Monday, 16 April 2012

Fostering independence

A post scriptum to 'Safeguarding Gone Mad in Tescos'....

We were just about on time for the school run this morning. But at the last minute I realised my deaughter wasn't wearing her cycle helmet. So I told her to go back inside to get it, and catch us up. Then I set off with son on scooter, assuming she would join us a few seconds later.

Many seconds later it was clear that something had gone wrong. I sent son on scooter back as an envoy, she was duly found, and caught up with us. At first I tried to quell my ever-present impatience by asking if she was all right. But when she said that she'd been frightened because mummy wasn't there, I'm ashamed to say I lost that fragile patience completely.

I know, I know, I'm not proud of this. Why do you think I write about it?

What happened is that I told her off for not listening to me, and for not using her common sense. If you read the Tescos post, you'll sense a theme here. Into the gap between my expectation of where her logic and common sense should be, and where it actually is, floods my impatience... and anger.

All the horrible way to school, labouring under two gymn bags, a trumpet, a school bag and my own satchel, I sweated and fumed.

It was only when we arrived at school, late, that I found myself wanting to cry with the frustration of it all – the frustration of my daughter's fears making us late for school, and the fact that my daughter's fears also make it impossible to criticize her without crushing her.

And for the fact that what I am confronting here is myself. As a child I was exactly the same – not, perhaps about simple errands without Mummy, which I was able to do from around 6, but about change. I found contemplating the future, and change, absolutely terrifying. Why should my beautiful daughter feel any differently?

Later on in the morning, instead of going home and running errands, getting on with work etc etc, I spontaneously went to have my legs waxed. This is a novelty in my life – a life spent frugally and fearfully avoiding the world of female beauty treatment, condemning it for its vanity, its waste of precious time, its servitude to commodified sexuality and Mammon – but these days, a bit of pampering goes a long way.

I talked to the young woman applying the green gloop about her experience of growing up. She'd loved her teenage years, she said. She'd loved going out with friends, from around the age of 12, although she'd still been taken to school until she was around 13. She'd had a Saturday job from around 16. I realized, listening to her, what my problem is.

Although I long for my daughter to seize her independence, the truth is that she is rather like me, as I was at her age. She is dreamy and imaginative, and sometimes anxious. She's also an actress, and the world is her stage. Her waking life is filled with stories of her own devising – no wonder she doesn't know how to find me in a supermarket, or worries when she can't see me on the school run.

It quite literally doesn't cross her mind yet to use her common sense to solve a problem, and I am going to need to support her to grow this. But I am never going to be able to make her be independent, because, as was the case with me, this is a process that each individual is in sole charge of. In my case, I could run mentally long before I could walk emotionally, and it did me no favours at all, leading to teenage years of acute self-consciousness and misery, as I imagined and punished myself for all the FUN I believed others to be having, unable to bear taking a single step towards it.

I grew up sheltered, but I also sheltered myself, because I was actually unable to set off in life any earlier than I did. For many years I blamed my parents for this sheltering. But now I can see that my forming self actually craved the peace and tranquility of home, and that I simply felt guilty about this, berating myself for not being more worldly, when I had no real wish to be worldly at all. I've always been criticized for my thin skin.

So while it's hilarious that my child can't find me in a supermarket, and makes for a good story, the truth is much smaller and quieter and more painful than that: my lovely child will look for her independence in her own time, and nothing I do (although I should not stop offering her challenges and puzzles and opportunities) will speed that process up.

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