I walk into school, son’s backpack over my shoulder because he, of course, is far too busy with his fidget spinner. Yes, he’s 11 and here I am carrying his bag. It’s a rare occurrence but right now, every cell of his bouncy, scatty, overexcitable 11-year-old being is focused on that fidget spinner.
We passed the library, going towards his room. Halfway through I realise that I am getting ‘the look’ from another mum. Seems like it screams, “If your child doesn’t carry his bag he won’t be adequately prepared for life. He’ll never get a job and if he does he’ll never, ever be able to carry his bag to work. You’ve RUINED him!”
Bravely, I adjusted the bag, tilt my chin up and continued to walk. As we round the doorway to his room I hear, “Why’s your mum carrying your bag – you’re far too big for that now – high school next year!” Consider all my Mumma-bear-buttons pushed at this point and I turn my Mr-Potato-Head-angry-eyes to the source of the statement, primed, and ready to leap to my own son’s defence. The rest of the interaction, I will leave to your imagination, but for every mum mum-shamed, I did us proud!
Parenting Goals – Progress not Perfection
Let’s get clear – I specialise in children’s social and emotional well-being. I speak all over Australia about resilience – what it is, how to get more of it and how to help children to bank it against the withdrawals they are going to make throughout life. I know all about the need to help children to grow into successful young adults by doing things for themselves, making mistakes, having natural consequences, feeling disappointment, missing out. And I also know that they don’t have to be ‘all that’ all the time.
There are many years and many experiences to be had to fledge your young person, ready for the rigours of life. What that means for me is that some days I’m going to carry that bag whilst my child does his thing. Not everyday but when I do, it’s up to ME to know MY CHILD and do what he needs to be and do right at that moment.
When did Mum-Name-Shaming Explode?
The rise of the derogatory mum-shame-names seems to have no end. Ask too much – you’re a Tiger Mum. Do too much – you’re a Helicopter Mum. Don’t do enough – you’re a Free-range Mum. Enough! Parenting is the successful (mostly) juggling of a bazillion balls as you manage yourself, managing your young person and managing the world around your child.
So, sometimes the bag is going to get carried, the homework is going to be done in the school car park minutes before the siren goes, lunch is going to be last night’s leftover takeaway pizza (oh, the shame of admitting that might even happen on a school night) wrapped up and stuffed in the bag.
Good parenting is an art. It a continual change and development of skills and approach when you nurture your child. And yes, there are some universal foundations on which good parenting rests as well. But there is no prescriptive approach that works and it varies for every parent. The vast majority of parents want their child to flourish, to learn life skills, to become independent and to grow into a beautiful human who contributes to the world in their very own way.
The path towards those outcomes is navigated in unique ways by most parents. So, step in and stick up for your child when you need to – if not you, then who? As parents, as long as we balance the doing for and with, with the encouragement of independence and resilience, our kids will turn out just fine.
And that is essential. Find ways for your child to practise the necessary life skills they’ll need into becoming successful and happy adults. But be comforted that they don’t need them right now or to display consistently either. That’s the very purpose of childhood – all the rich learning about managing life as an adult – one day.
The undue pressure on parents to get ‘it’ right can be disempowering, disheartening and depleting. It can lead to second-guessing your choices, feeling the need to defend your choices and making choices that you know aren’t quite right for your child – but seem to please the masses. Know your child and settle into that space where you do what you know is right. And, of course, add to what you know, get some great advice, ask for support and keep learning about how to manage your child as you nurture them into a successful, resilient and flourishing adult.
How did the bag-carrying story end?
After my words of wisdom were imparted, I waved to my son and headed back to the car. I was distracted on the drive home. When I got there, I decided to get a cup of coffee. Reaching out to turn on the kettle, lo-and-behold the school bag, the bringer of shame, swung around off my shoulder and gave me an enormous start. Sigh. Kettle off, back into the car, and this time, it really was the walk of shame.
The Carousel would like to thank Claire Orange of Best Programs 4 Kids for her wonderful article.