Jo Stanley: I'm going to be more selfish, for my daughter's sake

Jo Stanley.
Jo Stanley.  Photo: Nic Walker

I have failed as a parent. I fear my daughter is turning into a monster, and I only have myself to blame. She's eight, so mostly she is sweet, polite and kind. But I've seen the dark side and I'm certain if I don't make some changes in my parenting, 20 years from now she'll be a lonely narcissist. Or worse still, a reality-TV star.

The problem is, she rules our house. She dictates pretty much all choices, except for those that might impact health, safety or financial ruin. No doubt you're judging me as a parent who can't stand up to her own child. Fair enough. I'm frequently indifferent, and almost always too tired or distracted to argue the toss.

But mostly, this comes from her being an only child. Where compromise or sharing or negotiation or just dealing with not getting your own way are the usual mainstays of family decisions, for my kid there has never been the need.

I want her to learn to just suck it up.
I want her to learn to just suck it up.  Photo: Stocksy

If I could have foretold that we'd end up living with a 120cm despot, I might have been more diligent in keeping her in check when she was younger. But like all toddlers, she was adorable, dancing and singing and pretending to be a mini version of us.

And like many foolish parents, we found it hilarious and spent hours showering her with so much praise you'd think she was the greatest child prodigy since Mozart, Michael Jackson and Gary Coleman combined.

Of course everyone knows this can turn a normal, well-adjusted kid into a precocious little turd, but the natural order of things usually sorts it out. A second cherub comes along, and the parents have neither energy nor interest in the first kid's carry on. Numero uno gets knocked down to a less-full-of-themselves size.

But we didn't have the second child. We tried and failed, repeatedly. Had our hearts broken. Gave up. Spent the next round of IVF money on a holiday to Hawaii instead. But that's all for another column. What's important is that without the sibling, my kid has gradually, over the years, become self-appointed leader of her known universe.

TV, music, weekend activities, Tim Tam flavours – any lifestyle choice there is to be made, she makes it, because up until now, even though I would love to hear just a little Bowie or Beyoncé for a change, I couldn't be bothered fighting for it.

But now I see there are bigger ramifications than whether we hear Taylor Swift for the thousandth time that day. It's about what kind of person my daughter is turning into.


Firstly, I fear she'll grow up not knowing how to get along with others. I don't want her to get dumped by her first boyfriend (or girlfriend, I won't mind where her preference lies) because she won't share the last scoop of ice-cream.

Also, I want her to learn to just suck it up. Life doesn't always go your way. Deal with it, princess – or in this case, dictator. It's the beginning of learning tolerance and, even more crucially, acceptance.

But most importantly to me, there's a broadening of the mind that comes from having other people's choices inflicted on you. When I was growing up, we did what Mum said. That's not to say she was a tyrant. In fact, she was fun and interesting and kind.

She was just the boss, and we never questioned that. We watched Brideshead Revisited, listened to the Seekers and spent weekends traipsing through pottery shops because that's what she wanted to do. End of story.

While I might have hated it, the different ideas and experiences that I was exposed to have contributed to the jigsaw puzzle that makes up me, both positive (I actually don't mind '60s folk music) and negative (British period dramas make me break into hives).

But my kid, and really this whole generation of kids who can download exactly what they want without having to wade through hours of possibly undiscovered gems, is missing out on such a valuable lesson.

That saying yes – to the new, the unknown, even the uncomfortable – can unexpectedly lead to the amazing.

So for the good of my daughter, I'm going to get more selfish. I'm going to stand my ground, fight for my way, sometimes just for the sake of winning. I'm certain she'll end up with better life skills, better relationships – and, we can only hope, better musical taste.