Today was haircut day for me and also haircut day for my daughter. She is only four and her hair doesn’t grow at the rate of knots that mine does, so I take her every few months just to have a trim (and for somebody to untangle her curls without her shouting at them). When I took her today, I had the small conundrum of it being the first time I’d taken her without my husband and son – aka the back up team. When we go as a family, I can sit comfortably with the knowledge that once my daughter’s hair is finished, she can go off with her dad and brother to the park. Today, we were on our own so I packed with us a little bag of toys, raisins, and books, to keep her amused whilst my hair was being cut. In the event, everything went fine, apart from the odd ‘daughter is bored’ moment when she wanted to sit on my knee or swing the chair I was sitting in – though it wasn’t reflected on my stylist’s face, this probably wasn’t a great help.
Whilst she was having her hair cut, my daughter sat on a chair next to me, with her gown on, and patiently let the stylist cut her hair. She didn’t once moan or get restless. She was great. And as we walked back to the car, I found myself wondering why I had worried about how it would be and realising that as she gets older I have to start pulling back and letting her navigate situations by herself, with the safety net that I’m there, but not interfering.
I read a very interesting piece by US Developmental Psychologist, Alison Gopnik, in The Guardian, about raising children and how we adopt a style of parenting in modern times that doesn’t allow children to find their feet themselves. We do too much for children and we try to set things up so they are going to do well, be successful, not get hurt etc. I can’t argue with this. I’m massively guilty of it. I can think of many examples where I have tried to stop my children feel sad about something or hurt or frustrated or bored. Instead of just letting them feel those things so that they can work out how to deal with them, without me interfering. And I can think of many examples where I have intervened in a sibling conflict by telling one sibling how they should respond to the other in order to make it right. These reactions come very naturally to me and they are borne from a place of trying to make it better and trying to do the right thing. But what if it isn’t our job as parents to make it better? What if the right thing is not as we see it? What if our job as parents is, on a basic level, to provide a safe base for children to explore the world, without us stifling them and trying to teach them everything we know? You may be thinking this is what you do anyway. But if we really think about it, how many times do we try to steer children into the direction we would take instead of letting them figure it out themselves, and crucially, letting them choose the wrong reactions and the wrong things to say in order for them to find the right ones?
I remember a physical example with my son from when he was becoming a toddler and he went through a period of hitting his head on the floor. I instinctively tried to protect him from hurting himself. I would throw cushions under his head just in time so he wouldn’t feel the pain. When I told the health visitor what he was doing and what I was doing, she told me to take the cushions away. She told me to let him hit the floor, feel the pain, and realise for himself that it was a pretty bad idea. And I did just what she said. And he stopped.
So maybe I need to think about Alison Gopnik’s words and take away those metaphorical cushions. It’s time for some independence.