opinion

Andrew Miller: You cannot control your child’s future, only help to shape it

Andrew Miller
The Nightly
Our task is not to make children grow up in our image, but to help them safely accept age-appropriate responsibility, while holding fast to the nurturing aspects of childhood, writes Andrew Miller.
Our task is not to make children grow up in our image, but to help them safely accept age-appropriate responsibility, while holding fast to the nurturing aspects of childhood, writes Andrew Miller. Credit: Jacob Ammentorp Lund/Jacob Lund - stock.adobe.com

A movie review. Kung Fu Panda 4 is best enjoyed with a five-year-old, her big brother to reassure her during dramatic scenes and Maltesers and gummy bears warmed in salty popcorn.

Parenting is the most wonderful, guilty and expensive way of finding out that much of what you think you know is wrong.

Believing that you will mould a child as they grow is fantastical — you may as well go surfing with the aim of changing the waves.

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Parents are shepherds, not the authors of our children; we have read-only access to their personalities.

“When I was a child, I spoke as a child, I understood as a child, I thought as a child; but when I became a man, I put away childish things.” (1 Corinthians 13:11)

Unmarried childless Paul, the grumpy epistle-apostle, was having a hard time when he wrote that snippet of the New Testament.

Ever since he famously ended up blind for three days while on the road to Damascus — an experience many former backpackers can relate to — he had been very busy exhorting Christians to stop being frisky; nothing ever changes. His letters now form influential chunks of the Bible.

Paul’s exasperation with childish behaviour was underlined in italics by every single one of my underpaid teachers. “Grow up, Miller” would have sold well as a T-shirt at my school.

However, no one ever spends much time explaining what growing up is. Is it a good idea? Would you recommend it to your family or friends?

As far as I can tell, my resilient mother has never attempted it. She’s still bingeing on Cadbury Favourites, at age 97.

“What are you eating, Mum?”

“Mind your own business,” she says.

The most childish thing that I have had to “put away” is the certainty that the adult world has things under control — that there are individuals and institutions we can rely on to always know what is right, and to follow through.

Our task is not to make children grow up in our image, but to help them safely accept age-appropriate responsibility, while holding fast to the nurturing aspects of childhood.

The parenting of the 70s was “some care but no responsibility taken”, in reaction to which my own fathering has been largely doting.

There is a wistful naivete in the memories of sleeping unrestrained on the shiny back seat of the car, or riding our bikes helmet-free all day around abandoned quarries, while chatting to strange strangers. Sure, it toughened us up to a certain degree but even those of us boomers who survived were not all left unscathed.

If you’re lucky, there is not too much time between the penny dropping — that your parents were ordinary people with ordinary failings — and forgiving them.

In contradistinction, some modern parents take on too much responsibility for outcomes beyond our control.

Will kids fail in life if they don’t go to the “right” school?

Trick question — there’s no right or wrong school. The risk is parents expecting schools to substitute support that can only come from home.

Some parts of childhood should never be put away.

Openness, curiosity and playfulness are too easily worn down, when society withdraws permission. The permission to make mistakes, to be hugged, and to play.

We must remember to play.

Our society spends billions on officially sanctioned man-games.

Being antagonistic towards video games and skateboard parks while reshaping entire landscapes for arenas and golf courses is hypocritical.

Our task is not to make children grow up in our image, but to help them safely accept age-appropriate responsibility, while holding fast to the nurturing aspects of childhood.

Master Oogway — the wise philosopher tortoise in Kung Fu Panda — said you can plant a peach seed wherever you like, but even if you wish for an apple or orange tree, you will only ever grow a peach tree.

Plenty to love about this movie, including Jack Black’s smashing cover of Britney Spears’ Baby One More Time — 8/10.

We must embrace responsibility, but reject the illusion of control — of our kids, and everything.

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