parents

'There was a woman on the TV last night who scared the shit out of me.'

She was a really, really good mum.

There was a woman on TV last night who scared the shit out of me.

And I bet that I wasn’t the only one.

Her name is Anna, and she is an excellent mum. An excellent mum because she gave up her job as a pharmacist to look after her children full-time and focus on making sure they “succeed on all fronts”.

To that end, Anna spends her time taking her two children, Frankie and Janie, to a total of 16 extra-curricular activities a week, frequently running a tight 13-hour schedule to make all this happen.

Frantic Family Rescue
Anna runs through her kids’ punishing schedules in Frantic Family Rescue.

Anna and her kids were on a documentary called Frantic Family Rescue. In the show, three middle-class families were visiting by Carl Honoré, a well-respected advocate for “slow parenting”, who dissected their stressed-out, over-scheduled lives and gave them a plan for calming the f- down.

Of the three Australian families that the London-based academic visited, Anna was his greatest challenge.

Anna has Frankie signed up to piano, guitar lessons and ensemble, ballroom dancing, professional acting, Nippers, athletics, rugby, soccer, and maths coaching. She wants to cover all bases, she says, because she wants her kids to have “options”.

She sits in on piano lessons, she watches every dance class, she has to be in the stands applauding when Frankie runs and she spends a great deal of time cramming with him in the back of taxis. Frankie is eight.

Anna scared the shit of me, not because she is a bad mother, or a bad person, or a shrew or a nag or any of those other things that I’m sure the trolls are calling her today.

No, Anna scared me because she made me feel anxious in two different ways:

1. Why aren’t I more like that?

and

2. Shit. I am a bit like that.

Anna is a real person. But she also seemed deliberately cast in Frantic Family Rescue as a parable representing the insecure, striving side of contemporary parenting.

The side of us all that has read the studies about how giving kids time for unstructured play is great for building brains, still gives us a nervous knot in our bellies when a friend says they have signed Little Evie up for Karate and French and Tennis this summer, because they heard that a combination of hand-eye coordination and languages is the new silver bullet.

The side of us that feels maybe hot-house tutoring is sending our child the wrong message about priorities, would rather die than not get Little Atticus into the Selective Stream.

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You can see Anna, and the other parents on Frantic Family Rescue in action, here:

The side of us that can’t say no when Little Ava can’t decide between gymnastics, nippers, soccer and ballet because all her friends are doing them, so we just say yes to all of it, and then spend half our lives running late for appointments with the wrong things in the wrong gym bag and never, ever, ever having a morning when everyone can just wake up and lie around for a while in their pyjamas, uttering unheard of phrases like, “What shall we do today?”

This is Carl Honore’s point. As he said on last night’s show, middle-class parents are spending more time and money on their kids than ever, and if the return on the investment of all this scheduled fun was real, we would be churning out a generation of super-fit and well adjusted kids.

But we’re not. As parents are constantly told everywhere they turn, our kids have never been more anxious, or more obese.

Parents are sick of hearing that message, of being reminded all the things we are getting wrong, just by trying to do them right.

Screen time. Social media. Over-scheduling. Junk food. Too much sport. Not enough sport. Being there too much, not being there enough.

Frantic Family Rescue
Anna with her kids Janie and Frankie, along with Carl Honore.

All of those anxieties can ball-up and spew out an Anna. A well-meaning woman who has firmly placed her children at the centre of her life, only to be so consumed by the minutiae of their little worlds that she has become a cautionary tale.

So yes, the over-achieving mum scared the shit out of us on TV last night.

Because she is the exaggeration of all of us. And a brilliant reminder to CALM THE FUCK DOWN.

But can we?

Do you worry about over-scheduling your children? 

*  You can follow Holly on Facebook, here

* You can watch Frantic Family Rescue on ABC iView

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