One of the main goals of parenting for me is to help shape independent beings who are able to think for themselves and confidently follow their chosen path in life. It’s just damned inconvenient when they have a mind of their own aged three and a bit. I thought you were meant to feel old when policemen started looking young, but when your toddler is capable of formulating reasoned arguments you find hard to answer, it’s easy to see where grey hairs come from.
I’m sure I recall treating my parents’ opinions as gospel until I was at least ten. I didn’t understand why some children’s parents read anything other than The Guardian, chose sunny Spain over cloudy Brittany as a holiday destination, or bought sliced white loaves. (Admittedly, the latter was a source of envy from a very early age. I eyed up the Mother’s Pride in other children’s lunch boxes, salivating at the very thought of such processed riches, while the home-baked, wholemeal bread of my sandwiches never received the recognition it deserved. Other children stared with wonder at the alien foodstuff between which my homemade egg mayonnaise lay. I fully intend to subject my own sons to this kind of humiliation in the coming years).
Bigger Boy displays no such unconditional trust. Instead he scrutinises every statement I make with the interrogation skills of a high court lawyer. ‘You can’t have any more milk’, I say, ‘because there isn’t any left’. I’m telling the truth, but he looks at me in disbelief and opens the fridge to verify this. When he doesn’t see any, he says, ‘don’t worry Mummy, we can go to the shop and buy some more!’
‘Put your hat on’, I say, ‘it’s really hot out today. Everyone wears a hat in this weather’. Out we go into the heat of the day, and it’s as if all hats have been banned from Brooklyn. Nobody within a five mile radius is wearing one. Bigger pounces on this immediately. ‘That lady’s not wearing a hat’. ‘Look Mummy, that man’s not wearing a hat. Some people don’t wear hats’. ‘Yes, darling’, I want to say, ‘and that’s why their skin looks like perfect handbag material’, but I can’t, because they’re within earshot and that would upset them. A few people with hats on start appearing – generally other toddlers, and I triumphantly point this out to Bigger. Continuing in his lawyer vein, he deftly swats this information aside and persists in presenting as evidence only those people without hats. To which I can only reply, ‘think for yourself! If everyone else stripped off naked and rollerskated down the street into oncoming traffic, would you?’
The problem is, depending on what I’m trying to get him to do, I’m either telling him to be like other people, or not to be like other people. There’s no consistency in this line of persuasion and Bigger, quite rightly, sees through it. The exception to this is at naptime when we do a rollcall of other children who ‘are asleep by now’ (but probably aren’t); he seems to quite like the idea of his friends having a nap too, so that he isn’t missing out on any fun they might otherwise be having. As the mental list of friends includes those in London, it’s only a matter of time before the understanding of time zones scuppers this strategy.
I’m trying to raise a child who will dare to do things differently, yet I know he wants to ‘fit in’, and I try to use this to my advantage – subconsciously or not. As the mother of babies, I got so used to doing their thinking for them that as soon as I say ‘think for yourself’, it feels like I’m doing myself out of a job. But in the long-run, I won’t have a job any more, except the essential one of supporting the choices he makes and resisting the temptation to force my ideas upon him. This I will do, so that he is his own person – sunburnt face or not.