I'm the worst. "Mum can I have a glass of water with three cubes of ice and a green straw?" Mock salute with flourish of dishcloth. "Certainly madame, your wish is my command." Our son sometimes sends back his crunchy toast to the kitchen. "Not crunchy enough." Oh, the shame. I'm not sure I'd like outsiders to see that sometimes I parent like a matre-d.

When she was little our daughter made a Do Not Disturb card and hung it on the handle of her bedroom door, with a message to say she was ready for housekeeping. It was a joke. I think.

We only have one rule in our house. If you're eating chocolate cake you need to eat it at the table (Minimise crumbs).

We also dance on the tables sometimes and spend whole days in our jarmies. Once, on impulse, we painted the whole wall in the kitchen with glitter and handprints, just, well, why not?


Therefore, I must conclude I'm just the kind of permissive parent being criticised by author Yvonne Godfrey, a host on Australia's Strictest Parents.

Godfrey has written a book saying kids are over-indulged and parents need to toughen up. Or maybe it's the kids who need to toughen up? I suspect in Godfrey's world there is no snivelling allowed for anyone.

An editorial supported this view, saying there was something to Godfrey's theory that young people (I'm uncomfortable with the term millennial; I'm not sure why) are "softer and lazier".

I may be in my own little weirdo freak-flag camp of one, but I disagree. I think we are putting far too much pressure on our kids.

Harvard PhD Renee Spencer was brought in to study a middle class cohort of young girls because they were exhibiting such high rates of depression, anxiety and other health problems due to stress. For these daughters of high income, high achieving parents the pressure to succeed in a narrow sense was extremely high.

"It's not good enough to do well in school, you want to be the student that really shines. It's not good enough to play two or three sports, it's important to be the captain of one of those teams and to be the one that really stands out amongst the rest. These young people really had the sense there was no room to fail because it would shut off further opportunities." I can't imagine the pressure on young men would be very different.

When that's the kind of stress kids are feeling out in the real world, I would hope home is not "tough" at all. I would hope it provides what attachment theorists would call a "secure base", where at least for a time, your needs can be met. I want our kids to feel this is their home, and their needs matter. Because it's not how I grew up.

I might have lived at 186 Pembroke St, Hamilton, but there was no question this was not my house, it was my father's and he ruled it in a manner which would certainly elicit Yvonne Godfrey's approval. Dad would come home from work and sit in his chair with an antimacassar on the back (to protect the bourgeois chintz from his Brylcreem). Picture an Easter Island statue reading the Waikato Times. Be quiet! Be afraid! You needed to do your chores (putting the milk bottles out with their tokens, setting the table and so on). Dad paid the bills so what he said went, and the transaction was that, in return, we were required to be obedient, independent, high achievers.

Life is hard. I'm not sure that I need to make it even harder by being judgmental and prescriptive. I would prefer to provide a soft place to fall.


It was probably pretty normal for that era, but since then we know that in order to learn and thrive, children need to feel safe. Our prefrontal cortex goes offline when our limbic system, the fight or flight reaction, is activated. I think I used to be a bit terrified of my father. That might have pushed me to achieve out in the world, but it also made me viciously berate myself when I couldn't meet his - now my - high expectations, made me numb myself in various ways when it got unbearable and claw at myself with self-loathing for decades to come, not to mention being unwilling to try anything unless I knew I could perfect it immediately. So I'm not sure Godfrey's tough approach really worked out that well for me, frankly.

And no doubt, as Larkin said, I'm f*****g up my kids, just in a different way. Maybe I give them too much emotional luxury, but if they feel loved and accepted as they are, then that's a price I'm willing to pay.

When I am cutting the scratchy labels out of their clothes or cutting the crusts off their sandwiches, I think of myself as the back office support so they can do the real hard work of going out into the world and learning.

Life is hard. I'm not sure that I need to make it even harder by being judgmental and prescriptive. I would prefer to provide a soft place to fall.

So sweet pea, here's your glass of water, with three cubes of ice and a green straw. Soon enough you'll find you have to go and get your own.