My friends’ most common reaction to me becoming a parent was laughter, sometimes nervous, often hysterical. Still, I now have two small boys, five and two and, like any parent, willing or otherwise, I have been making this parenting lark up as I go along.
Mostly, I feel I have got it right, the kids are happy, smile a lot and have not yet started to dissect stray cats, but it has not always been smooth sailing – hell, sometimes I couldn’t find the boat.
And while parenting tomes are happy to tell you what you should do, few prepare you for those times when you should be put into Parenting Time Out. Here are a few of my Daddy Don’ts, just the ones I am willing to admit to.
I blithely watched The Texas Chainsaw Massacre while my first child played with toys in front of the TV. He was six months old, I know he wasn’t taking it in but knowing that I always tend to underestimate their development, this haunts me. Later I introduced the same child to Doctor Who far too early. The episode was rated PG, but they didn’t say that I would have to parentally guide him through nightmares for the next month. And now my second child is two, and he knows what a zombie is. And that they eat your brains (he actually does a great impression). There really should be some sort of parenting chart about when to introduce these things.
Chance of later-life therapy: 77%
Shouting is best used like truffle oil, sparingly and for impact. Otherwise you end up living on the set of Jerry Springer.
Losing our three-year-old at Luna Park
Every parent needs a reminder about being too blasé. I suggest no one do it by losing their child in a crowded harbourside amusement park. I came back from the toilet to find my wife texting her friend. We both looked at each other, no words were necessary. I thought he was with her, she thought he was with me. I dramatically ran straight to the unfenced pier and stared into the water; thank the parenting gods he was a few metres away staring at a balloon. By far the most stomach-churning ride of the day.
Chance of later-life therapy: minimal. But we are still getting over it.
Letting my four-year-old drive the car.
This is not as bad as it sounds, we were in a paddock on a farmstay and he was on my lap for a couple of minutes. But he loved it so much that for the next year, every time we got in the car he asked if he could drive. This highlights one of the greatest parenting mistakes you can make: “precedent setting”, if you do something once, be prepared to do it a hundred times.
Chance of later-life therapy: 0.5%.
Not containing my road rage
It took me to be sitting in traffic with a friend to find this one out. I was cut off by some fool who got their licence in a cereal box. I saw red but, knowing I had a child on board, calmed myself and just let out a sigh. I had obviously not always shown such restraint. From the back seat my young son shook his head sagely and muttered, “Dick!”
Chance of later-life anger management: 80%
Shouting too much
The thing with shouting is it can be effective in the short term. They stop. They pay attention. But over time it turns into a shouting arms race. You yell at them, they yell back, you yell louder and it gradually loses its impact, until you’re leisurely screaming over your shoulder while they ignore you and continue to shellac the dog. Shouting is best used like truffle oil, sparingly and for impact. Otherwise you end up living on the set of Jerry Springer.
Chance of later-life therapy: 56%
Doing what you’re probably doing now
As a new parent, it was easy to say I would never do certain things, or behave in certain ways -- that my children would only eat broccoli and watch one hour of TV a month. But there are days when the kids wake up on the wrong side of the bed and fight for the whole day until the entire family is like a raw nerve. Days when you get to the point where you would let them play with illegal fireworks if it would keep them quiet for five minutes. At the end of one of these days, when you’re feeding your child Nutella straight from the jar in a supermarket aisle, is usually when you will spot someone shooting you a disapproving stare.
So, I’d have to say, that being too quick to judge other parents has been possibly my biggest parenting mistake.