Claudia Winkleman: Take It From Me

'My friend Miranda thinks that it's perfectly normal to play tapes of Keats to her six-year-old while she sleeps'


New studies published in America this week show that a growing number of middle-class mums and dads are guilty of being "hover parents". They buzz around their kids like overbearing helicopters, making sure that the grass doesn't have too much mud in it and that the climbing-frame isn't too high off the ground. These parents do their children's homework for them and then argue with the teacher if they don't get an A grade. Ballet and tennis lessons are started as soon as the child can walk and the under-threes' hum-along- to-Bach course in New York has an 18-month waiting list.

"Sam just loves sea bass and he's simply mad about Mozart," is not an uncommon sentence that is overheard at my son's school gates. Sam is two and a half. It's not that he doesn't like The Tweenies but his parents think that it's better for him to watch a documentary about the plight of the polar bear instead. In French. Every day after school he is ferried from karate to drama and then to football and then back again. He eats bread that is gluten-free and if his raisins aren't organic then the small man from Ocado is threatened with a rolling-pin.

In this country it's been revealed that parents secretly train for the egg-and-spoon race three months before Sports Day and that "homemade cake week" is rather ruined by mums and dads secretly buying the best they can find and then distressing the icing at home. Two mothers who were exasperated by their fellow mums' being competitive over their children's lunch boxes have written The Madness of Modern Families; The Race to Compete with Other Bloody Parents. They worry that children have become "projects" that parents try to "manage", resulting in children who can do nothing for themselves.

And they'd be right - it is a problem. My friend Miranda thinks it's perfectly normal to play tapes of Keats to her six-year-old while she sleeps and her young daughter can order "toasted cheese and tomato sandwich and juice please" in Italian. Her four-year-old son can write his own name (Hercules, if you please) in capitals and small letters and he can tell you what a barn owl likes to eat for his tea in March. Miranda's favourite sort of holiday is a "learning trip" and now she and her husband only take the kids to somewhere with history and a few dozen art galleries rather than just to the beach.

Another boy in my son's class has an "artistic instructor" to help with his colouring-in and his mum makes sure that play dates are cut down to one a week so that the rest of the time can be spent learning about crustaceans in the Natural History Museum. Lucy, a four-year-old who lives two doors down, is already cramming for her interviews at big school and can count to 100 while drawing an outline of the United States. She has been known to argue with her mother about her over-use of the word "exciting" as she thinks it's a bit over the top.

My friends with older kids aren't much better. Their spotty, confused 11-year-olds are taken to Cambridge for the day and while punting on the river their pushy parents tell them that all this could be theirs one day. They're only allowed to watch The OC after they've recited at least two passages from Hamlet.

And I know what you're expecting me to say. That I let my children just be children and that I think they should just be allowed to grow up and become free from my nagging and shoelace help. Au contraire.

I suppose I should have realised I was going to be a little bit over-zealous when at three months pregnant I bought a Winnie the Pooh tape in Mandarin.

Sure, my three-year-old son might not appreciate Wagner's Ring now but there's nothing quite like a bit of preparation. Before you panic, I do let him have five minutes to play with his trains, so long as he's explained the difference between a tram and a monorail.

Now I know one can start too early. My daughter is five months old so I wouldn't dream of using flash cards for at least a couple more weeks. And if she insists on blowing raspberries at the picture of the frog then I'm afraid we'll have to talk.

Yes, I think that she should be allowed to be a baby but shouldn't she be learning at the same time? This is the thing. If they don't need me to tie their shoe-laces when they're 16 then they'll go off, shoes tied, and leave me. They'll find a boy or girl to kiss (I swear I'll kill them) and then they'll grow up to be happy, confident grown-ups.

Now where does that leave me and the other parents who are bringing up nervous, over-stimulated children who will need their mothers to do everything? Yes, you're right. Home alone. So, while I can create two clingy, excitable children to hang around my legs for ever I'll carry on. Sorry, have to go. That'll be the banjo tutor at the door.

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