10 easy ways to embarrass your teenage son

Life is hard.  So it’s reassuring to know one thing at least remains easy:  embarrassing your teenage son.

The most obvious approach is to display any kind of affection towards him in public.  Even smiling does the trick.

Less obvious but just as easy are the following:

  1. Wave when driving past him at a bus stop.
  2. Use the word disco.
  3. Turn up to watch him in a school rugby match.
  4. Tell a joke.
  5. Chat to his friends about girls.
  6. Express delight at anything.
  7. Make friendly conversation with a young shop assistant.
  8. Suggest he’ll be warmer with another layer.
  9. Sing along to the radio.
  10. Wear a hat.

These tips are tried, tested and guaranteed to work.

If you can find a way of doing them all in one go, I salute you.

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How to annoy people this Christmas

Family newsletters are about to make their annual appearance.

Middle class parents up and down the country are typing away this very minute, driven by the need to let everyone know:

  • How successful they are.
  • How clever and talented their offspring are.
  • How busy the whole family is.
  • How rich they are.
  • Which exotic locations they’ve visited this year.
  • How many ‘great’ friends they have (hence the need for this blanket mailing).

If you’re the recipient of such a newsletter, you could be forgiven for thinking:

  • If I’m a ‘great’ friend, don’t I already know all this?
  • If I’m not a ‘great’ friend, do I care?  (No.)
  • Get over yourself.

If, on the other hand, you’re thinking of producing your own family newsletter this year, why not redirect your efforts into handwriting a few carefully chosen, personal words in Christmas cards instead?

Trust me.  You’ll make a far better impression.

Competitive parent? Moi?

How do you feel when other people’s children excel at something?  When they achieve the highest score ever, say, in a national maths competition, join a football academy for outstanding players or win a prize for their musical talents?

Are you over the moon?  Genuinely delighted for them?  Or do you feel a tad miffed?

I admit I struggle to be thrilled in such situations.  And I don’t think I’m the only one.

Why are we so competitive with those in our immediate circle?  Why are we (let’s admit it) jealous of their successes?

I blame natural selection.

Natural selection is happening all the time, all around us.  It’s happening to us.  And some primitive part of our brain knows that.  So, when faced with evidence that our family may not be up there with the best, our instinct for survival kicks in.

Luckily, we tend not to kill our adversaries the way we might have done a few hundred millennia ago.  Instead, we do the modern equivalent which is to feel jolly cross when they get one over us.

I suppose this competitive lark must be a good thing for the human race in the long run.  But for you and me, here and now, it’s rubbish.  It makes us feel crap.

So let’s forget the battle for gene supremacy.  When you hear that next door’s kid has been signed by Manchester United, just be happy.

(Even though we’ll all know it’s a fluke, down to pushy parents, bound not to last, etc, etc…)

Tune in to your children

Do you listen properly when your children are talking to you?  Or do you sometimes hear them yet fail to take in a single word?

Perhaps you’re wondering what to cook for supper as they describe a film they’ve just seen.  Or fuming over work politics as they talk about their afternoon at a friend’s house.  Maybe you’re just daydreaming as they chatter.  Whatever, you’re miles away.

It’s OK.  We all do it.

Yet it’s not really OK.  They may only be children but they’re not stupid.  They know when someone’s not listening.  The sad thing is they won’t question it because they assume adults are right.  They’ll just grow up thinking they’re not that interesting.

So next time your child tries to tell you something:

  • Stop whatever you’re doing and look at them.
  • Empty your mind of all other thoughts.
  • Focus 100% on them and what they’re saying.
  • Look interested.
  • Don’t interrupt.
  • Don’t tell them to get on with it.
  • Don’t assume you know what they’re going to say and jump in with a response before they’ve finished.
  • At the end, ask questions to check you’ve understood.

Parents of teenagers often complain that ‘they never tell me anything’.  That’s probably because the teenagers have finally sussed that it’s not worth bothering.

Get into the habit of listening to your children when they’re young and you may never be burdened with a monosyllabic teen.  That alone is a good reason to pay attention.

You could try listening more to your spouse too.  What you thought was just them talking drivel might turn out to be fascinating after all.

The D word

‘What would you like for supper, darling?’ said a rather silky sounding man to his companion in my local supermarket the other evening.

Lucky wife, you might be thinking.  Or lucky girlfriend.  Lucky boyfriend, even.

Alas, none of the above applied.  The sad truth is the man was talking to his son, aged approximately 12.

Now I’m sorry.  Maybe it’s just me but I think a dad calling his son darling is plain weird.  Even when the son is a baby, it still sounds odd.

What about daughters?  Can dads call them darling?  Personally, I’d still say no.  Mums can get away with it more easily.  But even they’re pushing it.

Let’s be honest.  Isn’t the word darling just so smug?  Doesn’t it get your goat?  Shouldn’t it only ever be used, in fact, as a joke?

I say ban it from the English language.

Are your children doing too much?

We know it’s ridiculous but we still do it.  I’m talking about all those after-school (not to mention weekend) activities we cram into our children’s lives.

Football, dance, swimming, tennis, drama, martial arts, rugby, music, cricket, gymnastics… the list goes on.

Why do we do it?  Is it because we’re secretly convinced our child is a prodigy?  And that all we have to do is find out in which field?  Quite possibly.

So we throw activities at them and see what sticks.  In most cases, of course, little does.

By the time our child reaches secondary school age, reality has dawned.  If they were going to be the next David Beckham or Darcey Bussell, they’d have been snapped up by now.  With a mixture of regret and, let’s be honest, relief, we ease up on those activities.  At last, life calms down.

Want to know what I think?  I think we should back off earlier.

I’d say primary school children need at least two (ideally more) activity-free evenings during the week and at least one activity-free day at the weekend.

If they enjoy an activity, let them do it.  If they don’t, call it a day.  Yes, I know we don’t want to breed a generation of quitters.  So see it through to the end of term.  Then call it a day.

Everyone needs time to potter around at home and put their feet up.  And that includes children.

Coffee mornings? More fun than you think

When you have your first child, a new world awaits – that of parent and baby coffee mornings.

Now, it’s up to you.  You can embrace these coffee mornings.  Or you can leg it in the opposite direction, yelling as you go the old line that, ‘Having a baby won’t change my life.’

I didn’t exactly embrace coffee mornings but rather stumbled into them, bleary eyed and clueless.  Am I glad I did.

Here are some of the people I met as a result:

  • An archetypal earth mother whose very presence made me calm.
  • A 43 year old partner in a City law firm and mother of twins who was so thrown by parenthood that she made me feel slightly competent.
  • A 21 year old single mother from a high-rise council flat in Reading who must have been a stand-up comedienne in a parallel universe.  She made me laugh like a drain.
  • A woman who’d briefly been famous as a singer in the early 90s and had some serious stories to tell.
  • A handsome dad who we all secretly fancied.
  • A former professional nanny (to royalty, no less) who had the solution to every baby problem we threw at her.

As we sat in each other’s houses, wearing stretchy clothing (apart from the dad), looking like shit (ditto) and bouncing our bundles of joy on our fat (ditto) knees, all our differences melted away.  We were in this thing together.

I’m not saying it got me through.  But I am saying it helped massively.

If you’re new to this parenting game, give coffee mornings a go.  They could be just what you need.