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Archive for March, 2010

Before A was born, and while she was in her pushchair, I used to stride around as quickly as I could. It became such a habit that, now she’s too big for the pushchair, our progress through town goes, “Mummy, you’re walking too fast,” “Sorry, sweetheart, is that better?” If she holds my hand, I can stick to her pace for a while, but once she lets go, I’m striding off again.

Slowing down seems to come naturally to other parents, but not to me. I have to concentrate to keep myself from speeding up again, which leaves me chafing with impatience the whole time. I’m used to thinking as I walk, and walking itself is such a dull thing to think about.

Last week, I discovered a way to slow myself down, while entertaining A at the same time. We’d just been to the shop, and as I walked into the flats with a tub of glacĂ© cherries in one hand and my keys in the other, a playful impulse struck me. Could I walk all the way up the stairs with the cherries balanced on my head?

A watched with delighted giggles as I put the tub on my head and started up the stairs. To stop it falling off, I had to keep my head steady, which meant taking every step very slowly and carefully. Halfway up, I realised I was moving at something close to A’s pace, without any of my usual impatience. And she was still laughing her head off at the sight of me carrying my shopping on my head. I think I might be onto something here.

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I’m not a very good parent. I believe it’s important to respect my daughter, but after I’ve explained several times that touching those cakes will cover them with germs so no-one else wants to eat them, I tend to fall back on shouting, “Because I say so, now do as you’re told!”

Still, I do try to approach parenting as a collaboration rather than a battle, and something that happened the other week made me realise how different that is from the way I was raised. My mum came round while A was at nursery, bringing a borrowed carpet cleaner to give the living room carpet a much-needed clean. A had played at cutting up paper, and left the bits scattered on the floor; not knowing which bits she wanted to save, I transferred them all into a margarine tub while my mum tidied up the toys with an obvious home.

She held up a couple of empty crayon packets, and asked whether I was saving them. “I’m not,” I said, “but A might be.” Sighing heavily, she told me I mustn’t encourage her to save every random piece of junk that crosses her path, otherwise she will grow up a hoarder.

But I’m not encouraging her to save junk. Every few weeks, we tidy up her bedroom together, and I explain that there’s only so much space, and perhaps she needs to decide which of her bits and pieces she really needs to hang onto. What I am encouraging her to do is take responsibility for her toys and decide for herself what she wants to keep. I think she stands a better chance of having a healthy attitude to her possessions that way than if I snatch the decisions out of her control.

More importantly, I’m encouraging her to trust me. I want her to go to nursery, secure in the knowledge that I won’t use the time while she’s out of the house to sneak things into the dustbin. I haven’t forgotten how it felt to come home from the shops and find the cardboard box that was my house and my boat sitting on a pile of rubbish at the gate; that’s one thing A will not be going through at my hands. As long as she trusts me and I respect that trust, I don’t really care if she fills her bedroom with crayon packets.

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