The title of this blogpost is, of course, ironic – I thought that needed spelling out just in case. I would never waste my time, or anyone else’s, writing down actual parenting advice.
I have been spending half-term with my four year old son. He is bright, sunny, happy, easy-going and good company. He is mostly well-behaved, toilet trained, polite and even-tempered. All of this, I hasten to add, is the product of pure good fortune and I ascribe none of it to my cack-handed parenting. Despite it all, I am exhausted, and the week is not yet over.
I expected being a dad to be tiring. People used to tell us that you get worn out chasing around after small children. But the exhaustion I feel is not physical but mental. It’s not from running around Exmoor after an energetic small boy, trying to keep him from falling down a ravine. It’s from being asked “why?” about forty thousand times a day.
If you are a new parent, about to become a parent, or thinking about becoming a parent, here is my handy guide on how to be the perfect parent to a four year old.
1. Simultaneously hold higher degrees in geology, astronomy, linguistics, anatomy, botany (especially entomology), geography and theoretical physics. Advanced knowledge of the following is also strongly recommended: automotive mechanics; the Highway Code; horticulture; agriculture; death; horology; semiotics (particularly as it applies to road signs and national flags); the tides.
2. Be able to answer, in no more than two sentences and using simple vocabulary, the kind of question on any of the above topics that would probably, in any other context, act as the title of someone’s PhD thesis.
3. Know the identity, family history, point of origin, destination and personal motivation of every single other person you see driving along the same road as you.
4. Be able to infer, purely from the increasingly frustrated tone of his voice, exactly what your child is looking at and therefore inquiring about even though you are driving a car and he is in the back seat.
5. Be able to detect when the thing that he has just seamlessly inserted into the conversation is actually something that he saw on a car journey six weeks ago and has just, with crystal clarity, remembered again.
6. Be willing to lose an argument even though you are right and he is wrong. If he is convinced that his teacher told him there was a season in between spring and summer, you will find yourself engaged in not so much a debate as an endurance test. You cannot possibly win.
7. Be prepared for the kind of mind-bending non sequitur that would make a surrealist philosopher proud. Do not be proud and do not express amazement or concern. If he asks you what “seven” tastes like, he’s not a synaesthete, he’s just being annoying.
8. Remember that there is no intellectual struggle, heated argument or challenge to your authority that cannot be closed down with the words: “would you like some ice cream?”
In the next installment of this series: how to get your child, if not actually to finish a meal, at least to transfer a respectable quantity of it from his plate to the sides of his face.