The World Won’t Listen

In which our reluctant hero reveals a most genius parenting trick, courtesy of HRH Sir Prince William.

Taking a break from nailing my head to the coffee table after the latest opportunity for the British public to prove exactly how stupid they are was announced, I embarked on some research for this week’s post. Don’t sound so surprised. Cheeky.

After a few minutes of rummaging through the headlines of Google’s recent parenting stories, I stumbled upon this gem from Marie Claire, whoever she is.

“Prince William Just Taught Us An Amazing Parenting Trick.”

Blimey. Did he? Really? I wonder what it could be. A spell that tidies up bedrooms, cleans teeth without an argument and reads bedtime stories perhaps? Or, better still, a most genius trick to instantly master potty training using just a two year old and a potty? Useful as I’m not sure that our rug will survive another soaking.

Marie was also teasing me with the shock news that the Prince’s considerably better half, Princess Kate, has a secret Mumsnet account. Nooooo!! Sadly for Marie, this particular piece of no doubt otherwise fine investigative journalism offered less appeal, having long suspected that the Duchess may actually be a commoner.

Back to the task in hand. What’s the trick, Wills? Let’s find out. Brace yourselves… CLICK!

It turns out that The Man Who Would (probably-depending-on-a-range-of-factors) Be King bends or crouches down when speaking to his children. Amazing indeed. Where does he get his crazy ideas?

Now, spending all day getting down and back up again is all very well for His Royal Sirness, he is a relatively young man after all, but possibly not so practical for us old dads who, once down, may need the rest of the day to get back up again. So why do it? Apparently, it helps us make effective eye contact with our little people. Which, in turn, helps convince them that you are listening to them. Simple.

This well established active listening technique works with adults too and is something that I use at work to make my staff feel more on my level while they finish their morning bows and curtseys. It works best in environments where you can listen without distraction, which further reassures the little (or big) person that you are really listening.

Rewinding slightly… Without distraction? In a house with a two and four year old in residence? Forget it. The only time in the last six months that our littlest little one has been quiet for more than ten consecutive seconds is when the big one suggested playing a game called “pretend your mouth is stuck together with glue” earlier this week. Which reminds me. I’d best hide the glue, just in case.

Communication, or lack of it, between parents and their children is one of the greatest causes of frustration in the first few years. In my experience, communication through their early developmental phases works something like this.

Very Little Children
All we parents have to go on is our child randomly crying, gurgling, trumping and maybe offering an occasional laugh a few months in. While slightly frustrating as you are left guessing what they need, what they need is usually feeding, winding, changing or sleep. That’s a one in four chance of getting it right which seems like reasonable odds. Talking or no talking, it’ll be fine.

Toddler Age
As language skills develop, your little one finally starts to vocalise their wants and needs. Well, tries to. Unfortunately, their attempts are normally misinterpreted by parents who respond with something like “Yes, it is the cat! Clever boy!” when what they should have done is listened more carefully and put Postman Pat on. Coincidentally, this seems to be the point that the tantrums and foot stamping starts, presumably out of sheer frustration at mum and dad randomly saying “cat” all of the time.

Big Boy or Girl Age (or approximately two and three quarter years old, give or take)
Language skills are often finely honed as children approach three. They are long past crawling and it’s your turn to get down on your hands and knees to guarantee listening properly. If it’s good enough for a Prince, then it should be good enough for the rest of us. Except that the “listening” has turned full circle and become a mutually exclusive parental activity, as demonstrated in this “hypothetical” case study.

Tuesday Evening

*Child bouncing on sofa*

“Come and sit by me instead of jumping on the sofa. You’ll hurt yourself if you’re not careful.”

*Child faceplants into floor*

“Did you hurt your head? It’s alright. Come here. Now we’re not going to do any more jumping on the sofa are we? No. Good boy.”

Wednesday Evening

*Child bouncing on sofa*

“Come and sit by me instead of jumping on the sofa. You’ll hurt yourself if you’re not careful.”

*Child faceplants into floor…*
Repeat indefinitely…

So, good in theory but it seems that the top tip may not be quite as tip top as it first appeared. In the absence of any other suggestions of how to address the problem of reciprocal listening (and potty training) I’m off to log into my secret Mumsnet account. I may be some time.

Fin.

Excess Baggage

In which a surprise award is dished out and our reluctant hero wishes TARDIS technology existed inside a Vauxhall Meriva.

A lot has happened since I last battered a load of randomly selected words into the series of slightly less random sentences and paragraphs that passed themselves off as last week’s blog. Well two things, if you want to get picky. Oh. Yes.

The first thing that happened was that my blog became an award-winning blog. Who saw that coming? Having pulled it together for the last few months, not me. When I say “award-winning” I should probably include the word “technically” or “not” somewhere.

