You’ve heard of helicopter, lawnmower, hands-free and free-range parenting – but Kate Sidley has some new terms to offer.
Not all of us are cut out to be disciplinarians. Personally, I like a quiet life without too much strife. I genuinely believe that taking a long view, keeping family relationships good and their bonds strong is usually more important than winning individual battles. Admittedly, I’m also somewhat lazy and prone to conflict avoidance. On occasion, this has made me a less-than-excellent enforcer of rules and boundaries. However, I’m generally able to bestir myself when it’s really required.
There are some parents who seem utterly unable to stand up to their children. They’re completely spineless and remind me of a dog training class I used to attend. There was a lovely, spirited Staffie being trained there. Staffies are notoriously boisterous and this one was uncontrollable (at least, by its owner). She was a trembling flower who had no authority at all and would quietly plead: ‘Oh, please sit, Tyson…’ while the beast tore around the yard having a fine old time.
Sometimes, when in the presence of a truly spineless parent with an out-of-control child, I mutter: ‘Oh, please sit, Tyson…’ to my husband under my breath.
This refers not to leglessness as in drunkenness (although it’s not totally unrelated, as we shall see), but leglessness as in: ‘You don’t have a leg to stand on.’ This is particularly relevant to those of you with, um, ‘interesting’ pasts and teenage kids. It’s very likely that you did the same as, if not worse than, they’re doing, so you may well be forced to lie and/or adopt the hypocrital attitude of ‘do as I say, not as I do’ (or ‘not as I did’).
There are a few people I see knocking about the car parks and suburban coffee shops whom I knew in their wilder youths. At a kids’ party, I once saw a bloke I’d last seen two decades previously wearing eyeliner, drinking vodka out of the bottle and fronting a punk band at a dive in Hillbrow. Now there he was, removing a sucker from a five-year-old’s mouth while delivering a small lecture about the dangers and addictive qualities of sugar. I laughed, wryly and inwardly, at this turn of events – and then removed a sucker from my own five-year-old’s mouth.
Few of us have had an entirely blemish-free life. It doesn’t follow that just because you did some unsavoury things in your youth, you’re unable to advise your children against them.
It’s a good idea to be careful about how you present things, though. My husband and I used to smoke. We’ve always been absolutely clear with our children that we regret ever taking up this habit, which we now recognise as a stupid and damaging one. We’ve told them about our many, many failed attempts to quit. And we’ve told them about the final time, when we arrived back from our summer holiday and decided we simply had to give it up for good. We quit there and then and have never looked back. It was remarkably easy that last time, because we were absolutely resolute and ready.
One of our kids was bust smoking. We parents were incredulous, appalled, disappointed, furious and sad (the Five Stages of Parent Despair). ‘But we told you how we hated it and how we struggled!’ we said. ‘Yes… but you said it was easy to quit in the end,’ our child replied.
That was the takeaway from years of anti-smoking propaganda? That it was easy in the end? I actually give up.*
*Loud banging of head on desk.
FEATURE: KATE SIDLEY PHOTO: FOTOLIA.COM