Monday, 07 September 2015
A Dad's View: Pushy parents
Looking out for your kids is all well and good, says Tom Dunmore, but pushy parents are taking it too far
Another birthday party... Three hours of high-intensity screaming and not a cheese-and-pineapple hedgehog in sight. Gutted. I'm hanging around a church hall watching a professional entertainer attempt to convince a gaggle of three-year-olds to play musical statues.
'Great sociological experiment,' says Mark, a fellow dad watching from the sidelines.
'Yeah, it's a bit Lord of the Flies,' I reply.
'Oh, not the kids – that's always chaos,' he says. 'Check out the parents... '
Most of the grown-ups are standing idly by and chatting, but a few are self-consciously shuffling to the music to encourage their little ones. One mum looks particularly terrified as her son whirls at her feet, so she scoops him up and dances with him in her arms.
'Helicopter parent,' says Mark. 'Always hovering. Always worried.'
The music stops and the helicopter mum instantly halts while her son struggles to free himself from her clutches.
'She'll probably win,' I joke, but Mark shakes his head and points to a serious-looking dad in chinos and pressed blue shirt.
'Not with Mr Snowplough over there.'
I watch as he crouches down and whispers to his immaculate little girl. He holds her to keep her stationary. The music resumes and she throws some well-rehearsed ballet moves, but is mid-pirouette when the music stops again, and her dad looks furious. He mutters something to her and gesticulates wildly. Is he actually coaching during musical statues?
Fortunately for him, my boy Erik is oblivious to the lack of music, and continues running around in circles wailing, 'Let it go! Let it GOOO!' He's dismissed from the game.
Sure enough, Snowplough's daughter makes it to the final – head-to-head with the birthday girl. I know this is going to end badly, so I grab Erik and slink outside before the crying begins.
Turns out Mark wasn't making these names up. A quick Google search reveals there really are sub-categories of pushy parents who micro-manage their kids' lives. Where do these people find the energy to keep a lid on the chaos of childhood? I'd be jealous if it wasn't such a terrible idea in the first place. Kids need to get it wrong sometimes. We all do. We succeed because we learn from our mistakes, not because our over-anxious parents have cleared every possible obstacle to success from our path.
On the other hand, sometimes I can take my own advice too literally. Some obstacles do need clearing. The following day we're at the local playground, and Erik can't resist the lure of walking the wrong way up the spiral slide.
'Don't do that, Erik. People come down the slide fast,' I say.
Erik smiles and continues climbing.
'Erik!' I say, sternly; but it's too late. His big sister careers down the slide oblivious to what's below, knocking Erik backwards. I watch in horror as his little head hurtles towards the ground. I launch myself at my son, failing to catch him, but somehow managing to land underneath him and cushion his fall. I'm winded; Erik is oblivious. He brushes himself down and starts climbing up the slide again.
I want to shout, but can't even speak.
Fortunately, Erik is unnerved by my silence. He looks up the slide, reconsiders his ascent, and climbs down. He comes over and watches me closely as I struggle for breath. And then he jumps on my chest.
As my eyes water, I can't help wondering what Mark would call me. I'll settle for 'crashmat dad'.