When I was in Year Three at primary school I was shepherd in the nativity play. It wasn't a coveted role, but I was happy, for I was never the kind of child who suited the role of 'Mary,' and that was ok. I liked to stand out. Do my own thing. Rebel against the masses. And this behaviour was something my parents allowed. They didn't push me to be something I wasn't or something that society dictated I should be. I was given opportunities, countless opportunities, to achieve, but those achievements were all of my own making when, and if, they came.
But nowadays, with three children of my own, I've noticed things are very different.
At this time of year nativity plays are the talk of the school playground, not from the children, but the parents. Who is cast in what role dominates discussions and social media is full of photos of Marys, Josephs and key narrators captioned with, 'so proud of my girl,' or 'my amazing little fella in the lead role.' Queues form at daybreak in order for parents to gain front row positions to view their little darlings without having to bop about and peak in between the bobbing heads of other parents or above iPhones and iPads taking countless blurry photos.
The competitiveness around these plays and the lead roles has become a huge part of parenting, with suddenly active parents, the governing body and PTAs being oversubscribed by parents wanting their children to star in the lead roles and have a perceived advantage.
But shouldn't all children be given the same opportunities? Not every parent has the time to commit to helping out at school and their children should not be at a disadvantage because of it.
And what effect does this have on the children? What life skills do they learn by being offered roles without any effort on their part? It is feeding into society's feeling of entitlement, which as we know has led to political meltdown in 2016 with angry and disillusioned voters feeling like they are owed something.
If we enable our child to achieve success without them ever needing to work for it, then what skills are we instilling them with? Failure is a learning curve that allows children to adapt and modify their behaviour and strive to succeed next time round, or not. It teaches them resilience, determination and a huge sense of pride and self worth. If their achievements are handed to them on a plate then they learn to expect success instead of having to work in order to achieve it. They expect others to sort stuff out for them and make things happen.
Yes, we all want our children to succeed, but at what cost? And at what cost to other people's children?
Every child deserves to be given the same opportunities in life, the same chances to find their unique talent, to enjoy something for them, not because their parents push them into the limelight and then take credit for their achievements. As a parent we are biologically programmed to be proud of our children for any achievement.
This year, for me, that achievement was my youngest actually making it onto the stage during his nativity. He may have cast his tinsel halo aside, and he may have been semi naked due to an oversized white 'angel' costume, but he was there, smiling at me and entirely ignoring the teacher attempting to cajole him into singing the song and joining in with the actions. He wasn't Joseph. He didn't have a speaking part and he probably never will. He simply hasn't found his 'thing' yet.
And when he does I'll be damned sure if I'm going to enable his success. He can work for it and I'll pick him up and help him discover the skills and tools he needs in order to carry on and try again. The achievements and successes he makes will all be down to him. Not me. And they won't make me a better person. They won't define me, and nor should they.
I never did progress from being the shepherd, and my staring role in the Year Six summer production was that of 'monkey number five' even though I auditioned for the role of the wicked witch.
And my parents were still proud of me.
Just as I was of my half naked, halo free, angel.
And always will be.