‘Relationship support services’. That’s what the Government calls its new NHS help line for hapless new parents.The snag is that it will only dispense advice to those trying to wrestle with an under-five. Clearly, a whole new system exists once the little darlings are big enough for school . The comforting tones of Nanny State are then replaced by the bleating of a SATs and phonics obsessed Education Minister. Not that the Government is ignoring the emotional needs of children entirely. No, siree. Vouchers towards parentcraft classes are also being trialled in the latest attempt to embrace ‘modern forms of parenting advice’. as the PM would have it.
Hmm. The problem with official advice is it rarely covers the stuff we need to know. So I thought I’d compile my own list of parenting tips, distilled from more than two decades of trying to hand-rear my own offspring. It’s not meant to assist, as no-one raises their children to a one-size-fits-all pattern. But there are certain key points which I bet the new parentcraft classes won’t cover. Here are a few of them: please feel free to add your own!
- If a grandparent offers to hold/babysit/take care of your Perfect First Born, let them! After all, you are still alive: living proof that they will not dribble fag ash on the baby, knock it off the table, feed it to the dog, or leave it on the bus. Hand it over and don’t look back.
- No matter what you agree with your partner in advance, they will only hear a child crying in the night if you pour water in their ears. You, on the other hand, will insist on trying to hear it breathe even when it is old enough to play touch rugby.
- Babies really can sleep in the dark. Yes, honestly. Cute night lights are a modern invention for screwing money out of new parents, along with other unnecessary items such as changing tables and baby walkers. A nightlight’s only use is to stop daddy banging into the cot and waking the baby while shaking the water out of his ears.
- Always have a spare carrier bag somewhere handy about your person. Never try to catch vomit in your hands. You will lose.
- Money boxes are not petty cash tins for adults. Failure to put an IOU in – or to redeem it – is theft.
- Good old-fashioned mud is not a health and safety issue.
- If you find yourself colour coordinating play bricks, or separating PlayDoh back into the jars, you may need to consider learning to relax just a little.
School is a whole new ballgame, and don’t think you will remember the rules from when you were a kid. . Oh no. You will need to master the Rules for Parents. That is a whole new list I don’t have time for here. Much more important are my Survival Tips:
- Reading schemes are the work of the devil. Don’t take any notice of the colour reader your little darling has, nor any notice of the fact that little Orvis has started to master books without pictures. You will not, repeat not, remember any of this in ten years time. Neither will your child. If you read stories and rhymes to them and with them every day they will get there.
- Don’t sweat the small stuff. If your child completes a set task, congratulate them. Don’t waste time trying to work out how much better Orvis did as it will lead to tears. Probably yours. No one ever got into university on the strength of their performance in a Year 2 spelling test.
- Socialise. Even if you have the personality of a preying mantis, socialise with other families. Your kids will thank you for it later when they realise they have mastered this vital life skill for themselves.
- Parent meetings are a nightmare. Luckily there is always one parent who is happy to transfer their executive talents to running the show. Never make eye contact with this person. Occupy the spot closest to the door and decline the welcome glass of wine if you want to avoid being roped into running the Tombola at the next May Fayre.
- World Book Day matters to your kid. Make a costume, goddamit. How hard can it be?
- “Everyone else has…..”. “But no one else does...”. Never, ever, fall for these statements. Enough said.
I still haven’t entirely mastered teenagers. But here’s my take on them so far:
- Slamming doors and sullen silences are part of growing up. Accept them. But never accept the idea that teenagers have to rebel. This is not hardwired into their psyche. Thousands of teenagers reach adulthood every year without drinking to excess, taking loads of drugs, moving into squats or having underage sex. If you treat your child with physical and emotional respect from the outset, then it is likely they will be able to treat their bodies, and those of others in the same way.
- While we’re on the subject of moods, sibling rivalry is not compulsory either. The rule in this house is that they don’t have to adore each other but they must be considerate and fair in their behaviour.
- And yes, this means that cheating their younger sister at Monopoly is particularly poor form.
- Remember when staying up all night at a party did not make you sick – the beer you drank did? Well, there’s only one way your teen is going to find that out. Just make sure they know how to clean up.
- Teenagers are better judges than we give them credit for. If your teen says “you really shouldn’t wear that’ then you probably shouldn’t.
- Don’t try to be their best friend. Make sure you have enough of your own. You are their parent and that’s where they need you to stay.
- Look at their friends: whatever they are into is what your teen is also into. Good or bad. (That is a very useful tip).
- Invest in a good driving instructor and as many lessons as you can afford. It will save you huge amounts in tension and brake pads.
- Love them unconditionally. Praise them for the little things, not just sporting achievements or for finally beating Orvis in a damn test.
Finally, remember that the gold standard for successful parenting is being ‘good enough,’ not being perfect. So, if helplines and parent craft classes can help, then great. The best way to ensure that all children benefit from great parenting is to make sure that their parents remember great parents of their own.
Neil Postman wrote that “Children are the living messages we send to a time we will not see.” If he’s right, then I hope that my ‘messages’ will carry forward love, optimism and a deep appreciation of the importance of family. Finally accepting the need to play fair at board games will probably come in handy, too.