As soon as Eric Pickles announced his ‘Back to Basics’ crackdown on ‘troubled’ families, it was odds on that a Conservative minister would oblige by executing his own family faux pas. How many would have placed their bets in the culprit being the Prime Minister himself, who with model mum Samantha appears to have chillaxed a little too much after Sunday lunch at the pub, leaving their daughter Nancy in the Ladies.
The uncomfortable end to Nancy’s comfort break apparently happened ‘a couple of months ago’, according to a Downing Street spokesman, but conveniently surfaced in the press as soon as Pickles placed his mouth in soundbite gear. And oh how we all chuckled, engaging in a national bout of schadenfreude.
But wait a minute: let’s think about this a little more. Last week universities revealed the further rise of ‘helicopter parents’, sleeping on the floor in university halls of residence and querying their offspring’s marks in exams and assignments. The umbilical cord may be cut at birth, but it is clear that for many parents, the link now continues into adulthood. Knowing when to let your child out of your sight is difficult for all parents. I can still remember the nervous feeling in my stomach the first time my daughter walked across a restaurant and disappeared behind the door of the ladies’ toilet on her own. Or when she walked to the shops in the village, cycled to a friend’s house or went out on her own after dark.
But now I can be proud of an independent and capable teenager, soon to celebrate her 16th birthday, who goes to gigs at small, local venues and Wembley Stadium, travels into London with friends and earlier this year made her own way to Leeds to attend a weekend youth event. In August she will travel to Wales to stay with strangers for work experience, working towards her career goal of becoming a vet. And however much I still worry about her, I know my job as a parent is to give her the freedom and ability to fly, not to tether her with my apron strings to feed my own needs and insecurities.
Of course allowing your child their freedom can sometimes end badly. In August 2002, at the time of the Soham murders, a friend and I lost our then six year old daughters in a crowd getting off a ride at Thorpe Park. The 25 minutes until we were reunited was the worst period of time I can remember. But when we did find them, they had done exactly as they had been taught: stuck together and, unable to see anyone in uniform, approached ‘the nicest Mummy’ they could see and asked for help. And luckily, unlike Holly and Jessica’s parents, we still have our daughters. Whatever the tabloids may have us believe, child abduction by strangers is thankfully extremely rare in the UK.
So hurrah for the Camerons. Welcome to the world of real parents, allowing your child increasing amounts of independence as you and they grow in confidence. And if leaving your eight year old in the toilet of a country pub for 20 minutes is the worst mistake you make as a parent, you won’t have done too badly.
* Sara Bedford is a local councillor on Three Rivers District Council and a member of the Lib Dem Voice editorial team.