To smack or not to smack

Oh, for a moment there I was tempted! So tempted! This must be how the head of PR for the Church of Scientology feels about Katie Holmes, how Andrew Tyrie felt about the evasive Bob Diamond, how the Staffordshire police felt about the man on a Megabus with the fake cigarette. For a moment, I wanted to give my five-year-old son a sharp slap. Because I was angry. Because Robin had driven me just too far. Because I wanted to pull rank and show who was boss.

You will be delighted to hear that I managed to restrain myself. Possibly because I caught sight of Mary the vicar at the end of the high street and was immediately reminded that forgiveness is better than retribution. And also because I remembered that banning TV after school is a more effective punishment.

Have you ever been tempted to smack your child?


How to be a calm parent

I have just been listening to Radio 4’s Woman’s Hour, and heard Noël Janis-Norton talk about her new book Calmer Easier Happier Parenting. One of her strategies is to praise children when they actually do what you’ve asked them to do. So if your small boy keeps shouting, and you’d much rather he didn’t, you notice when he’s talking at a lower volume and comment admiringly. ‘What a lovely calm voice! I can hear what you’re saying! That makes me want to answer your question!’ Will this work with Robin (5)? ‘How lovely that you’ve put purple felt tip on the paper! I can see it so much better than when it’s all over the wall! That makes me want to look at your picture!’
I think I should buy the book.

Hothousing children

I do believe children’s talents should be nurtured. When Robin splattered the off-white sofa covers with purple paint, for example, I took the long view and imagined him exhibiting at the Tate. But I’m less sure about the current passion for ‘hothousing’. Is it really necessary for a five-year-old to practise the violin for half an hour a day (I mention no names)? Should you force a pre-schooler to learn French, take up judo, perform pliés and practise arpeggios? (Again, I leave you to work out which Volvo-owner might be the culprit.)

 I was shocked to learn that there are children performing in the RSC‘s current hit show Matilda. When I was ten, I was tucked up in bed by 8pm every single night.

I believe it made me the woman I am today.


Parenting books

New research from the University of Warwick suggests that 50 years of parenting books have just made mums feel like failures. Well, really. I don’t think we needed ‘research’ to tell us that. You can’t preach at people in a high-and-mighty hectoring tone, or insist they see the world from your point of view, and expect good results. You need tact and diplomacy. Persuasion is always better than coercion.

On another note, may I remind the residents of Fitton that any able-bodied person who insists on parking in the disabled bay outside Tesco Metro, whether or not she is carrying a giant handbag, may be publicly ‘named and shamed’ on this website. You have been warned.

A love of music

The singer Annie Lennox says in a Guardian interview today, ‘Having children, they’re not your property. They need to figure out their own views.’ I couldn’t agree more. There might be some who should consider whether the relentless march through grade exams is more about overwhelming parental ambition than any true love of music.



Overdoing it

Berta has stomach ache. Personally, I think ten pancakes in one sitting is too much for anybody, and her digestive system may simply be suffering from the equivalent of a hangover. But I would be grateful for any pain-relieving suggestions. Is it fennel seeds? Or grated root ginger? Or should I throw caution to the winds and buy a bottle of whisky?

Why we all feel like screaming

A version of Edvard Munch’s The Scream is being sold in New York. I don’t know about you, but I think this painting sums up what every mother feels when she realises her five-year-old has expressed his artistic urges by drawing on the off-white sofa with an unravelled wire coat hanger dipped in treacle.

(Picture from the Edvard Munch website)

Fat chance

The reason it’s so hard to lose weight, according to a recent article in the Guardian newspaper, is that after the first heady rush of flesh-melting your metabolism slows down.  So you dutifully turn your nose up at chocolate cake and triple cheese pizza but it makes no difference at all. This is extraordinarily depressing. It is never good to feel you have lost control. This morning I walked into the kitchen as Berta was tucking in to a dinnerplate-sized portion of thickly buttered toast and wanted to suggest, in a sisterly fashion, that a little more restraint might be wise. But I realised, in the wake of this new research, that I hadn’t a leg to stand on.

Posture, as anyone who finds a disconcerting ‘pull’ on seams in the stomach area will know, is absolutely vital. A straight spine and a sharp intake of breath can make you look five pounds thinner.

(photo Michelle Meiklejohn)

Spoon-feeding makes babies fatter

What are we to make of the latest research from Nottingham University that spoon-feeding babies can lead to obesity? The idea seems to be that if you let babies grab hold of solid items like toast – rather than shovelling purées into their mouths – they are less likely to get fat.

I am, as you can imagine, all in favour of anything that teaches early lessons in self-discipline. But there is another important issue here that the national press seems to have entirely overlooked.

If you allow babies free rein to do what they like at mealtimes, there can be only one possible result. Chaos.

It is not pleasant to have to sponge down the whole kitchen because your infant has decided to experiment with the glue-like properties of ripe banana thrown at full tilt from a highchair. Even the more solid foodstuffs like celery and oatmeal biscuits can become a health hazard when allowed to decompose in a clandestine fashion under a table leg.

 (I have never quite forgotten those hours with dilute bleach after Berta decided to let Robin have a ‘hands-on’ experience with raspberry yoghurt.)

 In my opinion, independent eating is only ever advisable when all available surfaces have been covered in plastic sheeting and you yourself are wearing protective clothing.

 This is the trouble with ‘research’. It is so rarely practical.

(photo Clare Bloomfield)