WHAT I WISH I’D KNOWN

What I Wish I'd Known

TO BE A PARENT IS TO BE BLINDSIDED BY QUESTIONS such as, why do men have nipples? Do the people at the bottom of the world fall off it? Is the orange man with the weird hair going to be president of America? The parent charter reads that you will have ready answers. This is why Google and Siri are up there with A&E staff and good teachers as vital parent go-tos. (As regards Donald Trump, your child’s judgement will be every bit as valid as any psephologist’s.)

When we have children we are told to follow our intuition. Might that be the same intuition that tells us tequila slammers are a good idea? As the new school year starts City Kids brings you the best pieces of parenting advice that we have gleaned from friends, family and those we admire.

BABIES

  • You will not go to hell for not being able to breastfeed.
  • You will treat your first baby like Granny’s fine china, the last one like a rugby ball. Both are ok.
  • Parenting books have the capacity to induce panic rather than quell it.
  • Place a coverless hot water bottle on a wet mattress to dry it out.
  • Marketeers are good at their jobs. Do not listen to them. You do not need special pots for freezing baby food. Ditto nappy bins that stop the smell. A baby bath? WTF…
  • If you have a daughter, Google the comedic genius Tina Fey’s Prayer for My Daughter. She provides no answers but knowing that Tina Fey fears the same stuff as us is comfort enough.

PARENTING

  • Try not to judge the actions of fellow parents. Particularly if they have children older than yours.
  • When a child asks you a difficult question, buy yourself some time and ask them, ‘What do you think?’
  • Cinderella got it right (in the 2015 film version with Lily James, at least). The tenets to being a good person are to have courage and be kind. Twofold, simple and yet über clever.
  • Children make mistakes. You need to figure out how to pick up the pieces.
  • Nature and nurture – the debate still rages. What is important is that the nurture fits the nature.
    Children will copy what you do, not what you tell them to do.
  • Children are people. Often their ideas, unfettered by the negativity of age, will be better than yours. Often they will be terrible.
  • If you’re going to call a girl bossy, make sure the same behaviour in a boy warrants the same adjective. Swap the child’s gender in your head and save them from negative gender stereotyping.
  • Treat siblings as a team, not as competitors.

PRACTICAL STUFF

  • A rolled-up towel, blanket or swimming noodle placed under the sheet on the side of a bed is the perfect alternative to a plastic bed rail. A pillow on the floor softens any fall.
  • Instead of buying a bigger car when you have your third child, try buying narrower car seats.
  • Write your phone number on your child’s arm or get temporary tattoos with it on for when you are in a crowded place.
  • Get your babysitter to come early enough to cover tea, bath and bed. It’s called getting your money’s worth…
  • The first time you encourage your small child to try fizzy water, lemon and/or ice cream they will pull the best surprised face of their life. This is permitted cruelty.
  • Kitchen roll when upright makes an exemplary ice cream cone stand.
  • A balloon is a winning present every time. It fits in an envelope, can be used for tennis, football, volleyball or wet farting noises.
  • Where you come in a family, oldest, youngest or in the middle, will inform much of your life. It is impossible to know what it’s like to be someone of a different rank.
  • Never go the beach without talcum powder – it cleans all sand off sticky, salty bottoms, balls (both kinds) and feet.
  • Wipes. Handbag, kitchen table, car. They are indispensable.
  • Expensive holidays are wasted on children younger than eight. However, they may not be a waste for the exhausted parents.
  • A simple guideline for holidays is that it has to be easier, better and more comfortable than home. The Luxury Family Hotels range in this country is popular for a reason.

EDUCATION

  • Release yourself from the burden of homework by finding a local sixth-former with gumption to lead your child through this minefield.
  • The subject of schools will dominate your conversation for years. You will worry that you haven’t got it right. You will make the best decision possible at the time.
  • Tutors. Eventually you will realise that every child you know is being tutored. The price is exhorbitant.
  • Getting a secondary school place in London is up there with moving house and divorce as far as stress levels go.
  • School clothes do not need to be washed and ironed every day for who is to know if it is today’s dirt and creases or yesterday’s?
  • If you choose/are offered a poor fit of secondary school when your child is 11, you may get a second stab at 13.
  • Academic achievement is overrated. Education is a much broader, rounded effort.
  • If you can (sort of) afford private education for a few years only, make it the middle ones. The longer days and extra-curricular activities will help stem teenage boredom and keep your kids out of trouble.
  • The positive power of sport is jaw-droppingly brilliant. Friendships are born this way. Sport is fun.
  • Sport is for girls too. Read sports journalist Anna Kessel’s Eat Sweat Play to learn why.
  • Good mental and physical wellbeing can, for the most part, be maintained with three things: a good diet, enough exercise and sufficient sleep. This is the non-negotiable holy trinity.

TECHNOLOGY

  • Technology is wonderful when used wisely. If you don’t want your children playing certain games, don’t give them access. Simple…
  • …except if you are being a stick-in-the-mud luddite. Get with the programme.
  • The bedroom is a sanctuary for sleep and, as such, should be a screen- and homework-free zone. (We repeat) sleep is the basis of good physical and mental health. For life.
  • Have a family computer in a living space where the screen can be seen by everyone. You can see what your children are doing online and they will learn the vital skill of being able to work with background noise.
  • Let your children read your phone messages and know your access code. This will give you leverage with their phones. Do as you would be done by.
  • Try to get your child into a sport or hobby when they are young so that they have an interest to distract them from screens when they are teens.
  • You will know you are old when you ask your children how to work every piece of tech you own. Live with it.

This list is not meant to be dictatorial and is certainly not exhaustive. Being a parent, however, is exhausting. Sometimes it all becomes overwhelming. That is when you need to call on your friends and slam those tequilas. You can then discuss the important things in life, such as why do men have nipples? And if you can explain the appeal of an orange man with a seedy comb-over then you have drunk too much. Call a babysitter for the morning after.