I have been reading a couple of books recently about parenting and education, The Happiest Kids in the World: Bringing up Children the Dutch Way and The Year of Living Danishly. Both European cultures but both so very different from our own. One of the biggest things that struck me was the lack of competitiveness, both as parents and as school children.
I do think that here in the UK there is a pressure on kids to perform well from a young age. Grades, SATs, measurements, tests, I accept that these are all a part of school life. I can do nothing about that. For my part, I will heap no pressure on them, I will not push and coach them, and I will remind them that doing their best is all I would ever ask of them. Yes, I want them to be comfortable with the academic side of school, but it’s the social aspects that I focus on more, the kindness, empathy with others, confidence, humility, and being a good friend. These are harder lessons to learn in later life, so getting these to come naturally will set them up well for adult life. Learning needs to be fun and engaging not pressurised, and fortunately the school that my girl goes to does seem to handle that well and she loves her days there. When at home, they both learn all the time, though I’m not sure that they know they are. From bedtime stories, to playing word games on car journeys, to getting involved in gardening and baking, to our trips out, it’s all just fun to them.
I also think parenting itself can be competitive and oftentimes judgemental here. This does not appear to be so in those others nations I’ve been reading about perhaps because they do not focus on their children hitting certain standards or getting top results. They look at the child and nurture and develop their own skills at a pace that works for the child. There is no glory or stigma attached to grades and ‘top groups’ and so on, which no doubt impacts on the parents.
Here there appear to be standards for everything and opinions on so many different ways to parent. You cannot even get your child to 12 months old without encountering debates on breast versus bottle, the evils of dummies, the wonders of co-sleeping, working versus stay at home parents and so on. You see the ‘versus’, too? Why the versus, why the pigeon holes? And that’s before the children are even walking and talking! Judgements and opinions lurk around every corner and the self-doubt and guilt can then weigh in and rear their heads as as parents we all just want do our very best for our children, of course we do. So can we call a truce on the competitiveness and just focus on raising happy compassionate kids? How much easier would that be?
My parenting is a long way off where I would like it to be, to be honest. I work a little too much, I am ‘shouty mum’ a little too much, I am lax with getting the best foods into the kids a little too much, I get distracted by my phone a little too much, I allow screen time a little too much. I know, I know, I am working on all of the above!
But whilst I am conscious of these things and am trying to improve on them, I am simply striving to be the best parent I can be for me, for my kids. I will not let competitiveness with others be my driver as I am yet to be convinced that that is a useful yardstick for my own standards or helpful for the children.
My children are 7 and 4. These are the times that childhood memories are created, and this is how I parent, by keeping that in mind. So we concentrate on free time, the family time, the down time, the fun times. I often imagine them looking back on these years as adults, as I do on my childhood, and try to see what they will see. This is my guide.
I want them to feel secure and loved. I want them to feel they can tell us anything. I want them to feel confident when we are not around to support them. I want them to believe that they can do anything they want in life. I want them to be happy.
Naive? Overly simplistic? Possibly. But those are the things that I’m shooting for.