What Sort Of Parent Do I Want To Be? One That's Different From My Parents

I used to have grand ideas about how I would parent – now I just want to be a supportive mum, writes guest columnist Robyn Wilder

“What sort of parent would you like to be?”

My friend Gloria asks this one morning, as we’re watching our kids romp around her living room (or rather, our pre-schoolers completely ignore each other, while my toddler stomps, roaring, on his building blocks in the manner of Godzilla attacking Tokyo).

Currently, my kids are four and one, so I’m whatever sort of parent that gets them out of the house in the morning when the bigger one “just wants to be alone” and the little one is dancing in puddles of his own wee.

But when it comes to what kind of parent I want to be when they’re older, I know one thing for sure: not the kind of parent my parents were.

They might have been insane hippies and demonstrative, huggy Latin types, but my parents could also be weirdly cold when it came to child-rearing. Children who were anything other than pleasant or amusing were met with stern disapproval, and if I had a problem I was either “making a fuss”, or it was somehow magically solved behind my back.

"My kids have turned out funny, sweet and curious."
Malte Mueller via Getty Images
"My kids have turned out funny, sweet and curious."

I remember how mental health issues abounded in the family, but were never discussed. And how I’ve spent my adult life in recovery from being a repressed, clinically-depressed people-pleaser with so few problem-solving skills that I have to watch YouTube tutorials every time I want to fix something.

“I just want to be a supportive mum,” I tell my friend. “Someone my kids can come to when something horrible happens, or if they accidentally call their teacher ‘Miss Booby’ in front of the class bully, or they’re thinking about having sex, or whatever.”

My friend nods sagely: “Ah yes, like Barbra Streisand in Meet The Fockers. Sex-positive. Kaftans, and that.”

“Not kaftans,” I say, bristling slightly. Gloria mollifies me with a supermarket-own-brand reduced-fat chocolate digestive; my third.

“What sort of parent did you used to think you’d be?” She adds.

Now there’s a question.

The answer has changed a bit over time: when I was six, I assumed I’d have 11 kids all with dirty knees, genius IQs, names like Diggory and Arabella, and a propensity for solving large-scale crimes. As an edgy teen I was rabidly anti-“breeder”, and would vibrate with displeasure, like one of Roald Dahl’s witches, at the very whiff of a child on public transport.

“In my thirties, I fell pregnant, and pored over parenting books, deciding on which parenting style to inhabit once the baby was born."”

In my thirties, I fell pregnant, and pored over parenting books, deciding on which parenting style to inhabit once the baby was born. And as a new mum, in the throes of postnatal depression, I wasted months deriding myself because my dingy, muslin-strewn living room didn’t measure up to the smiley, monochrome versions of motherhood Instagram was feeding me.

I couldn’t know, of course, that all of this was a lie. That, as a child, my fantasy wasn’t a parenting philosophy so much as outright plagiarism of Enid Blyton’s entire oeuvre. Or, as an adult, that your parenting style isn’t something you choose like a pick-and-mix item, but is governed largely by how you were parented, what you learned from how you were parented, and who your kids turn out to be.

My kids have turned out funny, sweet and curious. And, while I know that life will probably knock these traits out of them to some degree as they go through school and relationships and that bit where you might call your teacher “Miss Booby”, I’d like to be a source of strength and solace when that happens. To make the scary bits of the world outside feel more manageable and less all-encompassing, and to help restore their funny, curious, sweet natures.

I consider saying all this to Gloria, but I’m slightly afraid she might accuse me of kaftans again. So instead I take a biscuit and ask, “What sort of parent do you want to be?”

Gloria cocks her head and gazes at her son, whose ginger head is bent in quiet Lego contemplation.

“Did you ever see the film We Need To Talk About Kevin?” She asks.

“Er, the… one where Tilda Swinton’s teenage son turns out to be a murdering psychopath?”

“Yes, that one,” Gloria nods decisively. “I don’t want to be that sort of parent.”

Well. You can’t say fairer than that.