Mummy's hair dryer isn't a good way of warming the bath

On saying `no' to children

Share
Related Topics
Is raising children an affirmative experience? The answer to this is obviously true in a larger sense, of course. I say "of course" here, as writers usually do in newspapers, as a kind of defensive aggression ("Of course" sometimes means "everyone but a lunatic would agree. Therefore if you disagree you must be a lunatic". But just as often it means something like "I know the objection that is rising in your mind and I want you to know that I have already considered it. I am not blinkered, you know.") So - of course - raising children is a positive experience, the full five points in a happiness questionnaire, a big tick in the box marked Contentment.

The last thing I would want you to think is that I was anti-child in any way, which would be virtually the same thing as saying I was anti- life. And this isn't just circumspection - a man steering carefully round a sacred cow that has gone to sleep in the road. Whatever my wife thinks on an average Saturday morning, I'm really not anti-child at all. I can see that the point of them goes far beyond the replacement of society's worn-out parts. But there remains a paradox. If bringing up children is a way of saying yes to life then why is it that one spends virtually every waking hour saying no to them?

I was struck by this question after a day of unusually concentrated prohibition, the standard trilogy of the adult-child relationship - No You Can't, Don't and Stop That Right Now - having been deployed in every conceivable circumstance and every tonal range - from the exhausted to the enraged. And such days are unusually draining on parental energy - because the general denial seeps into the very fabric of life. It's like driving with the handbrake on - a sense that forward motion is achieved only at the expense of some grinding friction deep within the machine - a puzzled awareness that things should be rolling more smoothly than they actually are. I started to check on my own negatives ... This is just a short selection of recent denials and interdicts uttered in my own house:

Don't stick your head in the washing machine.

Stop blowing your nose on my trousers.

Don't shout.

No we can't go to Africa for lunch.

Don't bite the toothbrush while I'm trying to clean your teeth.

Stop rubbing lemonade on your hair.

Don't wipe your hands on your mother.

No we can't have a baby killer whale as a pet.

Don't shout.

No you can't go to school dressed as a Wookie.

Don't try to drink your juice with a fork.

Stop sitting on my head.

No you can't put your pajamas on inside out.

Please don't shout.

No, we can't have a police car when this one gets broken.

Don't poke your finger in your brother's ear while he's having his hair brushed.

No, you can't poke a finger in his ear now.

Don't post the house keys through the letterbox.

NO!! Mummy's hair dryer isn't a good way of warming the bath up.

Don't climb up my arms while I'm trying to button your coat.

No you can't watch Newsnight tonight.

For God's sake stop shouting!

No you can't sleep in the bath tonight.

Stop sitting on the dishwasher door.

No you can't wipe your brother's bottom.

Don't look at the pictures, look at the words.

STOP BLOODY SHOUTING!!!!!

I suppose the first thing that should be said about such an audit is that a certain amount of prohibition is inseparable from parental responsibility. It's hard to imagine that even the most liberal programme of empirical learning would allow a child to drop an electrical appliance into a bath to see what happened next.

It's also true that it would be inhuman to deny a parent's right to a certain amount of consoling obstinacy - after a long day in the trenches of parenthood, after a day in which perfectly reasonable requests have been repeatedly ignored, the odd arbitrary ban can be absurdly satisfying. But what's also clear is that the habit of saying no inexorably spreads beyond its useful bounds. It's like attempting to write a legible note on blotting paper - the line thickens and melds until it is almost impossible to make out just what the message was in the first place.

"You don't rule my life!" my six year old shouted the other day after a bedtime showdown over whether he would be allowed to go to sleep inside his duvet cover rather than under it. "Don't be silly", I thought, "of course I do".

But walking downstairs, the battle won, I did wonder why I had hit the brake pads so hard for such a gentle bend in the road. Why couldn't he sleep inside his duvet cover? No rational reason of safety or decorum or hygiene presented itself. A concession to this desire now was hardly likely to lead to delinquency and probation in ten years time. Even Jack Straw might think that the interleaving of person and bed linen was a matter that could be left to the individual conscience, however unformed it was. I had simply got into a habit of denial - a twitch of resistance which implicitly assumes that raising children is largely a negative experience.

