Parenting has never been easy. It’s not a skill that you learn at school but one that you develop over many years, not always getting it right first time. Much of what you do as a parent is based on how your parents dealt with you. In fact I can remember a time when I was ‘moaning’ at my teenage sons when I suddenly thought to myself, I’ve been here before. I’ve heard these words before! Of course it was when my dad had been trying to communicate with me when I was a teenager – history was repeating itself. The problem nowadays is not that parents are any better or worse than I was, or my parents were, but rather there appears to be a real shortage of common sense.
I was having a quiet cup of coffee when a family occupied the table next to me. Mum, dad and three children between the ages of 2 years and 6 years old. As mum went to join the queue to get the drinks dad tried to get the children to sit down. He failed miserably. No sooner had he persuaded one to sit at the table when the other two started charging around the place. It was as if they had a prepared, coordinated, plan of action to ensure that whatever dad said, didn’t happen. They were successful. At no point did dad look as if he was in charge or ever likely to be. His softly spoken, reasoning words, were being totally ignored.
Mum could see that dad was struggling so left the queue to take charge. The problem did not improve. Mum’s approach, similar to dads, was equally ineffective. Only now the problem had got worse. Dad was at the queue and trying desperately to communicate with mum, via hand signals. He was out of his depth – he knew that he wanted a latte but what on earth did the children want. The two older ones immediately sensed dads unease and rushed to join him at the counter. Even from a distance you could see that an argument was developing, whatever food and drinks that had been put on the tray were not to their liking. Dad, inevitably, capitulated and the children returned to the table with that look on their faces that indicated, once again, how successful they had been.
The children eventually settled down when dad returned with a tray laden with goodies. Mum gave him a, “What have you done now!” look but he just shrugged his shoulders as if to say, “What else could I do!” As mum and dad settled to their coffees the children tucked into a mixture of crisps, sweets and high ‘E’ laden drinks. There was more than enough fuel here to ensure that they continued to create mayhem for at least the next three hours!
Mum and dad looked exhausted. The children had probably started this campaign very early that morning. Looking at dad’s face I was not sure that he would last the day. You could tell that he was looking forward to being back at work soon. Relishing the thought of that difficult board meeting coming up, or the volatile meeting with the awkward member of staff and her militant union rep. He knew that in both cases he had a fighting chance of being successful. Whereas today he was a beaten man.
It wasn’t that they were bad parents. It was just a case that nobody had prepared them for the battles. They didn’t know how to say ‘No’ and mean it. They knew that letting their children run around the coffee shop with lollipop sticks sticking out of their mouths was both dangerous and unacceptable, but how did you stop them. They were more than aware of the importance of healthy diets, but how do you get them to eat fruit instead of crisps. They knew that you shouldn’t just give in to your children – but they were so tired, so very tired!