Watch out, pushy parent about

My mum and I bumped into my old boss in our local DIY store on Saturday, and we got to talking about schools, as you do.

“Is she a pushy parent?” he asked my mum. “Hmm, moderately,” she replied.

Ouch.  Thanks for that, Mum. Love you too.

Past my touchy harrumphing, the exchange got me thinking.  Was she right?

First question: what exactly is a pushy parent.  Holding off my reflexive reach for Google, I came up with my own definition:

A pushy parent is willing to go to any length to ensure their child is first or best at everything they (the parent) thinks matters.  A pushy parent is one whose own feelings of worth and validation are achieved through their child(ren), irrespective of the child’s own wishes, interests or happiness. 

So what does the lovely Google offer by way of alternative definitions and how do I fare against them, or indeed against my own.

From Mouths of Babes suggests five signs of potential pushy parenthood:

– If your child speaks more than three languages in pre-school

– If they’re reading chapter length books before they even start school

– If they’re learning more than one musical instrument or three kinds of dancing

– If you’ve entered them in a pageant of any kind before they’re five

– If you actually start expecting them to win stuff – whether it’s sports, academic prizes or beauty pageants

Phew, relief all round.  I’m okay on all five: no baby modelling auditions or child genius hothousing Chez H.  I would add to her point about winning that pushy parents probably express disappointment with their children if they don’t deliver a top performance every time.  I imagine taking part or doing your best doesn’t cut the pushy mustard.

What other definitions did I find… well, Joanna Moorhead writing for The Guardian online offers “fighting to give our children opportunities”.   She goes so far as to suggest good parenting requires pushiness, and if more parents fought for their kids the overall result would be good for everyone.  Hmm.  I guess it depends where people draw the line of good for their own child versus recognising the spectrum of needs overall, but I see sense in her sentiment.

I also agree with her that being an ‘actively involved’ parent is part of the job description.  School can’t do it alone, and personally I don’t want them to.  I find the whole education process fascinating.  I want to understand what the goals are, how they are taught and how I can best support that from home.  Perhaps that makes me pushy, but, to be frank, I don’t care, as long as my interest doesn’t tip into interfering or obstructing or anything else that is about me rather than the children.

Similarly I agree with Ms Moorhead that engaged parents can help schools attain or maintain high standards by not accepting anything less and being willing to be part of the solution.  But is that pushy parenting?  Only if it’s to extreme or to the detriment of others.

Great, so far, so good.  I think I’m still doing okay.

Now, how about someone working with families in a professional capacity.  The Kids Coach defines the pushy parent as “…a parent who wants their child to excel in one or more areas of their life and therefore encourages and motivates them in a forceful way to get to the place that the parent wants them to be.”

Bit harder that one.

I would love my children to excel in something they enjoy and are good at.  Who wouldn’t? Feeling you are achieving and seeing others respond to that can be very motivational and satisfying.  So much the better if it’s something society values and, if they choose it for work, pays good money so they don’t have to struggle to make ends meet.  Of course it’s also easier to talk proudly of your progeny if their chosen passion is socially acceptable, but that’s a pretty broad spectrum these days, whichever socio-economic bracket you fit in.  Our family friends had a bit of a sticky wicket when their  lovely middle-class son chose to exploit a legal loophole on importing magic mushrooms (since closed), but I suspect his line of interest is in the minority.



Would I ‘forcefully’ encourage and motivate them?  It depends.  I do believe a good work ethic is a useful life skill, as is learning the lesson that things worth doing take effort and that effort won’t always feel like fun.  So I’m not going to let them give up on things when they start getting a little bit hard. But there’s a limit when you’re only 6 years old.  Pity the kids with no time to play.  How else do they develop their imagination, their social skills?

When they’re older I can see it getting harder.  Study/practise or go out on the town with your mates.  Commit to a more solitary, focused path or be in the in-gang.  Whichever their path, I hope we succeed in balancing when to push them on versus back off and support them in their own choices.

Finally, I found this blog, with a wonderfully balanced, thoughtful viewpoint I thoroughly agree with.  Key pushy signs to look out for: excessive bragging, forgetting it’s not about you, making your kids the source of your own self-worth and esteem.

Is that me?  I bloomin’ well hope not.  I love my kids dearly but I am a person in my own right.  I don’t think I brag or engage in one-upmanship.  Yes, I ferry my kids round gymnastics, ballet, swimming, football, and will add Brownies, Scouts and no doubt tennis, music lessons in the future.  Would I do this if they didn’t want to?  No, I don’t think so, except swimming which I think everyone needs to learn so they’re safe around water.

So in essence, I agree with bits of each of the articles I’ve found. It’s about where you draw the line.  Drugging a child’s tennis opponents is on the extreme end (seriously, check this Independent article out), but fighting for our child’s opportunities, within reason, is a good thing, as long as we’re also realistic about and stay tuned to our child’s character, limits and needs.

That said, not being pushy is easy when your child’s needs are being met and pushier parents aren’t affecting their opportunities or wellbeing.  Perhaps if we go the private route I need to invest in some metal elbow spikes and skin thickeners, given, so hearsay goes, pushy parents are the norm when thousands of pounds are invested in every term of your darling’s education.

So where am I.  Well, totting myself up on the pushy parent scale, I think I’m right to harrumph at my mother’s character assassination.  As usual, no-one presses my buttons as swiftly or deeply as she does.  Take heed, Mrs H, take heed.

Now where did I leave those sleeping tablets.  I’m sure some of Little H’s gym class could do with a bit of slowing down.


4 thoughts on “Watch out, pushy parent about

  1. Fantastic article! I like to think of myself as a non pushy parent, but then I do sit on the edge of my seat in celebration assembly sometimes, hoping Lily (in year 1) has WON something!

  2. I enjoyed reading this. It is sometimes hard to find the balance between encouraging them to do their best and not being one of those horrible pushy parents who put too much pressure on them to perform. I really think the main point is not living vicariously through our kids. If you have your own hopes and dreams for your life and not just goals for your kids, you’ll probably avoid falling into that trap. Also I think it’s about encouraging their natural passions and not assuming they’ll want to do what you want them to do!

    • Glad you enjoyed it, thanks for taking the time to comment. Hope you didn’t mind me referencing you! I agree that living vicariously is a trap to be vigilant for. Here’s hoping their natural passions are easy for me to get my head around!

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