Successful children: Pizza and TV… or piano lessons at dawn?

Successful children: Pizza and TV… or piano lessons at dawn?

Pizza and telly… or piano lessons at dawn What IS the best way to make your child a success

Last updated at 1:40 AM on 19th May 2011

Hard work versus serenity parenting: Do children achieve success because they are pushed or should you just let them relax and watch TVHard work versus serenity parenting: Do children achieve success because they are pushed or should you just let them relax and watch TV

Hard work versus serenity parenting: Do children achieve success because they are pushed or should you just let them relax and watch TV

Jenni Murray, 61, is the presenter of BBC Radio 4’s Woman’s Hour and has two grown-up sons. She says:

Hard work versus serenity parenting: Do children achieve success because they are pushed or should you just let them relax and watch TV

Driven by her mother: Jenni Murray

My mother was pushy. The words serenity and parenting would certainly never have been combined in her vocabulary.

I’m an only child and I was her job. She approached her project with the philosophy of a clean-living, Northern Protestant with a fierce work ethic. The morning ritual of rising at 7am and getting ready for school was executed with military precision.

When she heard me developing a broad Yorkshire accent, I was sent off to elocution lessons.

TV was limited to an hour every evening. The front room was reserved for me and my homework. The reading of books was wildly praised. A report of being second in class would elicit the question: ‘And why not top’

My gender presented her with some confusion. She wanted me to grow up to be the cleanest, neatest, most proficient housewife, who cooked like a Michelin-starred chef. And, in the absence of a son on whom she could lavish her educational and career ambitions, I was to be ‘something important’ as well.

I’m a terrible housewife, a reasonably proficient cook and a pretty successful broadcaster. So neither nature nor nurture worked on the domestic front, but I did grow up to be an immensely hard worker.

When I had children, I was less critical of their appearance — I never wanted them to feel plain or unkempt, as I had — but, like my mother, I pushed them academically and on the domestic front. My sons can cook, know how the washing machine and the dishwasher work and are hard-working and ambitious.

Growing up, I always knew I was loved whether I came up to scratch or not. Since my mother’s death four years ago, I miss her and her ever-present critique.

Last week, I won the Sony Gold — the broadcasting Oscar. I was thrilled, but also terribly disappointed that I couldn’t share it with Mum.

Rachel Johnson, 46, is editor of The Lady magazine and has three children, aged 18, 16 and 14. She says:

Laissez faire parenting: Rachel Johnson

Laissez faire parenting: Rachel Johnson

Parenting guru Bryan Caplan has got to be the best news ever, since he confirms everything my gut has been telling me for the past 18 years.

What we say or do makes not a blind bit of difference to our children’s ‘outcomes’.

If it comes to being a Tiger Mother or a slacker parent, give me the slacker every time. It’s miles better for the whole family and far less stressful.

Children nowadays have spreadsheets to keep track of their schedule, but my brothers and I never had a single extra-curricular lesson. We did not have piano, tennis or swimming lessons, let alone Albanian nose-flute classes, all of which are firmly on the pushy parent curriculum.

My parents were too busy to be bothered to groom us in activities that would catch the eye of an Oxbridge dean of admissions 15 years later, as Amy Chua did with her over-scheduled, violin-playing, tennis champs of daughters.

No, my parents were wise enough to leave well alone, so we competed with each other instead. Then we went to boarding school and competed with everyone else.

My father only glanced at our school reports, while boasting that he never attended a parents’ evening, despite having six children.

I do remember him commenting when I once slipped a grade, but I can’t remember what his comment was or which subject it was.

What I do know is that nothing really bothered my parents, even when I was asked to leave my public school. They knew what I know: that it will all come out in the wash.

So I’ve carried this nonchalant (and yes, lazy) approach down the generations. As a mother of three, I am infamous among my fellow parents for not knowing what school year my children are in, let alone the names of their teachers.

I think that as long as the children aren’t expecting their parents to chivvy them to the next level, everything will turn out for the best. You just have to trust them to get it right.

So, yes, I am CEO of the chaise longue, which means that from me you will never get the battle hymn of the Tiger Mother, but instead a faint groan in praise of serene parenting.

Liz Jones, 52, is a Daily Mail columnist and is childless. She says:

Living in fear: Liz Jones

Living in fear: Liz Jones

Aged five, I was too scared to let go of my mother’s hand and enter the playground on my first day at school. ‘Never mind, darling,’ she said. ‘Let’s go home.’ I didn’t go back for a month.

When I got a place at an academic state school, I was so worried I wouldn’t keep up that I made myself ill studying.

Because my parents didn’t push me, I drove myself.

Mum’s only ambition for me was to make it to adulthood without being run over. I had to phone her when I arrived anywhere: a disco, my desk in London, New York for the fashion shows. If I didn’t, she assumed I’d been murdered.

