I started this blog about six years ago and named it ‘Ambitious Mamas’. Straight forward enough you would think but I soon tired of having to explain what the title meant. No, make that ‘very, very soon’ instead of just ‘soon’. The concept of a mother being ambitious for her child was, to put it mildly, alien and seemed to contradict some unwritten ethos in the British culture.
I was made to feel as if ‘mother ambition’ was something to be ashamed of. Judging from the Twitter storm and negative media coverage of the mother of the 2016 winner of the Channel 4 programme ‘Child Genius’ the concept of a mother being ambitious for her child is still fodder for mother blame and ridicule.
|My daughter, Maelo Manning, giving her first speech at the age of 10|
I have one daughter whom I have had big ambitions for from the day she was born. At the age of 10 my daughter became the youngest political blogger in the country. It was a natural step for her to take for two reasons. Firstly, I have a huge interest in politics and from a very young age she and I would watch the news together. I would explain issues and events to her which she listened to with great interest. Secondly, my daughter showed promise from when she was a baby. She said her first words and sentences well before the average age of when these things develop.
Being ambitious for her seemed and still seems to be the best way of mothering her. If I was not ambitious for I would be letting her down. I am hellbent on her reaching her potential.
What puzzles me is why mothers like me are seen as being oddballs. It is far more acceptable to be a totally laid back parent who wants their child ‘to be happy’ than my style of ambitious mothering which seeks to define and help her navigate ways in which happiness can be found. Happiness is not plucked out of thin air. My daughter gets joy from being challenged and achieving goals. She also gets joy from hanging out with friends, having sleep overs and fighting with me.
What people don’t realise is that a child has the ability to absorb much more than we give them credit for. They are able to do the serious and the fun stuff. Childhood is made up of both but more often childhood is sanctified as something that should not be sullied by anything that detracts from fun and play. What is even more puzzling is the elasticity attributed to childhood. It seems to stretch forever and I often wonder about when the seriousness of exams and setting personal goals is allowed to kick in.
When my daughter was 11 she was interviewed by a popular radio station during a political party conference. She prepped for this by going through the questions that she thought she would be asked on the party’s policies. Instead the first question asked was about whether she felt that she was missing out on her childhood and whether she resented seeing her friends doing child things while she was at this conference.
When the book ‘Battle Hymn of the Tiger Mother’ was published I was jokingly referred to as the ‘Brown Tiger Mother’ by friends. I do resent this label because the style of mothering described in this book scares me with its’ familiarity. You see I come from a background where ‘pushy mother’ takes on a whole different meaning. If you thought Rhea’s mother was pushy you ain’t seen nothing yet.
The threshold for being a ‘pushy mother’ in other cultures is much higher. Simply putting up your hand to challenge a quiz master would be seen as ‘normal’. A ‘pushy mother’ in another sense would not even have to raise her hand because her child would/ought to have given the required answer at first go. These mothers will expect academic excellence from their children regardless of whether or not their children are capable and/or able to deliver this. This is ‘pushy parenting’ that really does damage children’s wellbeing. I saw it first hand when I was growing up.
I am often asked whether I would have ‘pushed’ my daughter in the same way if she had not had the ability as she does. I believe that every child has a talent and it is the parent’s responsibility to discover what this is and to nurture it. I constantly tell my friends off for forcing their children to excel academically when the child’s talents are grounded elsewhere, like sport. Academic excellence is not the only trophy in town.
Guiding and nurturing your child with parental ambition is natural. Omitting this component from one’s parenting is, to me, abnormal. One Christmas I bought my daughter a book on neoliberalism. Friends who dropped by were horrified at my choice. Never mind that my daughter enjoyed receiving this book. Years later these same friends who questioned my ambitious mothering and who insisted that childhood should only consist of making and doing ‘creative things’ now make fun of their own child and refer to her as being thick because she is not ahead academically.
I see this happen time and time again with various families. An artificial divide is drawn around childhood through which nothing else must permeate except non-challenging matters. When this ring fence is removed arbitrarily the child is blamed for not adapting quickly enough to challenges. I see this as irresponsible parenting.
I am sticking to my ambitious mothering.