Magazine article The Spectator

Real Life

Magazine article The Spectator

Real Life

Article excerpt

For those of us who don't do it, parenting is a bit of a mystery. A strange, magical, glamorous mystery that we imagine is bedevilled by all sorts of complex and exciting challenges.

What a mind-blowing experience it must be to manufacture another human being and steer him into the world, we think.

Which is why it was such a disappointment looking after a friend's teenager for a week. I now realise that parenting involves only two things: persuading a child to eat and persuading a child to put on a coat. That's it. There is nothing else involved. Which is not to say that it is a simple matter. Oh, no.

I have discovered that there are few things more challenging, exhausting or dispiriting than trying to force another human being to put food in his mouth and a coat on his back.

I have discovered that hell hath no fury like a young person who does not want to eat or wear a coat.

I have sat locked in the loo weeping in near suicidal despair during particularly savage bouts of eating and coat refusal. How do parents put up with this? I take my hat off to them for fighting this war of attrition for years. I've done it for seven days and I'm a basket case. I have expended every last ounce of energy on eating and coat persuasion techniques to absolutely no avail.

I'd be interested to know if I've been doing something very wrong. I admit I approached the whole thing from an entirely selfish perspective. My coat persuasion technique went something like this: 'Aren't you going to put on a coat?' 'No.' 'But it's blowing a gale outside.' Silence. 'I really think you should put on a coat.' 'I'm hot.'

'All right, then.'

I wanted to leave it there. I didn't want to nag. The problem was that the freezing teenager then walked alongside me all afternoon, shivering and very loudly chattering his teeth. Suddenly the streets seemed to be full of smart women leading children dressed in sensible quilted jackets. I got child envy.

Their offspring looked warmer and better looked after than mine. 'Are you sure you don't want that coat? It's in the car.' 'No.'

'But you're shivering.' 'It's hot.' 'All right, then.'

I really, really wanted to leave it there.

However, the freezing teenager started to turn blue and shudder with hypothermic convulsions. …

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