A good start to 2013 for me – it would appear that for the first time I am ahead of the parenting curve. This is no mean feat – as a fully paid-up member of the Gina Ford generation, this does not often happen, if at all in my case. To what am I referring? “The new rules of parenting” in “The Times 2” today.
Let me explain. My eldest son has been displaying some ‘interesting’ new pyromaniacal tendencies. Up until a few weeks ago, he has shown zilch interest in fire except perhaps a certain disdain for it as he wrestles with his brother dangerously close. However, recently, it is all about the fire. He wants to light the fire in our sitting room all the time – first thing in the morning, lunchtime, evening and most irritatingly at about 10pm. He not only seems to enjoy the whole fire-building process (very much a male preserve, rather like barbecuing) but he tends that fire and nurtures it in a way a mother would her baby. I have watched this new obsession with some bemusement/amusement and a fair amount of anxiety, aware that it could only too quickly go horribly wrong.
We decided to allow him to follow this new obsession and my husband has very patiently built more fires with his son over this Christmas period than the 16 years I have known him. So imagine the smugness (there is no other word for it, I’m afraid) that swept over me this morning when I turned to my newspaper and “A five-stage guide to bringing up boys and girls” by child development expert Elizabeth Hartley-Brewer. There in black and white, under the section for boys aged 8-10, it says “…Help him to develop practical skills, such as lighting a bonfire (he will do it anyway, so we may as well teach him properly)…” Not only did I feel immediately comforted – my son is perfectly normal for his age and not showing worrying tendencies towards arson – but we, as parents, had responded appropriately – high five!
I have to say that this was about the only area in which we seemed to be succeeding and it would probably be fair to say that I am giving undue attention to one sentence in a long article. In the same section, referring to boys of the same age as my eldest, we are also told not to “go over the top in praising him in an attempt to boost self-esteem: he will feel smothered”. Now, please tell me that I am not the only mother who has days when she finds it very difficult to find anything to praise and I am very rarely in danger of going over the top with my praise. Some days I am forced to praise him (in desperation) for things which one might normally praise a child of two or three for – eg putting on his shoes (not laces just velcro) or worse still, praising him for most unpraiseworthy things such as getting into the car without smacking or kicking his brother. This is all part of that balancing out the scolding for bad behaviour (sorry, “boisterous behaviour”) with praise (which all the parenting gurus go on about) and which some days really does result in praise for the most ludicrous things.
As for my other son, he falls into the ages 4-7 boys bracket. In this age bracket we should “encourage his growing sense of humour…Telling a joke is a way that boys can experience some equality with an adult…” For me, one of my most dreaded moments is when one of my children says to me, “Mummy, I’ve got a really good joke to tell you”. What follows is never a “joke”, as you or I might understand it, but a complete nonsensical string of words which I am expected to laugh at manically once delivered. Something along the lines of “What did the egg say to the sausage – where’s the baked beans?” – brilliant, hilarious, hysterical. Those first jokes are quite excruciating but you do gradually see some comprehension dawning and then the endless round of “knock knock” jokes start. In fact, currently when one of my boys says to me those dreaded words “Mummy, I’ve got a really good joke to tell you”, I find myself saying “who’s there?” before he’s even started. Now, however that I know these jokes must be encouraged, I shall do my best to force the laughter and praise (but not over-praise) their attempts at humour.
What about my daughter in all this? Well, apparently for her age-group, I should be letting her be naughty. I may have totally misunderstood but I wasn’t aware that I had much say in whether she is naughty or not – she certainly doesn’t ask my permission. I have to agree with Elizabeth Hartley-Brewer, though, that “a bit of bad behaviour shows a spark of creativity”. That’s my excuse anyway!