Thursday 7 January 2010

Oh God, am I a pushy parent?

Should you push children? That thorny old question. Gloom has descended upon the Bonkers House because the end of the holidays is looming and with the new term comes entrance exams. James has been set a pile of practice papers and getting him to tackle them has been akin to making a terrier avoid rats.

Part of me thinks, oh for heaven’s sake, he’s eleven. Surely it’s an eleven-year old’s god-given right to lounge around during the holidays, watching TV; hanging out with his mates; lobbing snowballs and so on. But another part of me thinks, shit, I’m working my socks off to keep you at this school and I’d like just a tad of commitment in return.

Aha, I hear you say, clambering onto the moral high ground and gazing down disapprovingly – well, if you will send your child to independent (ie fat fee-paying) school, then it’s your lookout. And, yes, it is. But let’s not go into that one right now – I seriously haven’t the energy.

James will pass his exams, of that I have no doubt. It’s the scholarship thing that bugs me. Let’s be honest, anything that would help with fees would be a blessing from on high. The annoying thing is that he could do it. He’s a bright lad but, by heck, he’s lazy.

‘I’ve finished my English paper,’ he says.
‘But you’ve only done half an hour.’
‘But I finished.’
‘Well, write more.’
‘My hand hurts.’

Ah, it is a sad thing for two writers when their offspring finds writing a story a chore. But such is the sheer nastiness of fate.
‘But isn’t it fabulous, making up stories, letting your imagination go wild?’
He just looks at me as if I am a complete imbecile.
So I figured I’ll resort to bribery.
‘Look, no pressure okay, but just saying...if you were to get a scholarship, we’d save so much money that maybe we could afford to go on a really great holiday.’
Why he is fixated on Portugal, I have no idea. He hates seafood. Maybe it’s the golf. He caught the quizzical look.
‘Okay, not Portugal. DisneyWorld. Florida.’
Gulp. Disney was fabulous but, having tasted the high life there, I don’t think I could bear to do it budget fashion. This time he caught the look of sheer panic-stricken rabbit in headlights and, bless him, took pity on me.
‘Disney Paris then. With a friend.’

So it was agreed. Has it worked? Nope. Not even the charms of Mickey and the thrill of the roller coaster has lured him away from the Xbox and the snow. The papers sit, gathering dust, and wistful dreams of skinnier fees have been put sadly to one side.

Because maybe, just maybe, my heart isn’t really in it either.


Anonymous said...

Tough one. I remember the days of common entrance and practice papers. Hideous. I think I was bribed with cake. And a chance to surround myself with all things horse all holiday. But then I'm a girl and much more paranoid about exams/marks/achievement etc. It doesn't help you, but it is probably in his favour that he's a laid back sort of chap and not likely to fry his brain through stress.

Fingers crossed on the holiday bribery front!

Molly Potter said...

I was a teacher for years and motivating kids to do stuff they didn't want to became my forte. However, with my own kids I have noticed a parenting style emerge that appears to have a saying about horses and water as a core belief. That's not to say we don't have horses do have fenced fields.

He'll either clinch the scholarship or he won't...probably regardless of any pushing you might do!

Sorry my inverted snobbery couldn't let it go...there are state schools as a fall back!

Molly Potter said...

Clearly a horse thing going on....what might the cosmos be telling you???

LittleGreenFingers said...

I have to admit, I might be a little pushy if cold hard cash was at stake - it's where reality takes over from good intentions. Perhaps a plain £100 bribe would do it - so much cheaper than Disneyland Paris and yet incredibly seductive to an 11-year-old (or a 37-year-old to be honest. The things I've done for £100...)

Maggie Christie said...

I'd probably be pushing and/or nagging in those circumstances! (And I'd also send my children to a fee paying school if I could afford it).

Good luck with the exams and with the scholarship. Perhaps it's just a case of finding the right sort of bribe!

Mary Poppins said...

Ohooo I like this post, one after my own heart. I am already thinking of my 8 year old DD, who ideally I would like to go to the Grammar school, which is getting harder and harder to get into.

She has been placed on the YG and Talented register, like you loves reading and writing and seems to have a real talent for it, is forever in her bed at night switching her little night light on and writing stories, when she thinks I think she is fast asleep.

I am struggling a little at the moment thinking that she may not be being stretched at her little school and don't really know what to do about it.

Though she is one LAZY mama, like her mum on that front. I can only do my best and be by her side and hopefully steer her in the right direction, though know that ultimately she shall follow her own path and all I can do is watch.

