Claire Gardner: Bonkers parenting in class of its own

WHEN a friend of mine popped off on a week’s holiday and her big-hearted mother came to look after the kids, her jaw almost dropped to the ground after discovering the vast number of activities she was expected to ferry them to.

Picture: AFP/Getty

First there were all the usual suspects, the ballet and tap for the little girl, and rugby and football for the boy.

But then, the second wave of action hit, bringing with it a winter training session of cricket in a town far, far away, twice weekly basketball – and not forgetting swimming club.

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Then, before she could murmur “cup of tea”, she was back in the car for another round of pick-ups up from cartoon sketching club, drama and cheerleading.

And of course, this wasn’t some thigh-slappingly hearty fun summer camp the children were part of – this was just the must-do clubs which take place after school.

I didn’t have the heart to tell her that one of her grand-children had sacrificed her French lesson that week as her holidaying mother thought it would be just “too much”.

But as my friend’s 70-year-old mum watched us day after day grabbing our weary kids as they fell out of the school gates once the bell had rung, and whisking them off to various clubs and classes, she concluded: “You’re all bonkers.”

She went on: “When my kids finished school – that was it, save a few vital swimming classes. This entire racing around is just plain silly. Why don’t you all just chill out?”

She was right.

However, the problem is this: almost from the very second a child takes its first magic breath in life, there is a class for it to go to. Baby yoga for newborns, baby massage, baby music – there might well be a baby maths.

In fact, there was a case quite recently about a pushy mother who started to teach her four-day-old child to read – and claims that by nine months he could recognise about 20 words.

Well that really is a Farley’s rusk too far, but the point is that by the time some kids are cutting their first tooth, many will have been to more than five different “stimulating” classes, designed to ensure they will succeed later in life.

Then, the momentous First Day at School comes around and suddenly the cosy little singing, art and dancing clubs that punctuated a mother’s day are no more – and we are relieved of our daily duties and the accompanying taxi-driving responsibilities.

Or are we? Sadly the baby years are just the start – and the plethora of classes and clubs simply continue after school.

And because so many of the “other kids” are signing up for art or French, there is a paranoia that your own child might get left behind in life if they don’t do the same.

Yes, crazy as it may seem, there is a slight nagging doubt that you are letting down your offspring if you don’t insist they learn to play the classical guitar or perfect their golf swing aged five.

Yet many studies show that what kids would benefit from most is just to be left alone – to come home from school, play Lego, have a friend to tea or even watch television.

No wonder our parents’ generation think we’ve totally lost the plot.

In fact, a study into different parenting styles threw up some flashpoints between the generations.

A survey of users of Gransnet, part of the influential Mumsnet internet forum, said that a fifth of grandmothers had clashed with their sons and daughters on how they raise their offspring.

Many grannies, it seems, think that children today are too heavily supervised – and don’t spend enough time left alone to be kids.

One interesting conflict area was the traditional method of rubbing a drop of whisky on the gums of a teething baby to try and numb the pain. Perhaps quite rightly, parents these days object to pouring alcohol in the mouths of babes.

But while we should maybe risk a granny’s wrath by criticising outdated ways of dealing with teething tots, we should perhaps take on board other words of wisdom from the older generation.

Like perhaps, cancelling some of the after school classes and giving our kids a chance to play – and in the words of my friend’s 70-year-old mum, giving everyone time to “just chill out”.