The New Rules of Parenting…

Fireplace

Fireplace (Photo credit: John.Karakatsanis)

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!

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Sugar and Spice and All Things Nice…

Male and female gender symbols based upon work...

Male and female gender symbols based upon work by User:Edbrown05 on the English Wikinews project. Original file was/is here. (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

Let’s get one thing straight, I adore my boys – I really adore them but I don’t get them. if I’m perfectly honest, as one of three girls myself, they are like little aliens to me most days. Occasionally I get one of those breakthrough moments when I think I’ve finally understood them and then out of nowhere, one will cross the room and nonchalantly kick his brother for no other reason – that I can fathom – than he can.  I know what you’re thinking – there really isn’t very much to understand: boys are not complex.  There is a lot of truth in this and I have lived the last 9 years of my life according to the maxim that boys are very much like dogs: feed them, water them and exercise them and all will be well with the world.

My two boys are very different in character but they also share common characteristics: the ability to wind the other up incessantly and the ability to wrestle any time, any place (preferably in a supermarket aisle in front of a tutting crowd of people without children and smug MOGs (Mothers of Girls).  For a while I put this insatiable desire to be in physical contact with each other in some way 24/7 (usually in some painful-looking, totally unnatural wrestling hold) down to watching too much TV and particularly the ghastly WWE wrestling to which my elder son appears addicted (no, before you ask, I don’t let him watch it, but he’s clever, he’s cunning and he seems to find a way to outwit me…), but I don’t think this is the case.  This is just the nature of boys.  For the first five years of motherhood, I watched my boys with a growing sense of horror – what had I created?  Rough and Tumble, they call it, no **** – that’s putting it mildly.  Sometimes I can barely bear to watch and I am constantly amazed that they never seem to really hurt each other (well, not too badly). I don’t really intervene much these days, I let them work it out.  I am resigned to the fact that this is how boys operate – it’s King of the Jungle stuff and I am not going to pretend to understand it. The fighting aside, I love my boys totally and I can only hope that the fisticuffs they indulge in now with each other will recede as they mature otherwise I shall be spending an increasing amount of time visiting the local nick.

I have to admit that due to the unruly behaviour of my boys on occasion (NB understatement), I did at times really question my mothering skills.  I had deliberately ignored the Gina Ford route with mine – I realised very early on that I had already failed by her standards by 7am as I had not pulled up the black-out blinds, changed baby, had a shower myself and eaten my toast and marmalade. I didn’t think that feeling a failure so early on every morning would be particularly good for my confidence levels (which we all know are not exactly rocketing in the early days of motherhood). I found myself naturally gravitating to other “MOBs” (Mothers of Boys) because they understood that there was no way my children were going to sit at a table for half an hour, colouring, gluing and sticking (not unless they were able to do all those things to each other or one of my more prized possessions).

Then suddenly three years ago, I found myself with one foot in each camp – I had a little girl. Over the last 3 years, it has become obvious – it’s not about nurture (well at least not largely) but it is nature.  I have done nothing to encourage her in any direction different to the boys but she naturally loves pink, plays with dolls, dresses up, watches me put on make-up in a rather disconcertingly fascinated manner and basically behaves in the stereotypical “girl” way. I have to add that at the moment she is proving an awful lot easier than the boys at that age.  Yesterday, she had a playdate and I did absolutely nothing for 2 hours whilst these two adorable little girls dressed up, tottered around in little heels and played “Mummies and Babies” (where’s the Daddy you may well ask?! Is this a sign of the times?).

The biggest relief to me with a foot in each camp is that it is not my mothering skills that are at fault – they are as good or as bad as the next person. No, the simple fact is that boys and girls are fundamentally very different from birth and I would wager that boys are harder work in the first ten years of life (although enormously rewarding too) but I am under no illusions that come the teenage years, all those hours of my little girl watching me put on make-up and tottering around in my shoes is going towards creating the horror of “teenage girl”.  I know at that point I shall probably be  saying to my boys that they were hard work when they were younger but that their sister’s behaviour now is a whole new ball game and I shall be looking back fondly at the days of my “rough and tumble”, uncomplicated boys.  However, for now, there is truth in the old ditty that girls are “Sugar and spice and all things nice” and boys are, well, fabulous, physical and sometimes just a little frustrating!