Good luck James olde chap :)


EuropaWorld said...
This comment has been removed by the author.
Fennie said...

Sorry, was signed in on wrong account hence deleted comment above.

"James will pass his exams, of that I have no doubt." Excellent!

So it's just a question of what kind of percentage grade he identifies with, isn't it? What he thinks would be cool. Is it cool to get a scholarship? Does he have any 'heroes' who gained scholarships? Does he have any 'enemies' who he would be gutted if they did better than he did? Where does a scholarship fit with his life image, so far? He can if he wants - but does he want to for himself (and not just for a Disney trip)that is the question he must answer. What sort of a script is he following?

This is probably the most awful twaddle but a slightly different approach. Softly, softly, catchee monkee.

Exmoorjane said...

Mud: cake sounds so sweet now, doesn't it? Think I got a quid for passing my 11-plus!

Molly: ah, I went to a state school and it did me no harm (well, apart from warping my psyche but then most schools seem to do that one way or another!)

GLF: think you need to spill the beans??!!

Mags: think it's a lost cause...ah well...

MP: many state schools actually do better with T&G pupils, curiously enough. All depends very much on the school and the child I think. I know this school is ideal for James which is why I would do pretty much anything to keep him there.

Exmoorjane said...

Ah Fennie, you are very wise.. He does want to do it for himself and I have to play softee softee so it's not huge pressure...I think at heart he is scared of failure and so, in a funny way, thinks that if he doesn't try, then there's the reason why he didn't get the scholarship. Does that make sense?

Sally Townsend said...

2b got a scholarship to his prep school then went onto Colyton Grammer (which you probably know)and then I took him away from it all and whisked him over to France where he is now bi-lingual but has shunned University. I say be supportive but not pushy and forget the bribe completely, he's only 11 !!

Ivy said...

He's only 11 and at that age today and maybe tomorrow is as far as they think! I know from own experience how disappointing it can be when children are not achieving what they could if only they sat down WANTING to achieve it! But let's face it as a mother you are in a no win situation. (not that I am not fretting because son seems awfully lazy a month before his final exams!)

JOHN SHORTLAND, Cotswold Hills, England. said...

If it's of any help to make you feel more relaxed about the whole thing, my late mother (not quite her parting words but almost!) said "I had to wait many years for my children to truly acheive but they finally made it". I think it was meant to be a compliment!

Ladybird World Mother said...

Oh, I pride myself on not being pushy... and then I check out me checking out the homework that the kids have done.
'Underline that title,' I hear myself say. 'Have you written the date?'
'NEATLY!' And on and on and on.
'Write some more, not enough detail.'
'What's detail?'
Etc. Be as pushy as you bloomin well like, won't make the slightest difference. Because I sense, reading between your wonderful lines, that you are a sensible kind of a girl and love your James too much to make him into what he isnt.
Which is why I love reading your blog.
And all.
Good luck with that bribery by the way. Let us know how it works. Then we can all have a go too....xxxx

Naomi Devlin said...

I have a recalcitrant 8 year old who is amazingly bright and frustratingly hard to motivate towards anything he doesn't want to do.

I find the best way is to have some 'homework' to do myself, whether it's learning French, some writing I'm working on or some patient notes. If we make a date to do homework together then we just sit with cups of tea in the kitchen and get on with it. If you can't beat em, join em?

x x x

Brown Dog said...

Ooh, tricky one, Jane. I can see where you're coming from, skinny fees and all that. But I'm also aware of the dangers of setting one's offspring on the competitive track of sky-high expectations and raised bars every term. My honest answer would be forget the scholarship, tempting as it may be in the short term. There are more important things in this world than academic achievement. And academic achievement at the expense of more important values such as wisdom and emotional intelligence can sometimes end up being more of a curse. (Mind you, I'm not the one coughing up the fees every term.)

Oh gawd - sounds like I'm being anti-intellectual, which I'm really not... Goes off and ducks back down behind parapet...

Quinn said...

Just wondering, based on what you wrote and obviously not having the details...
did you read his story? Maybe it really was finished, and good, despite the half-hour it took to write it?
As a former teacher, my thought is that I would check the work and suggest specific improvements as needed, rather than bribing a child to spend more minutes writing for the sake of time-spent-writing.

Expat mum said...

I think kids either want to or they don't. I was incredibly driven at 11, (elddest child and all that) and my sibs weren't. Decades later they have both completed further education and my sis, well into her forties is still getting masters and things and re-inventing herself.
But yes, the help with fees would be great!

Michelloui said...

