by KATE HUNTER
‘All I want is for him to be happy,’ I cooed when my first baby was born. I probably followed it up with, ‘I want only the best for him.’
And maybe, in the fog of new-baby euphoria, combined with a lack of sleep, I might have even said, ‘Nothing is too good for this little man.’
Now, I say bollocks to that. Except for the first one.
More than anything, I want my kids to be happy, but I’ve realised wanting the best for them and treating them like royalty are not pathways to happiness. They are pathways to bratty kids and parental misery.
I’ve embraced the ‘second best’ school of parenting. Actually, I may have invented it – or given it a name, at least. It’s a school that’s easy to get into, impossible to be expelled from and attracts a crowd that’s heaps more fun than the ‘only the best‘ sister-school up the road.
I see, ‘only the best,’ parents all the time. Some of them are good friends. Problem is, I never get to talk to them properly because they’re too busy going to school open days or racing from gymnastics to guitar lessons to get together for coffee.
I say, ‘Why don’t you send Genevieve to the gymnastics centre in Kelvin Grove?’ and my friend Jen will reply, ‘I would, but the one at Cleveland is so much better. The head coach was at the Institute.’
It’s on the tip of my tongue to tell my friend she belongs in an institute, but I don’t. It’s none of my business (although it is, because I miss her and I’d like to have a proper conversation before we’re ninety) and I’m not the one driving a 40km round trip for a nine year old’s gymnastics class.
If only she would be more like me! And embrace second bestness. It’s very liberating.For her, and other parents breaking their backs building their kids perfect worlds, I’ve summarised the main points of Second Best Parenting thusly:
1. Lobbying for the best teacher in the school does your child no favours. One of the most important lessons we learn at school is, ‘Identification and management of dicks.’ Some people are fond of saying, ‘All teachers are awesome; every single one of them deserves the Order of Australia.’
As in all other professions, most teachers are great, but some are dicks. And even a five year old needs to learn the difference. Of course, if you live in a very remote town, with a one teacher school, and that teacher’s a dick, then yes, you have a problem.
2. Air conditioning, heated swimming pools and auditoriums that look like the United United Nations General Assembly do not make the best schools. Nice kids, energetic teachers and a convenient location are what matters. Someone has to pay for the cinema-sized whiteboards and if you can’t afford it comfortably, give it a swerve. Your kid will thank you – mainly because you’ll be home, not working three jobs each day and sobbing into your gin at night, wondering how you’ll pay for the year 6 skiing trip to Japan.
3. There is no need for your child to be better dressed than you.
4. The child that has 4G iPhone while her mother uses a Nokia 3310 will struggle when life throws her a curve ball. How will she Facetime her mother and tell her she’s forgotten to pack her Geography assignment?
5. A massive TV only makes ‘Good Luck Charlie’ and other Disney Channel sitcoms massively more annoying.
6. Steamed salmon, puy lentils and organic broccoli florets might be the best dinner for a growing child. But a sausage, some mashed potato, peas and sauce isn’t a bad second best. At least it’s not a sneaky cheesy.
7. The best way for a small child to practise their reading is undoubtedly on a parent’s lap. If the parent is cooking dinner, or even reading themselves, the second best option is an older sibling.
8. The best books for children may well be prize-winning ones, but if your kid inhales Zac Power then I say be happy he’s reading at all and save the Children’s Book Council winners for later. Or another child.
9. Being satisfied with second best for your kids is quite different to expecting second best from them. It’s important they try their hardest, use their best manners, do what they believe is right. A ho-hum effort on an essay or a half-arsed job of tidying the rumpus room won’t cut it.
What I’m on about is parents sacrificing their happiness for their kids’ happiness. The ones who are guilted into paying for things their child doesn’t need and they can’t afford. A belief that everyone else is doing something and if they don’t, their kid will be left behind.
The happiest families I know are the ones with the most relaxed parents. And mostly, they’re happy with second-best, because that’s what’s best for them.
Do you insist on ‘the best’ for your child?