parent opinion

HOLLY WAINWRIGHT: How I just found out I'm not a strict parent.

"Well, of course you'll let her do whatever she wants," she said. "Because you always do."

And just like that, friends, I discovered that I am not a strict parent. 

Watch: Be a good mum. Post continues below.


Video via Mamamia

There are some moments in life where you suddenly, sharply see yourself through someone else's eyes. An unguarded comment, a pointed observation that slides under the ribcage, hammers a quick jab to the gut.

"Do I?" I replied. My acquaintance smiled indulgently and changed the subject, suddenly remembering she was talking out loud, and that pointed comments about other people's parenting are usually delivered by your inside voice.  

Do I? I've been thinking, ever since. Do I, though? 

I'd been talking about whether or not my daughter - who's about to turn 11 - should be allowed to give up on an activity she's been doing for a while.

Parents understand why this is a vexing issue. Your child said they wanted to do it. You paid for it. They tried it, they didn't like it. Now every day that they have to go turns into a toxic whinge-fest. 

It's ruining your life to have the same argument on repeat, and to drag them there, sulking. But still, you paid for it. And isn't there something-something about resilience and commitments and follow-through and showing up and... Yes, you're familiar with this dilemma. 

"I don't know," I'd said to this woman, who I know semi-well, through kids. "I've told her how disappointed I'll be if she doesn't follow through with it, but also, I'm sick of the battle it takes to get her there every week. I just don't think it's worth it..." 

Reading that back, even I'm irritated by my wishy-washiness. It's hardly surprising it annoyed my friend enough for her to tell me the truth. 

ADVERTISEMENT

But, do I, though? 

It's true that we're often running late. It's true that I can be a pushover at the shops. It's true that I let her wear what she wants. That sometimes I make threats I don't see through. I don't police her friends. I haven't banned sugar. I'm letting her walk to some places alone now. Her hair's a bit of a birds' nest. 

But she doesn't have a phone. Her screen time is existent but mostly limited to weekends. She's kind. 

Listen: Jules Sebastian lives in a house of boys. On This Glorious Mess, she talks raising sons with husband Guy. Post continues below.

What is a strict parent in 2021? This exchange led me to ask. Because I don't know very many "seen and not heard" parents. Or "because I said so" parents. I know quite a few "consequences" parents. And a lot of "boundaries" parents. But strict? 

Here's what some of the Mamamia Parents Facebook group told me about their strictness:

"My mum was very strict, and I am very laid back. The difference that I see is fear, I remember just being so scared of my mum although we have a great relationship now and I can see why she was so strict."

"I’m not strict but I’d like to think I’m fair. I don’t have rules for the sake of it and I try to keep things fun as much as possible." 

"We are pretty lax until they muck up. And they know this. We are very go with the flow for a lot of things. We are happy to let the kids learn natural consequences for a lot of things but if they push, they get in trouble. My parents were strict. Like never leave the house or allowed to have friends over kind of strict. I don’t want to be like that."

"I’ve always been strict but fair - until Covid. Now I’m much more of an ‘I'll allow it’ parent and I can’t get the bloody genie back into the bottle."

An 'I'll allow it' parent. That's my new identity. Because the reality for the cliche of the 'busy working parent' is that you have to pick your battles, and very often you pick the battles that won't make your life harder.

If an avalanche of criticism has been directed at us - the parents who are busy, who outsource when they can and who sometimes, sometimes choose the 'easy' option - we are no longer caring. We're caring about our kids, and their wellbeing, their health and happiness. We're not caring if they followed a made-up rule we invented to test their will.

ADVERTISEMENT

Here is my defensive list of things that "I'll allow it" parents know to be true.

1. 'My way or the highway' only works if you don't care whether the destination is reached at all. If the objective is achieved, whether they followed your rules to the letter to get there really isn't important.

2. Everyone has to admit when they're wrong in the "I'll allow it" house, including the parents. So when I've completely lost the plot and yelled and stomped, I have to apologise. And so do they.

3. We've learned to tailor our expectations to our individual kids. 

Every parent knows that the rules you had in your head before they turned up were completely different than the ones you've learned to live by. Some kids respond really well to a strict routine and structure, some need some wriggle room. And if you throw in a kid who's really 'different' - say, has additional needs - you have to bend those expectations again. Butting up against why things aren't the way you thought they were going to be is a ticket to frustration and self-loathing.

4. Dessert before dinner? I'll allow it, on Saturday afternoons.

5. Disrespect and name calling? Won't allow it. 

My line is now the six-year-olds we used to see on Super Nanny who would call their mums 'b*tch' while they shredded her clothes with scissors and refused to sleep. Ever. 

Some people might think that's a low bar. I'm here for it.

So, what did I end up doing about my daughter and her dreaded activity? Well, you tell me if I let her do whatever the hell she wanted: There are three possible classes in a week she could go to. It's within walking distance of both our school and our house. I told her she could choose which one of those she goes to each week. It doesn't have to be the same day every time, but she has to pick and whinge.

As long as she goes to one, I'll allow it.  

How did I do?


Sign up for our weekly newsletter For Humans With Kids, where Holly Wainwright shares her parenting nails and fails, and stories from the glorious mess that is family life.


Feature Image: Supplied.