My daughters and I met up with a friend and her toddler daughter last weekend, her visiting mother in tow. I’d never met her Mum before, but she seemed very nice on first meeting. My friend, however, was pulling exasperated faces behind her mother’s back and I soon found out why: she couldn’t take a single step without her Mum barking out advice or rushing to grasp her granddaughter from some imagined impending danger. I was starting to wonder how my friend ever managed to get out of bed on her own every morning and then checked myself. My friend is a vibrant, confident and extremely capable woman. Her mother is the same; it’s easy to see where she has inherited her admirable qualities. And here was an important lesson for me.
Whilst my friend is happy to let her daughter explore and discover for herself (within reason, of course!), her grandmother is determined to save her from the knocks and bumps of toddlerdom. She wants her granddaughter to learn from her own experience as a mother, bypassing all those important discoveries that only a two year old can make.
I realised that it probably wasn’t a conscious thing, but it is a Mum thing. I have been known to be a bit like that myself, especially when I am tired and it’s far easier to have people do as I say than do their own thing. We need to be in control because otherwise our children will do daft things and life’s too short to spend in A&E every weekend. But if we don’t step back and let our children work it out for themselves, how do they ever learn?
Big daughter has discovered the delights of home economics, or food tech as it’s known now. She loves preparing simple meals, delighting in the fact that she’s able to put together a tasty pasta dish or shepherd’s pie that everyone can enjoy. I like to think that I’m getting better at letting her get on with it without too many instructions, despairing groans at the number of pans being used and the increasing mess, or even exasperated ‘give it here’s as she demonstrates the wrong way to hold a potato peeler. Unless I’m specifically asked for help, I try not to hover, waiting for her to burn herself on the oven or chop her fingers off with the sharp knives. Our instincts are to protect our children and without question life is easier when they learn by your experience and do what they’re told. But if they stayed like that, they’d be toddlers forever, and that’s not what we’d wish on our children for one second.
A Mum’s job is to be a parachute, gently guiding to a safe landing. I don’t always get it right, but nobody ever said that Mums have all the answers (unless you’re talking to a two year old!). I’m still learning too.