Mummy's little darlings

You want to push them to achieve their potential, but where do you draw the line? By Claire Seeber

Friday morning, 7.45am. As the nation wakes, Denise claps scarlet- tipped fingers and squawks in an Essex kind of way while Johnny introduces this week's "Pushy Mum" for The Big Breakfast. The child grimaces ashen- faced through a wailing rendition of "Wannabe", while her pushy parent, quite rigid with pride, mouths the words and clasps be-ringed hands over a swelling maternal bosom. Johnny makes funny faces behind her back while Denise is caught off-guard cleaning her nails. The child has just had her minutes of fame, and she couldn't even stretch it to Warhol's prophesied 15.

The other day, I met a little girl called Shirley (her name should give you a clue). Shirley has everything, including her own pushy parent. In her house in Chelsea she practices ballet and tap in her own dance studio, where giant pictures of herself beam down on her shuffle ball change. Her wealthy parents buy her things that other kids only dream of, and she's been signed up for her first nose-job already. Recently she tired of her horse and demanded a more street credible BMX instead. In-line skates lie discarded in the hallway while gleaming tennis rackets are propped by the coat-stand. Shirley senior, a failed disco diva, talks of her daughter in terms so nauseous other children would cringe. She is quite convinced that she is raising the next Julia Roberts. She sees not one single fault in her child and so her daughter is imbued with such self-importance that it seems she cannot fail. Her confidence abounds as her parents buy their way through every little girl's dream.

Shirley's tale may yet end like Posh Spice's - the millionaire's daughter who fantasised of being an actress, Victoria Adams goes to prove that money and parental support can help buy you fame, if not talent. Your downfall may be that no one likes you because your parents provide you with too much, including a better chance than those who can't afford dance or elocution lessons. Posh Spice talks of having no school friends, because she "worked so hard". I wonder if that is the real reason.

But however nauseating, I felt a flicker of envy as I saw such total belief shine in Shirley's mother's eyes. Monica Potter, star of Martha meet Frank, Daniel and Laurence, talked recently of her proud father, "He picked me up when I was little and said `You're going to be a film- star', so that's what I became." Oh for such faith - how can these children fail?

My parents expected much of me but were realists and did not push me unduly. Like so many little girls I dreamt of fame and glory, picturing myself centre-stage. I would declare that I had no ambition other than to be a world-famous actress. This was a hideous choice in my parent's eyes. In truth, I didn't have the drive it takes to make it big, but I have sometimes wondered if it was because my parents never believed deep down I had it in me.

Parents often try to re-live their own lives through their kids. Inside every pushy parent there must be a failed actress, a frustrated lawyer, a ballet dancer with bow legs. As psychologist Jean Civil points out, it is all too easy to push your child into something because you didn't have it yourself. "Some parents want to live again through their children, and all too often their motivation for their kids to succeed is the reflected glory. But you must remember you should be responsible toward your child, not for them. Cut the umbilical cord and let them make their own choices."

At 15, playing the lead in the school play, I swept into the auditorium at the interval to soak up praise. My father greeted me instead with hearty criticism. He honestly thought he was being helpful, yet his words were indelibly etched on my mind for years. As Jean Civil says, we all need compliments: "We grow with praise, and shrivel with criticism." But there is a fine line between a proud parent and one too pushy - a child needs praise, but with no criticism the praise has little value. Good parenting is about striking a balance.

Hollywood is riddled with children who are the product of that balance being wrong. Drew Barrymore, star of ET at age eight, was robbed of her childhood as her mother let her do as she pleased. Drew defined precociousness, developing a cocaine habit by the age of 12. Home Alone star Macaulay Culkin was so devastated by his pushy and avaricious parents he ended up divorcing them. River Phoenix's parents called their children ridiculous names and peddled them round Hollywood - there is no need to point out what tragedy befell that family.

Undoubtedly, inside the head of many a pushy parent rings the sound of the infant cash register. Michael and Jenny were so hard-up that they considered sending their beautiful kids out as child models. In an attack of remorse, they decided they would prefer to give their kids the choice. The flipside to this are children like Mick Jagger and Jerry Hall's 14- year-old daughter Elizabeth, who is already, famously, working as a model. If she was any other 14-year-old, her parents would be labelled pushy, but their alleged recent division over allowing her shows they had no need to push. Elizabeth was just lucky to have the choice.

