We all know the children are our future. We'll treat them well and let them lead the way. I can't claim to believe that they are all possessed with inner beauty, but you get the gag. And so it is with a calmness and serenity (that anyone who's met me for more than one glass of wine will probably not recognise) that I passed this New Year's Eve with a newly digested understanding that it's not all about me anymore. That the small people in my life need increasingly more of my energy than it takes to move their possessions from one room to another. But also that getting the balance between supporting and dictating is a delicate one, and probably one I’m going to be focusing on for a few years’ worth of resolutions to come.
My particular style of dictatorship centres on control of the small things. By literally never being able to let an issue drop, never not getting the last word, I have been sub-consciously instructing my daughter in the art of debate since she lay gurgling on her changing mat. We can now entertain ourselves for hours by hurling asides up and down the stairs in a highly-skilled attempt to be the one who will get the final say over which jumper she will wear today, or other pressing matters. Being persistently right in every small nurturing issue is a burden I can live with – being challenged on the correct ply of jumper is a fight I am up to.
I think there is a credible gender distinction suggestion to be made here. I think women know full well that later in life their grown-up children are going to remember the basic mechanics of their childhood – good and bad – in terms of what mum did. Dad's part will be different in every family, and carry huge value no doubt, but mum's influence will have saturated to the psycho-analytical level. By focusing on the small things – the importance of never leaving the house without three layers; always putting tops on felt-tip pens – you can go some way to avoiding any memorable involvement in more critical character-building decisions that your 30-something offspring will doubtless throw back in your face. If we hold to the assumption that dads don’t do detail, or concern themselves too much with consequence, then when the issue at hand is not how to read the Sunday papers uninterrupted, it might as well be whether four is too young for a hotmail account. Or an iPhone.
And so the small issues are mine. However, after four festive days in a remote cottage in Dorset with more than enough arguments over which width of scarf is most suitable for the sub-zero temperatures, I realise that somewhere between suggestion and instruction is a valuable mediation area. And at the heart of my new clarity is the understanding that there is a clear distinction between self-awareness and self-obsession. I am self-aware enough to know that a tendency towards self-obsession is dangerous. Worrying about trying to achieve the perfect level of motherhood has become in danger of taking over my life. Letting go of control over irrelevant issues in my children’s lives is also about preparing for the fact that one day I won’t be the relevant or most influential person in their adult lives. Rightly so.
The result of all this slightly muddled sense of inappropriately focused attention was that for the first time ever I couldn't think of a resolution that I could articulate without feeling a bit embarrassed. A whole glossy magazine’s worth of disappointing female failings could be lumped into a general 'try really hard to be better' resolution, but I couldn't admit that to my 9-year-old when she asked for fear of being hideously responsible for her first dose of emotional anxiety or physical self loathing. Instead, I told her I was going to try and be less controlling, and less concerned with the things I couldn’t control. Breathe, and, relax.