As much as a child can be yours,  in the sense that you are responsible for them,  they are not yours at all,  they are completely their own.  But how do you balance being an authority figure and a nurturer that encourages that individuality to flourish?  Should you worry about overwhelming your child?  Or by so doing do you risk allowing your child to overwhelm you?

A few years ago I, and all my colleagues, took one of those psychological tests that employers use.  While everyone else was commenting on how uncannily accurate they were, I thought mine was laughably off base, put it in a drawer and didn’t look at it again for months.  The first few sentences that I had read told me that I was sensitive, precise, calm and considered.  I had never in my life thought that I was any of those things.  My parents regularly tell me how aggressive I am.  I had always thought myself to be emotional and complicated and that I struggle to commit to a project without the weight of expectation on my shoulders.   I will work my arse off if there is a deadline to meet or someone to please but if I want to do something,  just for me,  like learn to play the guitar or write another novelette, it’s likely to never happen.

I don’t know why, but eventually I took the report out again and read it properly.  It didn’t just say that I was calm, precise and considered.  It said that the real me was calm, precise and considered but that I felt the need to alter my personality to fit with the environment.  Again the thought that I might not be myself and that I might be adapting to expectation seemed not to fit,  I’ve always thought that being an only child had made me….but then read the end of that last paragraph again.  I may have thought that I was very much my own person but aren’t I so very eager to please?

The idea of that report has haunted me ever since.  For the description of the real me to be so alien to me,  if it is in fact the real me,  my process of adaptation must have started way beyond the work place.  I won’t say that the working world didn’t change me and force me, at times, to behave in a way that I didn’t recognise but on those occasions I was aware of the process.  For something to change me to the extent that I didn’t recognise what came naturally, that had to begin in childhood surely?

It’s not entirely impossible to imagine.  Over the couple of years of being at home and the months without alcohol,  I have discovered that I like it quiet,  between Pete and me I am usually the calm one,  I am a thinker, I am far more shy than I thought, far more anxious about the impact that I have on others, far more left wing and I am, if anything, oversensitive to other people’s moods but, sadly, I seem to be rather out of practice at knowing how to moderate my behaviour to reflect my insight, as a result I aim just to be honest.  Often painfully so.  My parents do still believe that I’m aggressive but that aggressiveness seems mainly to come out when I’m with them.  I do have a temper, and I do have boundaries,  I do like to be in control of my life and my destiny but I really, really prefer to achieve those things without a fight if that’s in any way possible and I prefer to keep the temper beast in it’s box.  If it comes out, a nerve has been touched, or a line has been crossed beyond which my rational mind loses it’s control over my reactions.

Is it possible that growing up in a household with two people who are themselves very aggressive and very dominant, I learned to take on a persona that fitted better with that environment?  Did I learn to be aggressive because there was little other alternative?  My father certainly does not do small talk,  he likes a debate and no one in the house holds back in expressing exactly what they think, often with raised voices.  From the moment I moved out, I began to hate the bickering and fighting that characterises life with my parents. They appear to thrive on it,  I just get stressed out.

This is all just a theory.  It may prove to be absolutely false.  That psychometric test could have been as wildly off base as I first imagined and it could be that I simply lost some of my rougher edges due to time and tide.  But now that I am expecting a child of my own,  I can’t help but consider the implications if the test was completely accurate and my approach to life, and even my personality, has been drastically altered by my upbringing.  Would I be a calmer, happier person if I had grown up in a calmer household in which a quieter personality type might have thrived?

As a parent, you have tremendous power over your offspring.  Your behaviour will create a template from which they will base some of their own behaviour.  They will learn from your example.  At the same time it should never be forgotten that they are their own people, they may not have the same talents, goals or aspirations as you.  They may, indeed, be very different people and, as they grow, you may even find it quite hard to relate to their point of view.  How hard is it to look at your child every day and remember that as much as you love them and nurtured them as a part of yourself for months, they are their own separate individual and you must be respectful of that?  At what point is influence too much and at which stage do you need to back away and leave them their own space,  or coax out of them what their own choice would be rather than tell them what they should do?  Where does necessary control for the sake of safety and learning good behaviour end and overly dominant behaviour begin?

Of course these are all the reasons why parenting is so hard.  It is a challenge to know the best course of action.  All a parent can ever do is their best and hope that that is good enough.  With just a few weeks ago until my parenting adventure begins, I find myself thinking about these issues more and more aware that no amount of reading and research can help me.  This is not a challenge that I can think my way out of,  it will be a battle that I will begin again with every new day.

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