You see, I won an award. Woohoo! And a most prestigious one at that. “Wolverhampton NCT Volunteer of the Month” no less which, in the Blogosphere, is about the equivalent of a proper writer winning the Booker Prize. Probably. But, as the award was awarded for services to blogging, I think that the blog itself should claim most of the credit and therefore the award. Seems legit, so that’s what I’m going with. I’ll create a “Testimonials” section later to capture this magnificent accolade for posterity. I’ll probably also make up some quotes from the Richard and Judy Book Club to big it up, like everyone else does.

Anyway, the other thing that happened was that we went on holiday. Ironically,  I wasn’t planning to do a post this week but instead have a week off and hope that nobody noticed. Clearly I can’t do that now or the NCT blog police will be ripping stripes off and demanding the award back.

So here goes.

Sometime last week. Wolverhampton. Earlier.

“Daddy. I’ve packed my suitcase for holidays. It’s downstairs. In the hall!”

“Erm.. OK” I reply as I locate the tiny overnight case and start to rummage through its contents.”But you’ve forgotten to pack any clothes!”

“Oh… Silly me! I’ll bring some down!”

The inventory of things for a four day break read as follows.

  • 1 doll
  • 1 plastic strawberry
  • 3 replica beach huts from last holidays
  • 1 “What’s in the Fridge” board game
  • 1 toy camera out of a Christmas cracker
  • 1 small furry toy from a fast food chain that I’m still not happy that we occasionally have to visit
  • 1 set of toy eggs

Now I don’t know any sane person who wouldn’t, rightly, agree that this is all pretty essential stuff. But spending four days away, you’re going to need clothes too or risk getting arrested. Again. The following were duly added to the haul.

  • 1 Peppa Pig onesie
  • 1 Upsy Daisy swimming costume

Sorted. We’re off on holiday, so we’ll need something to sleep in and, as we normally go swimming on holiday too, we’ll need something to wear in the pool. You can’t fault the logic.

Considering this, just how the overall baggage allowance for two big and two little people ended up filling the boot of our hatchback car, the parcel shelf, the two foot wells in the back and part of “no mans land” that exists between the children’s car seats is a mystery. A mystery hidden inside a riddle wrapped in an enigma. And that was before the supermarket run en route.

Three nights. In Blighty. We took about a quarter of the amount crammed into the car to Australia for a fortnight or so on honeymoon AND brought clean stuff back.

There’s probably some complicated maths (yes, “maths” – I’m not an American) law describing how the amount of stuff that you cart around is exponentially proportional to the number of little people in the family unit.

It’s been like this for over three years now. I still remember our first trip to the supermarket as a family and my shock at not being able to get a single bag of shopping in the boot. Slings, travel system, changing bag, spare changing bag, spare slings, yes. Food, no. Folk who have been parents for a couple of years know how it works. Newbies may be in for a shock. Get used to it though. There’s no turning back now.

It’s funny how your life aspirations change after becoming a dad. Forget travelling the world, owning a helicopter, or buying your local football club. I long for a day when I can drive somewhere and be able to see cars or an empty road in my rear-view mirror. Just once before I die. I suspect that this day will be a long time coming unless Vauxhall unveil new designs that are a little more Police Box shaped than at present. And is that likely? Pack it in!

Choosing Your Battles

In which our reluctant hero considers the only two practical options available. Fight or flight.

Being a Dad and being a manager at work are at times spookily similar roles. You constantly have to deal with temper tantrums, toys being thrown out of the cot and general silliness for little or no thanks. And the pay is rubbish.

Fortunately, the minute that you realise that whatever you do you are never going to win, everything gets much easier.

Becoming a Dad and a manager happened at about the same time for me. As if one ill-prepared voyage into the unknown, with only a punctured dinghy for protection, was not enough, I chose two. Idiot.

After paddling against the tide for a couple years, I downed anchor after realising that it wasn’t the winning, but the taking part that was important. Or, put another way, that you need to choose your battles carefully.

There you go. A top Dad tip. You’re welcome. 

Yes, throwing food, not tidying stuff up, and a constant cry of “DON’T WANT TO!” every time you ask for something to be done is annoying, but does it really matter? Is it worth getting upset about, or simply a behavioural issue to deal with at appraisal time?

Although fully aware of the need to choose wisely, I still can’t help going all in at the wrong times.

I once found myself in an hour-long standoff with my then two year old over mess. Quite a lot of mess, but just mess nonetheless.

