We hear all the time about pushy parents, who sign their little ones up for every class going to get a head-start on success. Now best-selling author Adele Parks has spoken out about the opposite parenting style, the non-pushy mum. The I Invited Her In writer, whose new novel Lies, Lies, Lies is out now, has written exclusively for HELLO! on her relationship with her own mother, and how having an unambitious parent drove to succeed. Adele says this was due to the freedom and time she was given as a child to be bored, which allowed her to be creative.
Adele Parks on the non-pushy mum...
"I was born in Teesside, NE England. I enjoyed a traditional 1970’s/80s childhood, watching too much TV and eating convenience food because nobody minded if kids did that in those days – certainly, no one in our house minded.
My mum was, and still is, the absolute opposite to a pushy mum (what’s that, a pull-y mum?). She was someone who wanted me and my sister by her side - that was always enough for her; she didn’t have ambitions to launch us in any direction. I honestly can’t remember an occasion when she so much as nagged me to do homework (in fairness, she didn’t have to, I always did it). In fact I remember when I was revising for my O levels she’d be begging me to come downstairs to watch TV because she thought I was doing too much.
Author Adele Parks
I’m not saying mum didn’t have ambitions, she did. She often told me that I could do anything I wanted; I could be an astronaut, a Princess, an engineer, an actress or a brain surgeon but she never offered any guidelines as to how this might be achieved. I got the feeling her ideas were daydreams, rather than serious suggestions backed up by rigorous plans. Maybe she thought I’d stumble into something. She’s a grafter my mum - as is my dad, they both have an enormous work ethic - but she’s just not a planner.
Truthfully, mum’s assessments of my talents were always far too generous. The aforementioned careers were more than a stretch, they were an impossibility. Because she thought I was brilliant at everything, even the things that I was blatantly only half average at, she saw no need for extra lessons, practice or tutorage. She was quite literally blinded by love.
Quite quickly I noticed a big gap between mum’s assessment of me and the reality. She thought I could sing even though I was the only girl in the entire school year who was refused entry to the junior school choir; she didn’t consider getting me singing lessons to improve, she simply declared that the music teachers were terribly mistaken. I had a sneaky suspicion they were not.
Whilst she insisted I was beautiful, I noticed I was significantly overweight in comparison to my friends. Something my lovely, easy-going mum apparently couldn’t see (she still can’t, when I show her photos of grossly fat baby me, she insists I was gorgeous, at a push she’ll concede “big babies were the fashion”). It never crossed her mind to put me on a diet or to make me take regular exercise. I saw I’d be the size of a house if I ate everything she offered. I decided to take it in hand and, as a six-year-old, I spent playtimes lapping the playground to get exercise in an effort to slim down.
As I got older and expressed interest in learning to ice skate, mum happily enough paid for lessons, first group ones and then - at my suggestion - private ones. Whilst insisting I could be the next Jayne Torvill she never so much as told me to bend at my knees - that was the instructor’s job. She praised me equally for my spins and my splats. “At least you tried” was her most often repeated phrase.
Nor was my dad pushy, he did have a much clearer ability to assess my skills, strengths and talents and he happily laughed at my many failures but he like Mum assured me I could do anything I wanted to do, be anything I wanted to be but he just didn’t feel the need to tell me how to go about that.
So if she didn’t push me what did she do? Well, I was gifted an electric typewriter for Christmas when I was eleven, even though it was expensive because I said I wanted to be a writer. Besides that, three things come to mind. One, she loved me unconditionally. Two, she taught me that working hard and trying were important. Three, (intentionally or not) she gave me time to get thoroughly bored and to discover self-reliance.
Boredom allows a child to explore their creativity
As I mentioned, she kept me close by her side; I was frequently trailed around shops and to the laundrette as she went about her business, she sometimes forgot I was there when she was talking to her friends and female relatives about life, love and the universe so I was allowed to quietly observe adult life, watch and learn I suppose.
This stood me in good stead as a writer but also simply as a person. I learnt about the joys and heartaches of being an adult, I listened to the stories people told and noticed that there were things that they didn’t speak of. I knew about grief and love, success and failure, I learnt to appreciate good humour, passivity and ruthlessness and to recognise that all had a place in the world. Although, I still couldn’t play a musical instrument, speak a foreign language, play tennis…
I also noticed that most of the sparky, funny women mum talked to hadn’t fulfilled their potential (nor had my mum, she didn’t go to university until I more or less forced her to, when my sister and I left home and she was suffering from empty nest syndrome). There weren’t as many opportunities for women at the time, expectations were different. I thought this was wasteful - and mum had taught be that waste was a shame. I developed an understanding that things were changing; my generation had opportunities, we just had to reach for them.
I don’t think I was alone in this nirvana of non-interference, I can’t remember any particularly pushy parents. I went to a local comprehensive, parents thought the teachers could get on with it, which they did.
With Christmas holidays fast approaching, I wonder how many children will have a school holiday experience similar to mine. Gorging on chocolate to the point of illness, followed by soul-crushing bouts of boredom that eventually mean discarded cardboard boxes become enticing and will ultimately be transformed into make-do Barbie furniture or a Dr Who Tardis.
Very few, I’d guess.
Nowadays, children return to school leaner and keener after attending multiple organised, self-improving courses and camps throughout their holiday. As a race, we’ve soundly beat boredom. At least, we’ve eradicated it from our children’s lives, since we fill every waking moment with something improving. Even if kids aren’t sent to classes to master Mandarin, they’re furnished with smartphones, consoles and tablets so that they never have an un-stimulated moment.
I believe in the merits of boredom. I think we need down-times so we can process and create. My generation seems incapable of giving our kids the thing we were gifted, we daren’t allow them to become so bored that they’ll pick up a pencil and draw a picture or turn to one another and invent a daft make-believe game. Not a three-act structured dialogue with examples of rhyme and irony, just a bit of good old-fashioned suspended disbelief.
I am so grateful that my mum – and dad – had the confidence to just leave us to it."
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