If you run a web search for ‘is my child a’ you get auto-complete suggestions based on what other parents have searched for. The most commonly-searched terms that pop up include:
“Is my child a genius?
“Is my child a sociopath?”
Admittedly, I’m slightly amused by the idea that the nation’s children are so badly behaved that thousands of parents are worried they are nurturing a Silence of the Lambs-style pre-schooler. It makes me feel slightly better about my own toddler’s occasional meltdowns. But even more popular is the question of whether or not their child is a genius.
Geniuses are pretty rare, so there must be a lot of deluded parents out there – and I completely sympathise. I try to be a rational parent; I am determined not to over-estimate my children’s intelligence. My eldest son is a bright, eloquent and often surprising toddler - but most of me accepts that he’s probably not the next Einstein.
He knows his letters and almost every type of digger, but he's not ahead of his friends. My rational brain knows that he's a fairly normal, although hopefully bright, little boy.
And yet... And yet there is a tiny irrational part of me that KNOWS he's a genius, just like it KNOWS that he is the most beautiful child that has ever existed. Or at least, he was the most beautiful child that ever existed until his brother arrived to share that title with him.
[Mum Diary: Kids say the most excruciating things]
[Mum Diary: Why can’t I say I want a baby girl?]
Such is my secret maternal delusion that I don’t just see his developments as proof of his mighty mind; I see any delays as evidence too. For example, Harry was one of the last of his peers to walk. My mad maternal inner dialogue decided that this was because he was too busy with cognitive development to bother with the mundane physical stuff.
Conversely, my baby Olly is already trying to walk at 10 months and I secretly think this shows he has a high intelligence and excellent spatial awareness.
And then there’s baby milestone charts. No child slots neatly into an age bracket, they are all behind in some areas and ahead in others. So I ignore any milestones that Harry and Olly haven’t yet achieved, and fixate on the ones that they have – further proving to myself that my children are far ahead of where they ought to be.
[Mum Diary: Why are we so critical of other mums?]
[Mum Diary: When motherhood goes wrong]
Occasionally, though, these delusions spill out. The other day I proudly told my husband that two-year-old Harry could now read. I pulled out a flashcard that said ‘SUN’ and Harry carefully read out: “Suh, uh, nuh. It says sand!”
My husband’s sympathetic look as he tousled Harry’s hair showed that he knows all about my delusions, and although he finds them amusing he certainly doesn’t share them.
But although I am very deluded about my children, I’m sane and rational enough to keep a lid on the crazy. Whether my boys are as intelligent as I secretly believe them to be or turn out not to be very academic at all, I know that I must fight the urge to overdo it.
I’ve watched those dreadful documentaries where well-meaning parents drag their miserable children from chess tournaments to Mandarin classes. I’ve read about tiger mothers and helicopter parents, desperately fanning every single spark of intelligence with classes and extra tuition, until the fires of enthusiasm simply burn out and the kids become angry and resentful. I don’t want to make those mistakes.
After all, while I would love my sons to be leading engineers or scientists, academics or entrepreneurs, that isn’t my main ambition.
My main concern is that my children grow up to be happy, and that’s what keeps a check on my inner tiger mother. I know that an ability to be happy relies so much on having a happy childhood, so it’s essential I keep the Mandarin lessons, chess tournaments and flashcards to a minimum.
I have to keep reminding myself that no child ever grew up wishing he’d spent more time learning to count and less time going on bike rides with his mum and dad.
What about you? Are you secretly as deluded as me? Or is your child actually a genius? Share your parenting experiences with me and other readers using the comments below.