Parenting: Learning Not To Interfere

Mummy's more precise version

Mummy’s more precise version

I read a great post this evening, on the Miss Fanny P blog, about how hard it is to be good at something and watch your children struggle (either because they’re little or because they don’t have the same natural aptitude).

It struck a chord with me because I’ve always tended towards perfectionism, to the point of not even trying something I suspected I’d never excel at. I abandoned playing the violin – even though I enjoyed it – when it looked like I would fail the next exam (it’s not a good instrument for the tonally challenged).

My daughter has inherited that trait, getting super-frustrated and upset when she can’t do something first time (even if it’s doing somersaults on the trampoline or being able to spell ‘friend’ when she only started reading three months ago).

With craft activities, she likes to follow the instructions exactly (ahem, guilty as charged) and gets cross when it doesn’t look like the picture on the box. Even though I tell her that NOTHING ever looks like the picture (at the same time as trying to make my own creation as perfect as possible) she still throws in the towel and storms off sobbing.

I used to have to literally sit on my hands to stop myself from helping – straightening stickers, tidying up ragged cutting, that kind of thing. I still do, if I’m watching, but we’ve both learned that the most enjoyable way for her to do craft is if I’m busy doing something else.

My Daughter's Creation

My Daughter’s Creation

I remember the first time it happened, nearly a year ago. I’d bought a couple of discounted ‘dress your dolly’ kits, for my son and daughter. Only, when I opened the boxes, my son went into a teary meltdown because he wanted a toy dog instead. So I decided (for my eardrums’ sake) to sew one out of some felt I had in the sewing basket. For the next half an hour I sewed and my daughter decorated her dolly.

Oh my, when I saw the finished doll I nearly cried. But my daughter was sooooooo proud and hubbie, who always says the right thing, said it looked like a Vivienne Westwood creation. I realised then that I was stifling her creativity with my anal need for perfection.

I’d be lying if I said I have never interfered since that day, but I do at least try not to now. If all the paintings end up brown and the glitter ends up all over the floor and I have to nod and smile and say “marvellous” at something hideous, what does it matter? More than 70% of it ends up in the recycling anyway, after a suitable period of time has passed. I’m learning that it’s the process, rather than the end product, that matters. Learning and getting sticky and having fun.

In the comments beneath Miss Fanny P’s post, someone included the quotation:

“Never help a child with a task with which he feels he can succeed.” Maria Montessori

I can apply this advice to so many things (and sometimes do, mostly out of laziness!) I’m still guilty of a bit of surreptitious help, to make an end product ‘work’, like with the headbands we made today. But, hey, old habits die hard!

11 thoughts on “Parenting: Learning Not To Interfere

  1. This post had me cringing a bit because that’s so totally me. I’m that mom who stands behind their kid, visibly vibrating and gritting her teeth while asking, “Do you want mama to do that for you?” In fact, one of the phrases most often uttered from my mouth is, “Here, mama will do that bit.”

    The thing is, my daughter is a perfectionist in her own right, but not when it comes to artsy stuff. She likes to make “fun” messes. So I’ve had to learn to sit on the sidelines, smiling so stiffly that it feels like my cheeks might crack, and just let her do her thing.

    It’s a rough go ahead, isn’t it? lol

  2. I recognise myself here 15 years ago. All the way through their growing up it’s so hard to let children (even adult ones) make their own mistakes. But it’s the best way for them to learn.

  3. I so recognise this. I also have a child who spurns help of any description with anything. Except he wants to do things that are on a par with say.. ski jumping without even being shown which direction to point in. “No Mummy I you go up the hill.” etc etc. Obviously I was never like this, oh no, not at all (I was FAR worse).

    If I’m very lucky, the first time he encounters something he’ll let me explain the controls… if I’m VERY lucky.

    I hear you on this though. It is the process that matters.



  4. So well put, Amanda! I can’t remember helping my daughter, but oh yes, I must have, because just about five minutes ago, she came in and said “How do I look?” We are going to a “college she might choose” get-together tonight and she had on a white puffy peasant blouse with a black skater skirt, boots and black tights.

    I said (I know I tend to be a little off beat) “How about the black faux fur vest?” She said, “Mom, I may be going to SCHOOL with these kids.” I said, “Well at least you won’t look, as you said, like a “waitress.”

    So, it is best to not interfere, I guess. When Lyla was little,I must have been straightening the stickers and fussily cleaning up the floor of glitter too. My daughter did have a little section of our living room we called her “studio” where she created stuff all the time. I put a screen around it to block out the mess. Virgo that I am!

    • Haha yes, clothing is another area of risk. My mum never interfered when I was younger for which I should be grateful, except all the photos are of me in cerise and purple or a pink puffball skirt topped with a garfield sweater. So I try to teach my kids what ‘goes’ and they’re pretty good at putting outfits together. Most of the time. I did have to endure my daughter going out in yellow leggings, a yellow Hawaiian shirt, and stripy purple socks today. Thankfully it was cold and she chose a gorgeous jumper that made it all work. Parenting; full of unseen challenges!

      • Yes. Our daughter wore feather boas when she was five. And put flowers in her hair. But either she was in a school uniform or a ballet costume, so I let that go. But lately she said to me,”Why did you ever let me wear that hideous black sparkly nail polish?” (When she was fifteen.) 🙂 Now she wears black nail polish with no glitter in it. I guess that’s okay.

  5. Pingback: Dragon Wraiths and Daughter Days | writermummy

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