Parents less fortunate than the Jaggers will sweat blood and tears to push their kids forward. Posh Spice's stablemate Emma Bunton had parents who slaved night and day to put her through stage school. Most pushy showbiz parents are not rich - their lives are tough and they fight hard to give their kids something special, an opportunity to climb high. Carolyn Douglas, family therapist and founder of Exploring Parenthood, warns: "Keep in touch with yourself so you know whether you're pushing for yourself or your child. If a parent is too aspirant, the child has no chance to find their own talents." And beware the parent who cuts their child off from their peers. If the child is pushed too hard, she will end up like genius Ruth Lawrence, with a First from Oxford at 13 and only her middle-aged father for friendship.

Ambitious parents aren't confined to the realms of showbusiness. Dominic, now a wine-merchant, was expected to excel academically, and was sent, like his family before him, to a renowned public school. Every parental pressure was on him to succeed and his future was mapped out for him. Unfortunately, during his last year at school, he decided magic mushrooms were far more interesting than classical civilisation, and the got caught in a girl's bedroom. During his escape he totalled his mother's car and was only saved from a drink-driving sentence by an overly diligent housemaster. His parents had unwittingly pushed him right off the straight and narrow, and only recently, through choice, did he climb back on after years of rebellion.

At 17 Lorna contemplated suicide because she failed her A-levels and couldn't bear to tell her exacting parents. She is overwhelmed with relief now that she didn't succeed, but it is a real danger. There are no official teen suicide figures reflecting the pressure of exams, but certainly attempted suicide amongst children is on the rise. Jean Civil suggests that at stressful times such as exams and auditions, parents should avoid platitudes like "Do your best" - if the child then fails, they will feel their best is worthless. Instead, give positive encouragements like "go in and enjoy it".

My good friend Joanna has a wonderfully unpushy mum and dad. When I met them, I thought they were particularly cool, drinking until the early hours and crooning to their guitar. Joanna doesn't see it like that. "When I was revising for my exams upstairs they were having parties downstairs and calling me to drink with them. I wanted them to push me academically but they were too laid back." Joanna pushed herself instead and did very well. The result is her fierce independence - a quality the children of these pushy parents don't often possess.

The problem may be that the parents of today are only yesterday's children grown a bit older. Emma had a baby recently - my god daughter. "The best gift you can give a child is confidence," she cooed, gazing adoringly at her first-born. She is probably right, but it's a dilemma, finding the happy medium between an over-confident child and one eternally resentful because they can never do enough to please their parents. Without being trite, a child needs the chance to be her or himself. Kahil Gibran's The Prophet sums it up:

Your children are not your children...

though they are with you yet they belong not to you...

you may strive to be like them, but seek not to make them like you.

Exploring Parenthood - parental advice line (not for emergencies): 0171 221 6681.


Don't make your children do things because you didn't get the chance or have the ability.

Never use your child to compete with your peers.

Don't push your child for financial gain.

Praise with boundaries - constant praise and no criticism has no real value.

Very successful children can be emotionally traumatised - make sure they don't miss out on a social life with their peers

Don't make your children so confident that they can't deal with failure - you will be setting them up for a fall

If you never praise, your child won't be able to reach his or her full potential.

Ian Thorpe had Rio 2016 in his sights
Jonathan de Guzman of the Netherlands and Willian of Brazil compete for the ball
world cup 2014LIVE BLOG: Hosts Brazil take on the Netherlands in third-place play-off
Tommy Ramone performing at The Old Waldorf Nightclub in 1978 in San Francisco, California.
peopleDrummer Tommy was last surviving member of seminal band
Life and Style
Swimsuit, £245, by Agent Provocateur

Diving in at the deep end is no excuse for shirking the style stakes

Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
Life and Style
ebookA wonderful selection of salads, starters and mains featuring venison, grouse and other game
Life and Style
Several male celebrities have confessed to being on a diet, including, from left to right, Hugh Grant, Benedict Cumberbatch and Ryan Reynolds
life...and the weight loss industry is rubbing its hands in glee
Spectators photograph the Tour de France riders as they make their way through the Yorkshire countryside
voicesHoward Jacobson: Line the streets for a cycling race? You might just as well watch a swarm of wasps
Life and Style
lifeHere's one answer to an inquisitive Reddit user's question
Arts and Entertainment
'Eminem's recovery from substance abuse has made him a more potent performer, with physical charisma and energy he never had before'
arts + entsReview: Wembley Stadium ***
Joe Root and James Anderson celebrate their record-beaking partnership
cricketEngland's last-wicket stand against India rewrites the history books
peopleDave Legeno, the actor who played werewolf Fenrir Greyback in the Harry Potter films, has died
Travel Shop
the manor
Up to 70% off luxury travel
on city breaks Find out more
Up to 70% off luxury travel
on chic beach resorts Find out more
sardina foodie
Up to 70% off luxury travel
on country retreats Find out more
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
Independent Dating

By clicking 'Search' you
are agreeing to our
Terms of Use.

