27 Apr

Tracking the Lesser Spotted Parent

As we approach parenthood, James and I have been observing the parenting methods of our friends with greater interest. We’re mostly looking for positive things that we can take away and use for raising Abdul.

There’s one couple in particular whose methods we admire. They have two teenagers (a boy and a girl). Both are polite, well-mannered, smart and good at conversation. Neither grunts nor acts like adults carry the plague.

We asked our friends what their secret was. “Talking to them,” was the simple answer. When we asked what they meant by this, they replied, “We have always talked to them about everything and anything. They know they can come to us with any questions and we’d never let them get away with not talking to us if we knew something was going on with their friends or at school. We just talk.”

The other night they came over with their teenage boy and we saw their method in action. In our conversation, whenever we came to a topic that the teen might not understand, they’d pause the conversation and explain it. On this occasion, the topics included venture capitalism, socialism versus fascism and why blue cheese is bad for pregnant women, among others. And the explanations they gave weren’t simple, one-sentence answers; each response was thoughtful and informative – almost thesis-like in its thoroughness.


James and I were discussing this afterwards and here’s our concern: what if we don’t know enough about the topic? I couldn’t have given as good an explanation of any of the subjects we broached. I imagine that I’m going to end up making stuff up. My child is going to grow up thinking she knows what fascism is and she’s going to repeat it in school and get laughed at. She’ll never win a pub quiz. All because I’ve forgotten more than I’ve retained in my life.

Perhaps this is the true purpose of the iPhone and iPad: to help forget-it-all parents look facts up quickly. I read this piece in the Guardian yesterday about a mother who got completely blind-sided by the big S-E-X question. She knew how it was done and everything, but she hadn’t thought about how she was going to explain it when the time came. Kids’ minds are quick; their questions do go from toads to gay sex in the space of an hour. We parents have to stay on the ball. Constantly.

So what am I going to do? Should I start cramming encyclopaedias? I most likely will not because, frankly, I’m too busy. I’ll just have to muddle through an explanation to the best of my knowledge. But if, one day, you find yourself competing against my kid in a pub quiz, please be gentle.




  1. 27 Apr

    John Starns

    I have to say, I agree wholeheartedly with your friends approach to parenting.

    We have always taken time to explain things to our kids and consequently they have benefitted from this and we have honest and open relationsghips as a result.

    We don’t always know the answers to the quetsions (though we’re not bad a pub quizzes!) but when we’re stumped we make a point of telling our kids to remember the question for when we get home then we’ll consult an encyclopaedia, or wade into the internet together.

    By the way, on the subject of sex, there’s a brilliant book called ‘Mummy Laid an Egg’. Not sure who it’s by, so I’d lose points in a pub quiz for that …

  2. 27 Apr

    Eddie Judd

    Great post Julia. I like your friends attitude.
    We try our best to explain things to our two – although they are only 5 and 3, our eldest has a very curious mind. Quite often we do research together on the internet, she really enjoys that. Recently we have been learning about weddings – can’t think why that topic is current??! – something school has encouraged.
    Although sometimes she asks me the most profound questions just when I can’t get the answers anywhere else except from my own knowledge & experience – like when I’m driving or literally when she is about to fall asleep. I have had to deal with death and how babies are born at these times! I just breathed deeply and told her the truth in as gentle a way I could. Pretty tough explaining these things to a 4 year old but I didn’t want to fob her off.
    I think honestly is definitely the best policy.

  3. 27 Apr

    Catherine Soley

    So many parents in this day and age try to be a friend rather than a parent. Many of my younger friends with children treat their offspring as equals which may sound fantastic but is actually very damaging as without a doubt it is these children who know no boundaries, have little regard or indeed respect for authority and most certainly have little understanding of the value of money. These parents want their children to have the latest gadget or craze and will without fuss purchase the item for their next birthday or Santa will kindly put one in their sack!
    My children aged 8 and 5 know of lots of boundaries. They are polite, bright, thankful but still a little mythed that they are the only children in their respected classes not to have a DS.
    Every meal time is spent sat at the table, properly set, no hands or elbows are allowed on the table and no speaking with a mouth full. We talk about our day, school, interests and everyone listens to the other without butting in.
    I love my children dearly and am so proud when friends, family and even strangers say “What lovely, bright, beutiful girls”. And they are.

  4. 01 May


    Ha Ha this is too true…hit’s a note with Dom and I! We always joke when we’re with our respective families we are always the ones who don’t know much about Current affairs, politics etc (being the ‘creative’ ones in our families, when it heads to politics around the dinner table, always leaves us looking at each other and giggling like teenagers) but we also do hold our own on the subjects that we do know about. I think it’s great to remember you can always learn from your children, hell I already am, about relationships, parenting itself, and year 1 is already opening new doors for me…! As Eddie says, to research together is also a great thing, sometimes it’s not always great to be the know it all parent, boosting your child’s morale is surely a good thing, then you can always impress with your own knowledge of something totally left field that no one else would know about…that’s what we do anyway…even if it is only about Eastenders…

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