The latest nonsense research into middle class parenting by a pointless charity would seem to show that a “staggering” 87 per cent of dads are not the main bedtime story readers to their spawn. I am not staggered. It struck me only last weekend, in a trendy pizza restaurant, that most fathers are hopelessly inept and most mothers tiresomely indulgent when it comes to parenting.
Had I not been on a crucial third date, I would have turned to the clutch of precocious Jasperlets and mini-Harrietts and told them to shut the hell up. This family didn’t scare me. The ironically-bearded father would have been on the floor with one stamp to the eco shoe and the mum looked 6 months into Jemima-gestation.
We can, however, be certain of one thing. At some point, one of the parents would have asked me the inevitable question: “You’re not a parent, are you?” All parents, take note: Being a parent does not make you an expert in the art of parenting. There are enough abused children to prove the fact. Allow me then, to offer you the benefit of my inexperience. This is Andy West’s non-parent’s guide to parenting.
The Andy West Non-Parent's Guide to Parenting
There seems to be some confusion surrounding the need to educate a child before school-age. Your approach in this matter should be informed by the type of child you are planning to raise. If you would like your son or daughter to be happy, balanced, reasonable, unpretentious and relaxed then I suggest spending time reading to them, chatting to them, discussing their early interests and lives and generally helping them to interact with the outside world. This, in itself, is an education. It is particularly important to encourage them to socialise with other children, including those likely to be violent with stickle bricks and those not yet acquainted with the notion of sharing. Your child will benefit from mixing with miniature urchins, bullies, snobs and aristocrats alike. Alternatively, if you wish to raise a nightmarish idiot, then you can force them to learn spelling, maths, history, arts, culture and the violin before they’ve even worked out who they are and what they enjoy. This will prevent them from acquiring character and individuality whilst stunting their ability to mix with other children. Your child faces 16 years of school, college and university. What they need now is a parent, not a teacher.
Saying “don’t do that” is not discipline. Saying “that wasn’t very nice, was it?” is not discipline. Allowing your child only one Petit Filous instead of the usual two is not discipline. Why do so few parents understand the crucial element in all disciplinary measures? It is not about the removal of freedoms or luxuries. If you use the word ‘grounding’ by the way…bad parent! Any criminologist will tell you that the thief does not concern himself with prison whilst committing his crime because he does not expect to be caught.
Nor is discipline about taking away food or toys. They will get them back and instantly forget your sanctions. It is most certainly not about causing physical pain. No. The vital ingredient in discipline is…humiliation. When you reach down and slap the backs of an unruly child’s legs, it is the humiliation, not the momentary sting, that brings out the tears. The mind does not remember pain for long. But the ego. Now we’re talking. The ego is a powerful thing. Hurt that and the lesson will stick for life. Balance this with love, affection and praise, of course, and chastisement should never be a pleasurable thing for the adult, but when your child does wrong…make them apologise in public for their misdemeanours, tell them off in front of their friends, declare in the supermarket that they’d better not wet their pants again and make certain that they have been made to feel every bit as silly and immature as they are. Make them want to grow up.
Be aware that your child is not important or rare. If your child is injured or even snuffed out then the world will go on. Furthermore, your child needs to brush with danger and break a few teeth and bones if they are to survive into adulthood. Allow them to play out with their friends. The vast majority of men are not paedophiles. Allow your child to climb trees and to hop along high walls and swim in rivers because, actually, kids are pretty robust and there are too many of them anyway.
GENERAL BEHAVIOUR AND POLITENESS
If your child runs around in restaurants after 5pm, you are a bad parent. Just because your peace and quiet has been obliterated by your screaming progeny, that doesn’t mean everyone else has to suffer. ‘Dinner out’ is not a human right. If your child cries on an aeroplane for more than 15 minutes, you are a bad parent. Drug them, leave them behind, don’t fly. I don’t care what your solution is, just don’t inflict their miserable behaviour and your pig-headed selfishness on your fellow passengers. No baby on earth has ever needed to be on a plane. If you serve your children their food at the dinner table before the adults, you are a bad parent. Grown-ups are served first. Why? Because (one hopes) the grown-ups have learned to be patient and defer to others; the children have not. By serving the child first you are giving them the impression that they are more important than adults and that they should get what they desire before others. Patience is a virtue. It is a gift. Give the gift of patience to your child but make them wait for jelly.
CONVERSATION AND SEX EDUCATION
Conversation with a child is essential. Talk about clouds, talk about poo, talk about ducks and death and sex and birth and buses and whatever pops into their fantastic little heads. Use your normal voice and your normal facial expressions (Unless you’re Jessie J). Tell them the truth, in simple, bland terms and they will accept it. Where do babies come from? A man puts his willy inside a woman’s foof and a seed pops out which feels lovely for the man and forgettable for the woman and that seed grows into a little baby. Will Uncle Andy ever have a baby if he has sex with daddies? Unlikely but damn it, he’ll keep trying. What happened to Grandpa after he died? Nothing. He’s gone. But didn’t he have a wonderful time! I would not, however, encourage a conversation about behaviour. Talking children through the consequences of their actions does not work. Children require simple, clear boundaries not constant, ambiguous, meaningless UN resolutions. You are Tony Blair and they are a very naughty Iraq.
You can see when a child is tired. This is their bed time and you will find a natural and flexible routine. Do not set a deadline…or bedline. You’ll only give them something to rebel against. Siblings, particularly, will be watching keenly for bedtime injustice. An older child might actually need to go to bed earlier than a younger one! You need your time alone of course, but remember, you chose to have children and you are lucky to have them so don’t come weeping to me because you weren’t able to have your two hours of Merlot and Prime Suspect last night. The pyjamas go on one hour before sleepy time. An evening bath makes better sense than a morning wash. Teeth are brushed after 30 minutes and then the last 25 minutes can be spent enjoying a nice bedtime story.
Don’t tell me your child kicks off at bedtimes and I live in cloud cuckoo land. If your child doesn’t want to listen to you reading them a story, you’re doing it wrong. Get better at it or have them adopted by a better adult. Remember, the reason they hate bedtimes is that they feel excluded. By giving them your time and attention at the end of the day, you will reassure them that they are safe and loved.
Poke your child in the stomach. Is it hard or soft? If it’s soft, your child is fat. No special tests necessary. In this instance, you must take action. Children, like adults, are fat because they eat too much sugar and do too little exercise. Unhealthy foods include yoghurts, sweet cereals, vitamin-filled fruit juices, small biscuit bars and cheeses pretending to be sources of calcium. Any parent who gives their baby chocolate should be arrested and drowned. Feed your children healthy food and cajole them into doing some exercise. Don’t say you’ve tried and it’s easier said than done. Only lazy parents have fat children. Perhaps you could go to the park with them and kick a ball around? Or you could teach them how to skip? Go for bike rides, go swimming, play hide and seek. If you cannot do some kind of physical activity with your children, you are a bad parent. There, I said it.
Mums and dads make the worst parents.