She never had a job (she had seven children) and didn’t use a cheque book until after my dad died. I used to long for a mother who was glamorous, who’d go off to parties wafting perfume rather than staying at home to watch Ironside with me.

When I went to London, aged 18, to study journalism, my parents were terrified. Even as a child, whenever I left the house on my bike, my dad, who had been an Army captain, would get out a map and exclaim: ‘That’s the most dangerous road in Essex!’

When I moved to Brixton, he yelled: ‘That’s the most dangerous part of London!’ I was, am, always terrified.

The biggest gift I could have been given as a child was confidence. I never felt entitled to anything, so I succeeded — if you could call my life a success (I never had a relationship, holidays, maternity leave or weekends off as I heaved myself up by my nails) — through hard work induced by terror.

I’ve always been jealous of people lubricated into careers by their high-achieving parents.

But the other evening I went to the launch of a novel written by a friend. She was surrounded by her famous parents and their equally famous friends.

Even the publisher’s ingratiating speech of thanks was about her parents. I realised how lucky I was to have a mum and dad who expected nothing from me other than to be safe.

Then, the other day, rummaging around having spent time with Mum, who has dementia, I found she’d kept boxes filled with the articles I’ve written over the past 30 years. I’d made her proud, though that was never a proviso for her love.

Alexandra Shulman, 52, is editor of Vogue and has a 16-year-old son. She says:

Laid back: Alexandra Shulman

Laid back: Alexandra Shulman

When it comes to child-rearing, just cherchez les grand-parents. The way we bring up our children is often a result of our own childhoods, either as affirmation or rebellion.

My parents were diligent in their encouragement of the academic careers of their two daughters and one son.

What wasn’t contained in their own childhoods was what they wished for us: in my mother’s case, a first-class education; in my father’s case, an acquaintance with intellectual debate and an infallible first serve on the tennis court.

So, we were sent to every class going — Latin, tennis, ballet, guitar, Brownies, piano — almost all of which we ditched within weeks.

Getting the reins tangled round the traffic lights at Hyde Park Corner during a riding class triggered my life-long hatred of horses, and my brother has never recovered from being thrown onstage as a spaniel at the ballet school panto.

As a reaction, my attitude to my son’s leisure hours has been so laid-back as to be horizontal. Luckily, he has survived this brilliantly.

From an early Teletubbies habit he has been allowed to watch as much TV as he wishes, which means he rarely watches it at all.

He has never known the frustration of a parental control filter on his computer, even after his stepsister’s boyfriend left a porn site up and running overnight — at least that’s who got the blame.

I have taken the view that since he has the most expensive education in the country, I’m not going to pay for extra tuition — unlike 85 per cent of the parents at his school.

I don’t think I have ever helped my son with his homework, so as he sits his GCSEs I can only express wonderment at his grasp of Tennyson’s In Memoriam, while taking pleasure in the fact that not a single aspect of his proficiency is due to anything I have done.

His future children had better beware: in reaction to my approach no doubt they will be condemned to Tiger fathering.

Rosie Millard, 45, is a broadcaster and has four children aged 13, 11, eight and six. She says:

Pushy parent: Rosie Millard

Pushy parent: Rosie Millard

This morning, I have marshalled my children thus: the 13-year-old with a cello lesson; the 11-year-old practised his violin; the eight-year-old did Kumon maths and the youngest played his guitar.

Most weekends we have cricket, piano, flute, ballet, swimming, Cubs and Brownies. I sometimes feel we have embarked on a 20-year-long Duke of Edinburgh award (gold). And, yes, I am bribing one to do Latin GCSE.

Balancing a bowl of porridge on my knee while I lead the violinist through a maze of arpeggios, I am infuriated to read that, according to Dr Bryan Caplan, I am wasting my time: able children will get to the top anyway.

So why do I put myself through this routine every morning Maybe I’m compensating for the fact that when my children were tiny, I was away from home a lot as a BBC correspondent and hired nannies to do the mothering for me.

Or maybe I am reacting against the laissez-faire attitude of my parents.

Self-motivated doctors, my parents grew up in the war. One was evacuated, while the other hid from the Blitz in a coal-hole.

Their parents never nagged them about homework and, in turn, they didn’t nag us.

Only I now wish they’d made me stick at the piano. The only reason I succeeded at school was because I had the living daylights frightened out of me with warnings about being a drop-out. Not from my parents, but my teachers.

So is being a pushy parent such a bad thing Or is it responsible to bung down five cities at random and chant ‘Fate will decide’, as my parents did, when my university application form arrived

I think it’s OK to be pushy if you shove your offspring towards things they like doing. My eldest got into a highly rated school, where she is happy, via a music scholarship. The level of necessary attainment, at 11 Grade five. The number of instruments Two. And the amount of parental yelling necessary to reach this level Considerable.

I want to teach my children self-discipline and confidence in their achievements. The good news is that these are qualities that can be taught. The bad news is that, in teaching them, there will be a bit of shouting along the way.