
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