I was aghast at the competitiveness of so many mums around me when my daughter first started school. There was lots of talk about reaching certain grades (in music) before senior school, entering art competitions, then finally in year five out came all the tutors. WTF?! I was going to rise above it all and let my child develop at her own rate. Crazy, mental world pushing kids too early developing anxieties about work ethics so they grew into adults who didnt know how to balance family and work... Then year six came along and I suddenly realised what was going on.

I was shocked about the amount of anxiety in both parents and kids surrounding the 11 plus and I remained against it (too many studies show that very bright kids can either a) have a bad day and not get into the grammar school and thus think they 'failed' or b) there are lots of very bright kids taking the test and so even if the light of your life gets 96% they still may not get in and still believe they 'failed').

But my daughter did have to take an entrance exam for the senior school (me: 'how did it go?' she:'I didnt finish the maths, it was boring' me: ARGH!!!!!) and she did apply for a music scholarship (put on the reserve list, didnt get it).

Now we have resigned ourselves to several more years of camping holidays! Im just pleased year six is out of the way.

mountainear said...

Hindsight's a wonderful thing - I have moments now when I wish I had pushed a bit harder for a private education for my lads (now young men). There were three of them and we agreed that what we did for one we should do for the others - and the cost, when we desperately needed the dosh in other areas of our lives, was horrendous. So they went to the local comp - and we were lucky as it was quite good. Factor in 3 inherently lazy boys though who could have done with a bit of pushing. There was a lot of potential for the mid-achievers to sit largely ignored, just quietly getting on with their work while the teacher dealt with the demands of the brightest and quelled riots amongst the unruly at the other end of the scale.

My boys - now in their late 20s are doing all right - I have no doubt 2 of them could have done better if....

I think what I'm trying to say is that if you have the opportunity and can make it work then take it.

Pearl said...

Well it would certainly work for me!

I'm sorry to say that I have no advice. My son, now 25, is one of the brighter people I've a pleasure to know. Unfortunately, he does it at his own pace and does not feel pressure.


DD's Diary said...

Disney as a bribe! Let's all hope he gets the scholarship ... xx

Cait O'Connor said...

I think children are all different, well adults are aren't they? Children don't all feel (hopefully) or understand the terrible pressures on them and I understand how torn you must feel. It's a hard life but I am sure he will do fine and he will get to Disneyland.

Tattieweasle said...

Relax. Go on spoil yourself shift him over on the sofa and have a go on the X-Box. I am seriously into Super Mario Bros and it's working for me - The Boy hates it when I'm playing so does almost anything to get me to go away including the dreaded piano practice!

Rob-bear said...

Hmmmm . . . "He’s a bright lad but, by heck, he’s lazy." Bear pleads guilty to same behaviour at that age (and ever since). But by post-grad, I was getting As on papers, so give the kid a break. Remember Einstein couldn't do math, but he came up with some amazing ideas.

Love your strategy, Tattie.

Carah Boden said...

Hi Jane - completely in the same place as you at the moment (but then, uncannily, I always seem to be whenever I come and check out your blog!). E has her entrance exam tomorrow too, from Juniors to Seniors, so familiar surroundings at least. We did a maths paper tonight, downloaded from the internet, as this is her Achilles heel. Like you, she's a good student and is unlikely to fail, but we were told she should 'be aiming high' i.e scholarship like James. But, like you, there's a large part of me which thinks they do far too much work for their age already. So after Christmas, diligent parents that we are, we went skiing! Thus, while all her mates have been swotting away merrily over the Christmas break, she has barely done a thing! Sometimes you just have to say 'what will be will be' I think. After all, did you ever swot for YOUR 11-plus? Don't think so. I certainly didn't - we just got presented with the paper one morning and that was that. Anyway, tonight, just as I was hoping to get her to bed in time to be nicely rested for tomorrow, we discovered nits!! So, out with the Hedrin and half an hour later, shower cap on head, she was finally in bed - and has to get up early tomorrow to wash all the dead (hopefully) little buggers out! Think of us...

Meanwhile, all the very best of luck to J. He'll do just fine - and nobody likes a swot!!

PS: Happy New Year :-)

Naomi Devlin said...

I just found that you commented on my other blog which I don't check up on. Thanks for visiting it (it gets a little huffy because I prefer my other blog).

Regarding the school issue. I just wanted to add that your son is so lucky to have a mother who cares enough and reflects in the way you do. Please give yourself a reassuring virtual arm around the shoulders from me.

I was home educated in a commune and now I've got degrees coming out of my ears - you could say I was compensating? We all get there by our own circuitous route.

x x x