ES Rentals

    iJobs Job Widget
    iJobs General

    Information Security Manager (ISO 27001, Accreditation, ITIL)

    £70000 per annum: Harrington Starr: Information Security Manager (ISO 27001, A...

    C# Developer (HTML5, JavaScript, ASP.NET, Mathematics, Entity)

    £30000 - £45000 per annum + Benefits + Bonus: Harrington Starr: C# Developer (...

    C# Integration Developer (.NET, Tibco EMS, SQL 2008/2012, XML)

    £60000 - £80000 per annum + Benefits + Bonus: Harrington Starr: C# Integration...

    Biztalk - outstanding opportunity

    £75000 - £85000 per annum + ex bens: Deerfoot IT Resources Limited: Biztalk Te...

    Day In a Page

    A History of the First World War in 100 Moments: Peace without magnanimity - the summit in a railway siding that ended the fighting

    A History of the First World War in 100 Moments

    Peace without magnanimity - the summit in a railway siding that ended the fighting
    Scottish independence: How the Commonwealth Games could swing the vote

    Scottish independence: How the Commonwealth Games could swing the vote

    In the final part of our series, Chris Green arrives in Glasgow - a host city struggling to keep the politics out of its celebration of sport
    Out in the cold: A writer spends a night on the streets and hears the stories of the homeless

    A writer spends a night on the streets

    Rough sleepers - the homeless, the destitute and the drunk - exist in every city. Will Nicoll meets those whose luck has run out
    Striking new stations, high-speed links and (whisper it) better services - the UK's railways are entering a new golden age

    UK's railways are entering a new golden age

    New stations are opening across the country and our railways appear to be entering an era not seen in Britain since the early 1950s
    Conchita Wurst becomes a 'bride' on the Paris catwalk - and proves there is life after Eurovision

    Conchita becomes a 'bride' on Paris catwalk

    Alexander Fury salutes the Eurovision Song Contest winner's latest triumph
    Pétanque World Championship in Marseilles hit by

    Pétanque 'world cup' hit by death threats

    This year's most acrimonious sporting event took place in France, not Brazil. How did pétanque get so passionate?
    Whelks are healthy, versatile and sustainable - so why did we stop eating them in the UK?

    Why did we stop eating whelks?

    Whelks were the Victorian equivalent of the donor kebab and our stocks are abundant. So why do we now export them all to the Far East?
    10 best women's sunglasses

    In the shade: 10 best women's sunglasses

    From luxury bespoke eyewear to fun festival sunnies, we round up the shades to be seen in this summer
    Germany vs Argentina World Cup 2014: Lionel Messi? Javier Mascherano is key for Argentina...

    World Cup final: Messi? Mascherano is key for Argentina...

    No 10 is always centre of attention but Barça team-mate is just as crucial to finalists’ hopes
    Siobhan-Marie O’Connor: Swimmer knows she needs Glasgow joy on road to Rio

    Siobhan-Marie O’Connor: Swimmer needs Glasgow joy on road to Rio

    18-year-old says this month’s Commonwealth Games are a key staging post in her career before time slips away
    The true Gaza back-story that the Israelis aren’t telling this week

    The true Gaza back-story that the Israelis aren’t telling this week

    A future Palestine state will have no borders and be an enclave within Israel, surrounded on all sides by Israeli-held territory, says Robert Fisk
    A History of the First World War in 100 Moments: The German people demand an end to the fighting

    A History of the First World War in 100 Moments

    The German people demand an end to the fighting
    New play by Oscar Wilde's grandson reveals what the Irish wit said at his trials

    New play reveals what Oscar Wilde said at trials

    For a century, what Wilde actually said at his trials was a mystery. But the recent discovery of shorthand notes changed that. Now his grandson Merlin Holland has turned them into a play
    Can scientists save the world's sea life from

    Can scientists save our sea life?

    By the end of the century, the only living things left in our oceans could be plankton and jellyfish. Alex Renton meets the scientists who are trying to turn the tide
    Richard III, Trafalgar Studios, review: Martin Freeman gives highly intelligent performance

    Richard III review

    Martin Freeman’s psychotic monarch is big on mockery but wanting in malice