I saw the brilliant Tracey Thorn this week reading an extract from her autobiography, and she’d got to the bit where she was sixteen and had decided to ‘be in a band.’ She explained how brilliant punk was for its lack of demand for any talent, or for any evidence of previous dedicated practice of an instrument, but best of all, it was something that all parents hated, so you were safe to go into something knowing that your parents wouldn’t ruin it by being supportive.
There was a burst of laughter at the knowing way she said this, but also a kind of strangled gasp that spread round the room, I think it was partly a recognition of a truth, partly a disbelief that she could say this publicly. I suspected that gasp came from parents. Because it was clear that she wasn’t talking about a rebellion against strict controlling parents, but simply with an assumption of our understanding that ‘support’ was something to escape from.
A rebellion against ‘supportive’ parents? (Gasp! Is that allowed?)
It was perhaps the context of the event, which was ‘in support’ of Rise UK, the charity dealing with domestic violence, and so the word ‘support’ had been used liberally throughout the evening in the context of adults quite obviously in need of it.
Support is brilliant when it’s needed, of course it is, but I get fed-up of hearing how much I’m supposed to ‘support’ my children in everything, especially as a mother, and especially towards my daughter. In the end, support is just a prop to stop someone falling over, and we just have to refuse to treat our children as if they are always falling over.
And when we’re giving support we have to be careful to be respectful of our children’s autonomy, and back off and allow space for self-help, otherwise we infantalise. Support given when it’s not necessary is just a burden, and at worst it’s patronising, cloying and limiting of growth. Too much support can keep a child dependent and prevent them from developing responsibility, resilience and inner resources. It’s not All Good.
This week, my daughter and I had seen yet another example of supportive mothers on Britain’s Got Talent, enacted on camera to a backing of swelling emotional music which tugged at our heart-strings and made me think: ‘Yeah but a few years down the line, you’ll be sacking her as your manager and bringing out an autobiography exposing all the emotional manipulation in the relationship’ when my daughter said:
‘Mum, would you support me if I wanted to follow my dream?’
I looked at her, aghast.
‘No,’ I said, ‘You’re on your own there mate.’
I am a bit worried now though. Maybe by being unsupportive I’ve negated her need to run off and join a punk band and become an icon for a generation.