Every morning when I drop off my eldest at school and watch her as she walks into that massive building, I can’t quite understand how the hell she is doing it. At her age I was still at nursery, playing in the dirt and having absolutely no care in the world. While I know that as parents we need to accept that our children are going to grow up and we need to learn how to let go, it does feel sometimes like we might be letting go too fast, and too soon.

When Bella started school she was only four and seven months old. At that age my daughter was expected to carry her own book bag, be on time, wear a uniform, stand in line, wait her turn, say ‘please’ and ‘thank you’, play nice and be a ‘big girl’. Obviously, she also does a fair share of playing at school, but still, she somehow has already learnt to read and write all the letters and can even do simple maths, and she hasn’t even turned five yet!

For me a four and a half year old is just a tiny step above a toddler really. They’re too big to be carried around like babies and have everything done for them, but at the same time, they still have that baby like sparkle in their eyes, things are still unclear and new, they’re still excited by everything, still silly and with no inhibitions, still so sweet you want to cuddle and kiss them for days, but mainly they are still small enough to need us to be the ‘big ones’.

If I’m being totally honest, then let’s face it, the ‘grow up kid’ attitude doesn’t really start at school, does it? I think it’s almost like a natural thing we do as humans, wanting our children to be independent, do things themselves, grow up and be easier to ‘manage’. It starts from birth if you really think about it and carries on throughout their lives, one stage into another, with us always aiming for them to reach the next step.

From the moment they are born we can’t wait for them to sleep through the night, can’t wait for them to learn how to hold their head up, eats solids, use cutlery, crawl, walk, run, run faster, speak, count, read, write, dress themselves, wash themselves, wipe their own bottoms, tie their shoe laces, zip up their coats, do everything for themselves, be independent and basically ‘grow up’.

In a way it’s sort of our duty as parents isn’t it? Teaching our children how to do stuff, making sure they become well adjusted adults who are able to cope in the big bad world. It’s also paired with some pressure to make sure our kids fit the graphs cos let’s face it, no one wants to admit that their five year old is still sleeping in pull ups, or that their two and a half year old can’t sing ‘Twinkle, Twinkle’ at a perfect pitch.

I’m the first to admit that I have said to my husband on many occasions “can’t wait for them to grow up already”. Mainly in moments like when we are trying to have a nice family dinner and the twins decide to have a food fight. Or during a flight when all I want is to have five minutes of peace but I can’t cos all three of them are climbing on top of my head. Or when I just can’t take the “mummy, I need you” line for every single little thing you could possibly think of.

But in a world where teenagers have their own companies and six year olds know how to Google anything under the sun, where naivety and child innocence are a thing of the past, as fourteen year olds are having sex and twelve year olds are wearing makeup. In this crazy world where kids are no longer kids by the age of ten, and the rush to grow up is literally insane, I’m starting to think that perhaps our expectations from our children have gone slightly overboard.

You see, I remember swinging off bus stops at the age of ten, learning to read and write at the age of six, kissing a boy on his cheek at the age of twelve and thinking I was being so naughty. First time I wore makeup was at sixteen, first proper kiss was around that same time, I spent my childhood and teen years not worrying about anything. In fact, I spent a good portion of my life not knowing what the heck I wanted to do with myself, then when I thought I had figured it out, I changed my mind three times and now, at forty, I still have no clue.

Today’s kids on the other hand are so driven and know exactly want they want to do, at such an early age. I’ve heard a thirteen year old talk about her ‘five year plan’ and a fifteen year old say his goal is to retire by forty five. It really does seem like today’s children want to grow up before they’ve even hit puberty.

I am not sure when this happened. Not just to our children, but to us. When did good old playing around, enjoying life and not giving a shit be replaced with ‘making plans’, ‘setting goals’, ‘being practical’ and my personal favourite ‘acting your age’.

The other day Ally who is two and a half years old, decided to take off all her clothes and run around the house like a lunatic, while singing some made up song, just because she could. I could see that Bella wanted to do the same, but some voice inside her must have stopped her from doing so, perhaps even the same voice that stopped me. There was nothing in the world I would have loved doing more in that moment but instead I just sat there and ‘acted my age’.

It made me sad. That evening as I was tucking Bella into bed I said “I love you baby”. She immediately protested and said “I’m not a baby, I’m a big girl”. To which I replied: “but you will always be MY baby” a sentence my father used to say to me. This little line my dad would say (and still says from time to time), has always been such a comfort to me, because it makes me feel, even as a grown up, like there will always be a small part of me that is like a child.

When it comes to my own children, it’s clear to me that no matter what happens, and no matter how old they are, they will forever and always be my little babies. I doubt I will ever be able to look at them and not see how their faces were when they were born. I doubt I will ever forget their baby smell or how wonderfully chubby their thighs were at the age of two.

And although I obviously realise that my kids can’t stay kids forever, although I know that they will grow up, and that this is enviable and part of life. And as much as I want my kids to learn, be independent and grow up, something inside is telling me that my job as a mum is also to protect their childhood and try to make it lasts for as long as possible.

I am not sure how to do this but perhaps what I need to do is find the moments whereby I can show them that being a child or childlike is more important than many other things I have tried to teach them. Or perhaps I should just start running around the house naked, singing off key, at the top of my lungs and having a blast, from time to time just to make a point!

For now, what I would like to do is say to them: ‘slow down kids – life doesn’t have to be such a race. It’s okay not to be a ‘big girl’ just yet. I love you. And yes, you will always be my babies’.

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