Letting children be


“If there is anything that we wish to change in the child, we should first examine it and see whether it is not something that could better be changed in ourselves.” – C.G. Jung

Despite having half a dozen children, I’ve never felt that I was a naturally, nurturing “earth mother” kind of parent. Maybe this is partly as a result of the sheer overwhelmingly complex logistics of managing such a large tribe, or maybe  I tend to have an approach that’s more pragmatic than most. My children are certainly the most important thing to me in life – but I feel that my job as a mother is more along the lines of allowing them to become themselves, to gently allow them to develop emotional and physical resilience rather than to protect them from life’s inevitable peaks and troughs.

Of course parenting is one of lifes greatest experiments – since none of us are experts, we are all learning on the job so to speak and for me at least, there’s always been a vague underlying concern at my sometimes unorthodox and frequently somewhat chaotic attempts.

Much of the unease comes from a feeling that things should be done in a certain way –   with an emphasis on academic performance, highly tuned social skills, – and of course children with perfectly coiffed locks, who arrive at school on time every day without the marmite stained faces of my small urchins.  In my household this seems a complete impossibility  – something which has sometimes secretly led me to doubt that my  children will ever “succeed” in the conventional sense. The nagging concern beneath this is  that their failure will have been as a direct result of my inability to coax, control, cajole or bribe them into submission.

It’s been an extremely welcome surprise, as the older members of the family begin to leave school, to notice that at some point along the line, they’ve made their own decision to become – for the most part –  responsible, hard working, interesting and likeable. There have been plenty of moments when I’ve been pretty sure that one or other has been destined for a life as an unemployable and irresponsible hooligan  and in these moments I’ve often made some kind of frustrated and angry attempt to take control, only to find that this kind of aggressive assertiveness is bandied straight back at me by the enraged teenager and we enter some kind of escalating friction filled war zone, where all communication breaks down.

Pretty soon in my career as a mother, it became obvious that this kind of approach didn’t work for my children – that they were very much their own people and that the most respectful and effective way to look after them was to allow them to be themselves – putting forward a scaffolding of boundaries, values and integrity and then to a large extent letting them find their own way. Letting go of the part of me that wanted to say that I knew best and instead making some kind of attempt to lead by example has been liberating for us all. It’s a lesson in curiosity, in the realisation that diversity is a good thing – that our way is not necessarily the only or the best way – and that even if we are “right” we can’t and shouldn’t force our view of rightness onto other people – even our own children.

It’s something I still struggle with – but I’m beginning to notice that dropping the expectations that your children should be a certain way – whether it be sporty, sociable, kind, mild, hard working or whatever –  and replacing it with kind curiosity about how they actually are, is worth doing.

Trust is a big part of this – trust that things will work out in the end regardless of my attempts at control – and more importantly trust in my children that they will find their own way and that in doing so they’ll gain the confidence to carve their own  future.