React Now

Latest stories from i100
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
SPONSORED FEATURES
iJobs Job Widget
iJobs General

Recruitment Genius: Senior Environmental Adviser - Maternity Cover

£37040 - £43600 per annum: Recruitment Genius: The UK's export credit agency a...

Recruitment Genius: CBM & Lubrication Technician

£25000 - £27500 per annum: Recruitment Genius: This company provides a compreh...

Recruitment Genius: Care Worker - Residential Emergency Service

£16800 - £19500 per annum: Recruitment Genius: Would you like to join an organ...

Recruitment Genius: Senior Landscaper

£25000 - £28000 per annum: Recruitment Genius: In the last five years this com...

Day In a Page

Read Next
 

Errors & Omissions: Whoever and whatever Arthur was, he wasn’t Scottish

Guy Keleny
Labour's Jeremy Corbyn arrives to take part in a Labour party leadership final debate, at the Sage in Gateshead, England, Thursday, Sept. 3  

Jeremy Corbyn is here to stay and the Labour Party is never going to look the same again

Andrew Grice
The long walk west: they fled war in Syria, only to get held up in Hungary – now hundreds of refugees have set off on foot for Austria

They fled war in Syria...

...only to get stuck and sidetracked in Hungary
From The Prisoner to Mad Men, elaborate title sequences are one of the keys to a great TV series

Title sequences: From The Prisoner to Mad Men

Elaborate title sequences are one of the keys to a great TV series. But why does the art form have such a chequered history?
Giorgio Armani Beauty's fabric-inspired foundations: Get back to basics this autumn

Giorgio Armani Beauty's foundations

Sumptuous fabrics meet luscious cosmetics for this elegant look
From stowaways to Operation Stack: Life in a transcontinental lorry cab

Life from the inside of a trucker's cab

From stowaways to Operation Stack, it's a challenging time to be a trucker heading to and from the Continent
Kelis interview: The songwriter and sauce-maker on cooking for Pharrell and crying over potatoes

Kelis interview

The singer and sauce-maker on cooking for Pharrell
Refugee crisis: David Cameron lowered the flag for the dead king of Saudi Arabia - will he do the same honour for little Aylan Kurdi?

Cameron lowered the flag for the dead king of Saudi Arabia...

But will he do the same honour for little Aylan Kurdi, asks Robert Fisk
Our leaders lack courage in this refugee crisis. We are shamed by our European neighbours

Our leaders lack courage in this refugee crisis. We are shamed by our European neighbours

Humanity must be at the heart of politics, says Jeremy Corbyn
Joe Biden's 'tease tour': Could the US Vice-President be testing the water for a presidential run?

Joe Biden's 'tease tour'

Could the US Vice-President be testing the water for a presidential run?
Britain's 24-hour culture: With the 'leisured society' a distant dream we're working longer and less regular hours than ever

Britain's 24-hour culture

With the 'leisured society' a distant dream we're working longer and less regular hours than ever
Diplomacy board game: Treachery is the way to win - which makes it just like the real thing

The addictive nature of Diplomacy

Bullying, betrayal, aggression – it may be just a board game, but the family that plays Diplomacy may never look at each other in the same way again
Lady Chatterley's Lover: Racy underwear for fans of DH Lawrence's equally racy tome

Fashion: Ooh, Lady Chatterley!

Take inspiration from DH Lawrence's racy tome with equally racy underwear
8 best children's clocks

Tick-tock: 8 best children's clocks

Whether you’re teaching them to tell the time or putting the finishing touches to a nursery, there’s a ticker for that
Charlie Austin: Queens Park Rangers striker says ‘If the move is not right, I’m not going’

Charlie Austin: ‘If the move is not right, I’m not going’

After hitting 18 goals in the Premier League last season, the QPR striker was the great non-deal of transfer deadline day. But he says he'd preferred another shot at promotion
Isis profits from destruction of antiquities by selling relics to dealers - and then blowing up the buildings they come from to conceal the evidence of looting

How Isis profits from destruction of antiquities

Robert Fisk on the terrorist group's manipulation of the market to increase the price of artefacts
Labour leadership: Andy Burnham urges Jeremy Corbyn voters to think again in last-minute plea

'If we lose touch we’ll end up with two decades of the Tories'

In an exclusive interview, Andy Burnham urges Jeremy Corbyn voters to think again in last-minute plea