Fiona Ness: 'Pushy parents need to pull back and stop shoving perfectionism down children's throats'

All parents know that moment: The tension is high; the opposition is closing in.

Their bainisteoir is bawling to his players, “Pink socks! Keep your eye on Pink socks!” and with a twist and a drop of the shoulder (and a flash of pink socks) the goal is in your sights. You are truly immortal. And then, from nowhere, the ball is snatched and your chance of victory is in the dust…

Except it’s not your lost victory, is it? It’s your child’s. You are not playing a match – they are. You are on the sidelines and the disappointment is theirs, not yours. And yet bitter recriminations crowd your head… all the things you would have done better to win that point. If only you, not they, had been on the pitch, things would have played out differently. Why can’t your kid be better? Why can’t they be more like you?

The reality is you are a fortysomething adult who hasn’t laced up a pair of football boots in over ten years – at least not since your child was born. And herein might lie the problem. It’s hard not to live through your children, when you’ve given up everything in your own life to facilitate theirs.

It’s also hard not to giggle when you watch the video doing the rounds of the father on the sidelines who, when realising his son is about to be caught unawares at a soccer match, pushes his child into the face of the oncoming ball.

The moment of levity sparks a bit of soul searching too: have parents become just a little too pushy? When it comes to ‘supporting’ your child at a sports match – how much is too much? Cheering them and their team on is just right. Standing next to them in goals to give them technical support throughout the match? Too much. Using their body as an extension of your own leg? Definitely a red card offence.

In fact, whether it’s screaming direction at them throughout their GAA match, choosing their friends for them or doing their science project, today’s parents are stifling their children.

Much has been written about the ills of competitive parenting, but even if it’s not your natural inclination, it’s a bit like drug-taking in sport: If one parent is hyper-parenting, we all feel the need to do it, or risk our child (and by extension, us) feeling like a miserable failure in comparison.

What we need is a collective pact amongst parents to pull back. To stop behaving like children in a sweetie shop, plucking perfectionism off the shelves and shoving it down our children’s’ throats.

With pull-back parenting, the real discipline will be knowing when not to act. When to help guide them in the skills they need for adulthood, without this guidance spilling over into executing the skills for them, or hounding them so much to achieve that they buckle under the pressure of our expectations. It would be a win-win for everyone’s stress levels too.

We all want our children to grow up as strong individuals, right? The first step is allowing them the space to work out for themselves how to be just that.

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