The parent trap

I hate to say I told you so (who am I kidding? It’s one of my favourite phrases), but yesterday’s news that over-controlling parents are likely to raise depressed children comes as no surprise.

So-called helicopter parents – who hover over their children from cradle to college and sometimes beyond – are, according to American researchers, creating young adults who are not only more likely to be depressed, but who find it much harder to lead happy, independent lives. They also find it harder to get on with other people.

Perhaps I’m just naturally idle when it comes to bringing up children, but I have always found that leaving them to their own devices, especially when it comes to making friends and doing homework, has so far (my fingers are tightly crossed behind my back, which is making typing difficult) worked well with our four.

When I say I leave them to their own devices, I throw them out of the house after breakfast and tell them to entertain themselves until tea time – I’m not Ma Walton. And of course when it comes to homework I nag them till I’m blue in the face, but after a certain point I give up. If I can’t persuade them to do their homework on time then, eventually, they will have to face the consequences. And for Katy one missed playtime for not filling in her reading record is far more of a wake-up call than me just constantly going on and on about it. After 17 times she simply switches off. Her teacher just has to arch one perfectly groomed eyebrow and she reaches for her book bag.

Equally I have enough problems organising my own social life without taking on theirs as well. We are lucky in that we live in a city, so most of their friends live within walking distance, so I’m spared the hell of driving them about from one friend’s house to another. They all have quite strong views on who they want to see and when, so they refuse to let me even think about arranging “play dates” for them. (Oh how I hate that phrase. It sounds like a rather icky version of doctors and nurses.)

And of course – selfish creature that I am – the only time I do arrange for them to visit their friends is when I want to have fun with their friends’ parents or desperately need an hour to finish some work or go to the tip. (And before you suggest it – taking a child to the tip is only fun in children’s books – in real life it’s a short cut to an afternoon in A & E.)

It’s not that I don’t care, but I know my limitations. And now research has, for once, proved me right. We all know children whose parents wrote their science projects and chose their friends as well as their clothes. It may have helped them shine as children, but it turns them into dull, rather helpless teenagers and adults.

Our daughter Cleo refused to let me pick out her clothes from the age of three. And yes, she did go to nursery in the same tartan dress and blue cardigan every day for a year (we had two and rotated) but now, aged 17, she shops at Ralph Lauren and Jack Wills with the money she earns from babysitting and a Saturday job as a receptionist.

Even Katy, who’s only eight, will tidy her room herself if she has a friend coming round because she knows I can’t be bothered to do it. And when Ella, who is 19, is home in the holidays she never goes out without a proper cab firm on her speed dial and £20 stuffed into her shoe.

Are you a busy helicopter mum or a lazy sofa mum? Let me know your secret.

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