Picture the scene. A small child, and a childish, tired-and-somewhat-fed-up-about-always-having-to-pick-up-the-mess adult facing each other, dead-eyed like a pair of Wild West gunslingers. Gunslingers separated only by a sizeable spread of Postman Pat toys. In the Wild West. Or the “Dining Room” if you prefer. “Why do I alway have to pick everything up? IT’S NOT FAIR!” Pathetic really.

I ended picking them all up of course in an ending as predictable as that of Titanic (spoiler – the boat sank.) With hindsight, it was a pointless battle to get involved in. And a pointless film to have watched too.

A race to see who could put the most toys away quickest would have been better. As would teamwork, singing or emotional bribery. Or pretty much anything else if I’m honest. Nobody gets upset, Ted Glenn ends up back in the recesses of the darkened toy box (to do whatever Ted Glenn gets up to in the darkness….) and the naughty step is spared a pounding from toddler feet. Jobs a good’un.

Children being children, there can never be any consistency. Our two are different. One is a strong advocate of the grand emotional gesture and occasional full on waterworks. The other is… well… stubborn and will never back down when he’s got something set in his mind. Just like his mother. Probably.

You need creativity in your approach to get to a desired outcome. Trick them into thinking that everything was their idea all along. Give them credit and a pat on the head if they do something nicely. Offer rewards. A Jammy Dodger per task completed perhaps? Even consider being nice if all else fails and you really have to. But above all, avoid a battle if you can.

Trust me, this simple yet effective technique usually ends with a painless win. So much so that I often adopt it at home with the kids too.

Work out what matters and what doesn’t. Take a deep breath and a step back. Nobody actually died when the heads got ripped off all of the daffodils, although they very nearly did. Deep breaths.

If all else fails and military intervention is needed, hit them where it hurts the most. Reassert your authority. Stand up tall. Stick your chest out and get your inner monologue working overtime. “I am a man. I am a man. I AM A MAN!!” Take decisive action. Switch CBeebies off and hide the remote control. Then head home.

That’ll teach them.

Finding Your Feet

In which our reluctant hero faces a near impossible deadline. Probably. 

So, against all odds, my first most excellent (if somewhat lacking in actual words and sentences about being a Dad or parenting) blog post survived. Some of you may even have read and even remembered it. If so, I really suggest that you try to get out just a tiny bit more. Or chuck your phone in the bin. It’s for the best. Trust me.

My resolution for this week was to think about a proper first post. Which, to be fair, I did. Sadly, no resolution was made to write said post despite me apparently mumbling something to my considerably better half about finishing each weekly Friday offering by the Sunday before. Oh, why do spouses only listen at the most inopportune moments?

So, here I am. A man (technically, by definition – I checked) trying to concentrate on doing something important-ish (my blog) without any real clue as to what I am doing, while keeping one eye and half of my brain firmly focused on something else important-ish (Wallander.) Which I suppose is about as near to accidentally stumbling across an analogy about parenting that I’m likely to get, seeing as there’s only about 54 minutes left until Sir Ken solves the murder.

Briefly getting back to the blog…

The concept of parenting is a bizarre one to get your head around. It’s the only permanent job that you’re likely to perform with hours directly in contravention of the European Working Time Directive, provides no pay, and to which no, or practically no, training (aside from those wonderful NCT antenatal classes that you can sign up for – happy Regional Chair?) is given. You need a licence to keep a telly in the house in case you can’t look after it properly. Yet you’re allowed to keep a real life human baby in the corner of your living room, or mounted on the wall, to stare at for hours on end without anyone batting an eyelid. Utter madness.

It should be simple. Should be. But, somehow, it just isn’t.

As if not having the foggiest idea of what you’re doing isn’t bad enough, everyone (and I mean EVERYONE) that you know is positively itching to bamboozle you with advice. Advice. All of it conflicting. Most of it veering unhelpfully towards Chocolate-Teapot Land.

“Yeah, the World Health Organisation stuff about breastfeeding until two is nonsense. Pureed Sugar Puffs with Cup-a-Soup will be fine from five days.”

“Slightly jaundiced? Ignore that stuff about sunlight. We left ours in the fruit bowl with bananas on top of her for a fortnight. Ripened perfectly.”

It’s quite frankly amazing that we survived past being cavemen and caveladies, especially since CBeebies was only broadcast between noon until one until the latter period of the ice-age. The savages.

One of the more useful pieces of advice that I was given was that the best thing that you can do is listen to everyone’s advice and then do your own thing. Sound advice indeed, which I promptly dismissed and went and did my own thing.

In the early days of parenthood, my primary role as a Dad, particularly at night, was to walk around in ever wearily decreasing circles with a permanently screaming baby welded to my shoulder. Just on the off-chance that the three of us would somehow all manage to be asleep at the same time, even if for only half an hour. Fat chance.

