Flea and I were at soft play this week when I saw a woman ask her toddler to come out of the football nets to go home. Half an hour later, when I called Flea to come and put her shoes on, the woman was still there.
"Oh, please, Henry, come on, we have to go. I'm not kidding," she wheedled.
"No offence love, but you're SO obviously kidding. I know it, Henry knows it, the whole world knows it," I said.
Not really. But I did think it.
I’m not big on parenting ‘tips’ as a rule. My theory is that children learn to adapt to the family they’re in. I’m really not a person who shouts or argues, and so neither is Flea – she’s learned that saying, “I’m not happy and I’m going to my room until I calm down,” while doing her very best evil stare gets her a lot further than making a lot of fuss and noise.
My sister-in-law comes from a more emotional and volatile family and her kids shout and sass in a way that I can guarantee Flea never would – but then my niece and nephew have to make themselves heard in a much livelier household. If my niece said, “I’m not happy,” her family would assume she didn’t mean it. Also, my sister-in-law is a big believer in "No means no, but only the first 499 times, after which it will probably turn into a yes."
Despite all that, I was sorely, sorely tempted to share my one SOLID gold parenting tip with the poor Mum at soft play. It’s called The Law of Mummy. Here’s how it goes:
Me: Flea, what's rule number one?
Flea: You're the boss of me.
Me: And what's rule number two?
Flea: There are no other rules.
I taught Flea this mantra when she was about 12 months old. It means that if you’re in soft play and Mummy says it’s time to go, it’s time to go. You might get to choose whether to walk out on your own two feet or whether you get carried out under my arm, but that's where your choice starts and ends. Similarly, you might get to choose whether to put pyjamas on and have a story or go to bed in your clothes without a story, but the 'going to bed' bit? Not optional.
So there you have it. We laugh in the face of star charts, time outs and naughty steps. We don’t need such things (or at least not while I'm still able to carry Flea under one arm). We have The Law of Mummy. I think I might copyright it, and write a best-selling parenting manual.