One of my besties was telling me the other day about one of the numerous meltdowns from her daughter in public and the huge amount of judgement she had to deal with about her “parenting skills”. I know her parenting skills, and they are not to be put into speech marks. The lady spends most of the week being a working solo mum until her exhausted husband comes back Friday night from his job where he travels most of the time. Her two-year-old is giving the Terrible Twos title its meaning and yet my friend still manages to look glamorous and put together, even when fighting sticks out of her child’s hand so they can get on the bus. The good thing is that she is used to it and managed to keep her cool while faced with the other judging mummies at the playground during pick up time with her older daughter. I think I would have died or walked away. She shrugged and said “that’s my girl” which is sometimes hard to believe because of how calm and collected she is. Actually that girl could be my girl, because I too was THAT terrible toddler.
My dad told a story on my wedding day about how he used to take me into creche at church on Sundays. I had blonde curls and blue eyes and generally looked angelic (often a bad sign). He would have to watch me very carefully because if I didn’t get my way, I was quite prone to using violence to get what I wanted. He remembers vividly one Sunday where I head butted another little chap who had taken a toy from me. He saw it coming but was too late. Head butting and stomach butting (I had quite the tummy it seems) were my usual forms of coercion. I was also an avid fan of the “dying fly”, lying on the floor with limbs flailing whilst in the supermarket or other well-frequented places. My favourite saying as a toddler was “Ali do it” and, even at the age of eight, I couldn’t wait to leave home, so I would cut pictures out of the adverts from supermarkets to make a shopping list to prove to my mum that I could survive well on my own. In short, I was a nightmare. My poor mother! As I get older and have children of my own, I can start to comprehend how difficult I was! I am the middle child (of course) and my two sisters rebelled in their own ways, but not as publicly or determinedly as I did at that young age.
The good news is, that I turned out ok and my eldest child doesn’t seem to have inherited my ways. The bad news is that my youngest child has a certain look of determination at nine months that is a little too familiar. The story from my friend and the potential dying fly ambitions of my youngest got me thinking, and asking, about how my parents dealt with my, er, strong will. It seems that they, at some point, actually made a kind of plan.
The thing about traits in children is that they can often have a flip side. Thankfully my parents were optimistic enough to believe that my behavior could be managed and also channeled into a positive direction. I think it took a lot of optimism and probably some stiff drinks to believe it, but they did. One of the main things they recognized was my determination. Apparently, as I got older, the violence subsided – quite lucky really or I might be writing this from a prison cell because I didn’t get the last pair of shoes in a designer sale. While the head butting disappeared, the nagging began. I was the world’s most competent nagger and my parents listed it as a hobby. It worked though and I was good at it. They decided to try and channel that tenacity into hobbies – sport and piano.
Both trampolining and piano are social hobbies but require individual determination to do well and proceed to the next stage, so I enjoyed them. I played basketball for a while but always saw it as my job to run to the hoop and score, not great for team tactics! I did better in the netball team at school because of the very fixed positions, so I knew exactly what to do and what my limit was in terms of where I was allowed on the court. I also enjoyed tennis and swimming for fun, but always aimed to achieve badges and reach the next level of skill.
Another thing my parents did at an early age was give me pocket money. This was a very clever move because it gave me the control over my life that I really wanted and also gave me something to aim for if I was nagging for something. I had to save up a certain amount to contribute towards whatever it was that I was nagging for, for example. They also encouraged all of us kids to join in with decision making at home, like what we were going to eat, and then we would cook it together. Of course, I was still challenging (and not to mention chatty) but being able to have a little bit of control and also achieve things with my determination really used up a lot of my energy and also meant I have many badges and trophies from my childhood. Ironically my parents are the least pushy parents in the world, which is probably good or I would have burned out by now.
As an adult, I am trying to stand back a little from my life and see what this strong-willed child has made of herself. I can see that a lot of my traits are still there. I love to achieve and I am so determined to do things and see them through that I have reached a lot of what I wanted to achieve already. On the positive side, this means that I finished my MA while; working full time, having a three year old, building a house, living abroad and sharing a tiny flat with my husband, our pug and our daughter while waiting for the house to be finished. I put my all into a project I decide to do and I stick at things. I also use my determination to help people who are less fortunate or support projects which benefit other people and not myself. On the flip side, I am just always busy. I am busy with the children, work, and life in general. I relax by ‘doing’ rather than ‘being’ and so I can run myself ragged and it is my own fault. I love spending time with my children, so I sacrifice watching television to fit in my late-night studying or blogging as it is now. I’m in permanent competition with myself to improve and, sometimes, I am a bit too hard on myself and what I have achieved. I’m not competitive with others anymore and I have always found it important to serve and give to others, which probably comes from my Christian upbringing.
The things that save me from myself are my husband, my children, church and yoga. My husband is very different to me. He is the definition of relaxed, and also very good at team sports because he is tactical and not just head down and charge as I am. He quite happily watches the Grand Prix while our baby naps and I am typing away furiously on my laptop (like right now!). Children also force you to slow down. After having my first child, I realized that until then, I only had one walking speed and that was at full speed-late-for-a-meeting pace. Obviously, a two year old cannot and will not keep up, so she has showed me how to enjoy the journey a little in the physical and metaphorical sense. Church and yoga both encourage a slower kind of living and are spaces of time where I am concentrating on life around me rather than the next goal. People who are determined often need a holiday from their head more than anything else.
I’m sure my parents would add to both the positive and negative side of my traits over the years, but they had their chance and used it at my wedding! Just kidding, they are my first point of call for advice for my children and I’m sure they will have more gems to share as my girls get older. So next time your child is showing their determined side, focus on the positive that they are willing to brave dirt and strangers to get what they want. Or if you see someone else’s child showing this kind of behaviour, please think twice before you judge. Like I said, my two sisters did not do this kind of thing so it obviously is not down to my mother’s parenting skills. Feel free to approach the mother and tell her that you have read about someone who did this as a child and she turned out ok and that her youngest daughter might just be the biggest pay back for her behaviour too.