The nighttime hours spent not screaming were pretty much exclusively spent not feeding. My wife was determined to breastfeed but our daughter had other ideas. Ideas mainly involving inhumane acts of torture applied to the upper adult torso.

During a particularly sleep deprived and difficult night of a series of many, in a moment of utter madness, I offered some advice of my own. With my exhausted and demoralised wife at near breaking point and, for the first time, considering giving up breastfeeding, this was probably not the time for such foolhardy action. So in I went anyway…

“Don’t ever make a decision in darkness.”

Yeah, I know. I don’t know where it came from either and confess to having forgotten all about it until being reminded while writing this. As my default setting is “don’t ever make a decision” adding two extra words wasn’t so great a leap. It was just a case of picking the right two. “In Greggs” probably wouldn’t have had the same impact.

And, miraculously, more by luck than judgment, everyone got to sleep and everything did indeed seem better in daylight. My wife persevered with feeding past the twelve month mark and I was more than a little surprised to learn that she passes this advice on whenever anyone else is struggling. Blimey. (I’m happy to cash out on my ten bonus Dad Points, albeit three years late by the way.)

And, eventually, it does get easier until, finally, one day… Eureka! You nail something all by yourself. Something so spectacularly impressive that you too feel duty bound to share and annoy your peers with like a modern day Dr Spock. Or Mr Spock. Or something.  

“Yes, little [insert child’s name here] wouldn’t eat a single piece of fruit or veg until we smeared hummus and quinoa on the plate before serving. And now [he’s/she’s/it’s] thinking of going vegan. At six months. So advanced.”

And at this exact point, the one where you move seamlessly over to the dark side, be sure that next mealtime you have a plate with some words and a knife and a fork at the ready. And make sure that the plate is smeared with a couple of delicacies from the Waitrose Essentials range beforehand. Because you’ll soon be sat in your kitchen eating those garlicky, grainy words while watching Sugar Puffs and Cup-a-Soup zoom round in the blender.

“Hello World”

In which our reluctant hero faces an unexpected challenge…

Ping!

“What’s that?” I wonder as I retrieve my not-quite-as-smart-as-it-likes-to-think-that-it-is-phone from my trouser pocket…

Facebook Notification: You have been added to the closed group Wolverhampton NCT Volunteers Discussion Group.

“Have I indeed?” I mutter, almost breaking my ankle slipping on a plastic banana carelessly discarded on the hall floor. Kids, eh?

And so it begins. My mission, should I choose to accept it, is to write a most exciting blog. A blog about being a Dad no less. A blog filled with gripping content about parenting, adventures and nappies. (Hmmm… perhaps less of the nappy content will need to be included.) Today I am officially a blogger. Probably.

Paradoxically, what qualifies me for this Herculean task, i.e. having a threenager and a one year old, is exactly the same thing that should be disqualifying me from doing it. Having a threenager and a one year old. I barely have time to iron tight enough creases into the bed linen, let alone embark on creating the 21st Century equivalent of Pepys’ Diaries. What could possibly go wrong?

Apparently the parenting blogosphere is awash with mummy bloggers, but not daddy bloggers and I am told that I may be able to get a fresh take on everything. Okay.

So, what should I write about? Well, the kids presumably. Perhaps a series of side splitting anecdotes involving said kids? You know, like the endless stream of Facebook posts such as “Olly said ‘wees’ instead of ‘please’ when we were in the Asda earlier. It was hilarious. Lol.” that I have to scroll through to get to the shared Guardian articles that I had actually logged on to look at. And no, Olly isn’t hilarious. He’s clearly a bit stupid. Or two years old, which amounts to pretty much the same thing.

Alternatively, I could post just loads of terribly composed out of focus pictures of the little people doing, well, stuff. And maybe add a meme for good measure. After all, that’s what Mums post ALL OF THE TIME isn’t it? (You’re with me on this, Dads? Yes? Where have you all gone?)  It’s a nailed on tactic for getting “likes” for sure. Hold that thought.

As this is an NCT thing, I suppose I’d better not promote formula. Fair enough. With all the current hysteria about SATS and over testing, it is probably sensible to avoid bringing maths into the equation.

Did you see what I did there? Two subtle maths word plays. Or, put another way, “double maths..” Actually that makes three, doesn’t it? As easy as Pi…

I’m not sure that this is going to work, is it?

Anyway. That looks like about enough words to just about pass for an opening post. I should probably start thinking about what to put in the next one now. Maybe next time there will be some actual content. Don’t hold your breath.

In the meantime, if you have any ideas (I’m stumped… send help) please send them on a postcard or on the back of a stuck down envelope to the usual address. Or post a comment. It’ll be cheaper.