Back in my life before children I was pretty judgemental of what I considered to be poor parenting. From general fussiness to outright bad behaviour I struggled to see why parents allowed it. There was no doubt in my brother and I’s minds when we were growing up as to what was acceptable or not and while I wouldn’t say we were angels, we were good kids. Ultimately I saw parenting as being about putting in hard work in order to reap rewards and most importantly, parents could and should dictate family life until the children, having been raised on respect and reason could be allowed more of a voice.  

The general consensus (not from my mother I hasten to point out – she was in full agreement) was that I’d learn.  

Well, not only did I go on to have a family but I started with a pre-schooler and a toddler. Furthermore, I play a supporting role to their father as they already had a mother. If anything would teach me parenting was tough then that would. Not only do I parent but the ground rules are laid by my partner and another woman. And me a control freak!  

Of course that isn’t quite the whole story. In getting to know the fiancé I was keen to learn about his attitude to his sons well before I met them. I needed to make sure that he and his ex were “our kind of people” (see my mother above). Tick box number one for parenting, I have become more of a snob than I ever could have imagined!  

What was I looking for? Lots of things; Did they give the kids cereal or crisps for breakfast? Were mealtimes at the table? Were ‘please’ and ‘thank you’ drilled into them? Were books read regularly? Happy with my answers I progressed with the relationship, knowing at least the bases were covered.    

Bad behaviour was out. The eldest has used a swearword once. It was 18 months ago and he was trying it in context with me rather than swearing at me. His father and I explained it was a word that might upset people and he happily accepted this. They behave in public and recognise that a restaurant is not the place to explore control issues. Last weekend I spent nearly two hours at the dinner table with a three year old refusing to swallow his food. They can be very trying but they don’t act up when we’re out.  

I would confidently take the boys pretty much anywhere. The main reason I’d do this is because we plan accordingly. We tell the boys what will be happening, what we expect of them and what their reward will be at the end if they behave. For example: “we’re going out for the day in Gloucester and we’ll be having a nice lunch out, we want you to behave and eat nicely and if you do we’ll go round the docks after and see all the Cranky the Hook’s” (for non-parents: these are cranes). The eldest often comes back with a question or request these days; “I don’t want pasta and can I bring my Lego man?” We always accommodate his desires (this may change if he starts asking for the absurd or impossible).  

We achieve this by doing exactly what I assumed I’d do when I became a parent. We put in a lot of hard work and we reap the rewards. And it is hard work. The youngest will generally cry at every slight refusal and has taken to trying to make himself vomit through crying. We know it is just a control thing but it is really really horrible. We desperately want to just back down and have him just shut up and calm down but this is our groundwork.   

Last weekend I offered the boys the choice between playing quietly or going to the living room to play noisily and the youngest took himself off to the naughty step to wail. I checked on him every five minutes, asking if he wanted to rejoin us in the kitchen/dining room. Eventually after twenty minutes he appeared red faced at the door. I immediately picked him up, gave him a cuddle, wiped his face and carried him to where his dad was cooking and explained what was being cooked. He then sat on the floor and played quietly with his brother. TWENTY MINUTES. And for what? On the surface we achieved nothing. That’s what is so hard and why it’d be so easy to just give in. But the parents stayed in charge and in control.  

I suspect I may come to eat my words if I have a biological child because we currently only do this eight nights in every 28. On a Sunday night when they go back to their mother’s we’re exhausted. Can it be kept up 24/7?  

What set me off today was an article in the Daily Mail. I did actually buy and read The Observer this week but the aggro from that was standard low level stuff and nothing requiring a soapbox. The article was called Kale risotto, cabbage crisps, caramelised Brussels sprouts... Would YOU dare feed your family the Gwyneth Paltrow way?  

What irritated me most about Charlotte Kemp wasn’t the fact she’s evidently not a particularly commanding parent and her kids are allowed to run amok in shops but that she was so defensive about her parenting. She assumes that Gwyneth Paltrow has staff helping her clean up as she cooks rather than this being simply sensible advice. Kemp clearly had a chip on her shoulder before even beginning the piece; Gwyneth is too rich, too skinny and too other worldy to be taken seriously.  

What is so threatening about the way Gwyneth parents? I understand the fear of doing it wrong. Tonight the youngest made a fuss of being scared of our chickens. I absolutely wouldn’t leave a scared child but equally felt the fiancé while correct in picking him up for reassurance was a touch mollycoddling to my mind. His ultimate compromise was spot on (reminding me yet again why I’m with him) when he knelt by a patio chair with my stepson standing on it. He was reassuringly close yet not holding him like a baby.  

Am I odd in feeling able to speak out? In all honesty I’ve no idea what I’m doing here. I had a chat with my elder stepson (I really need nicknames for them!) and he said “I’m brave with the chickens when they’re far away but when they get close I get nervous.” I said that was fine and that the next weekend we have them he’ll have lots of time to get used to them. Also maybe we should eat some things made with their eggs and what did he like? CAKE!  

I think that went ok but if someone said otherwise then I’d take that on. Trust me I’m a perfectionist. I want my boys to grow up healthy, happy, to have the education they want and then fulfilling careers. I hope they’ll find a partner that makes them as feel cherished as their father makes me feel and that they’ll have homes and families of their own. I think most of us want the same things for our kids but I’m not threatened by other ways of doing things. I’d never want to home school, there will always be some kind of junk food in the house and we bought a cabinet for the X-Box accessories. But I cook most meals from scratch, we have bedtime stories every night and our household is brimming with affection (my first instinct for the eldest to bond with the chickens was to pick up the friendlist and allow him to stroke her).  

Bottom line, celebrity or regular folk, rich or poor, educated or not we all have something to learn. And we will all get it wrong sometimes. But there’s no competition. Good on Gwyneth if she does it all looking as poised as she does. I begrudge her nothing. You see I have a secret. As it happens I have the best man and the best kids in the world. Oh they have their imperfections but they all adore me and tell me so on a regular basis. With that in mind I know I’m doing whatever I’m doing, I’m doing right.
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6/25/2011 07:40:52 am

It sounds like you've found a good balance - and I enjoyed the part where you checked up on your partner's parenting habits before you got to this stage. I've never been so organised (but then, at the moment, I don't feel any great need to have children).

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