Dear Parenting Guru,
My husband is going to Dubai for three weeks. I don’t know how I’m going to cope with three children under five on my own; I’m also really worried about them missing him too much.
Are there any agencies you can recommend to lend a hand with temporary childcare, and ways you can suggest to keep them in touch with him while he’s away?
In my experience of having an oft-absent husband, I have learned two things that are of value to you here about such separations;
One: the children don’t care at all.
Two: neither will you.
Truly, I am never more relaxed, happy, positive, in control and sexually fulfilled than when my husband is away.
And my children are yet to mention his absence once.
The initial moment of separation can seem overwhelmingly difficult, largely because you’ve just watched his credit card disappear through Customs, but after the first thirty seconds or so of grief, it’s a party all the way.
You can do what you want, when you want, how you want. No waiting for people to come home from work, no picking up other people’s dirty pants off the floor, no arguing over whose turn it is to read the bedtime stories; YOU are the captain, the first mate and the crew.
Revel in it.
If you need a hand with looking after them, try an Xbox. It’s cheaper than a babysitter, and so far it has never let me down.
Then go to bed when you want, and do what you want when you get in there.
I think you’ll find three weeks isn’t quite long enough…
Enjoy the break!
Dear Parenting Guru,
My 10-year-old daughter wants to sign up to Instagram.
I’m not sure that I agree with this, not only from the privacy perspective, but also because I don’t want her to be looking at other people’s photos, which she really shouldn’t see.
What is your view on children joining Instagram?
Sign her up immediately.
Instagram has so many benefits for parents it’s hard to know where to start, but top of my list is as a spying device.
I have learned more about my children’s lives since they started posting pictures of their lunches, contents of school bags, break-time shenanigans and their friends’ bottoms, than through any of the hours I’ve tried to spend just talking to them.
It’s also a great way to bust them when they ‘like’ your artfully filtered shot of a latte, at 10.30 at night.
Young lady, YOU ARE NOT ASLEEP!!
One thing that’s crucial, however, is to follow them back. That usually terrifies them into behaving semi-decently – online, at least.
Finally, while I am not a psychotherapist, I can pick up on a thinly veiled underlying Klaxon.
I suspect that you might be worried about her seeing YOUR Instagram pictures.
So maybe her signing up could be a clean-up time for you too…
You naughty girl.
Dear Parenting Guru,
We are having terrible trouble getting our son to stop using a dummy.
He won’t go to bed without it, and he often has it in for much of the day.
I am worried not only that his teeth will be damaged, but also that he might be teased about it at school.
He is fourteen.
Between clenched teeth,
Much research has been done into the effects of dummies on children’s development, but one fact is rarely mentioned, and it is one of the most important of all; dummies keep children quiet.
There we are desperately trying to teach them to talk, and then minute they do we wish they’d shut up.
Far from taking dummies away from children we should be encouraging them in more adults.
Politicians are an obvious start. From there it’s a gradual rolling-out procedure all the way from so-called ‘celebrities’ to husbands.
See if you can patent it now. I’m happy to split the profits.
When your son has something he really needs to say, he’ll take that dummy out. You mark my clearly spoken words.
I want to try and do something romantic with my husband this Valentine’s Day.
With two children under the age of five, it feels like years since we did anything like that, and I don’t even know where to start.
Do you have any suggestions as to how we might rekindle a little ‘amour’ with little ones in the house?
I am very impressed that you can remember what romance is, let alone bravely wishing to attempt its rekindling.
You are not alone in being in a romance-free zone; for most of us it dies instantly with the cutting of the umbilical cord.
I think midwives really ought to point this out, and check that we’re OK with this before proceeding.
It feels very much left in the smallprint, to me.
I remember one Valentine’s Day I attempted to seduce my then husband by cooking his dinner wearing nothing but a saucy apron and 9-inch heels, forgetting that our six-year-old son had a friend for a sleepover…and that they weren’t asleep yet.
School concerts were very awkward after that for years, and I know for a fact that I was called Mrs Butt-Crack by the whole of Year 4.
Truly, you are much better off putting the money you would have spent on roses and champagne into your Emergency Bank Account for when you need to go to Paris instantly to find amour in the arms of a Gauloise-smoking photographer, or similar.
And don’t, whatever you do, watch a romantic film together; nobody at your delicate stage in life needs such a stark reminder of what they are missing.
Kindest romantic regards,
Dear Parenting Guru,
With the imminent arrival of a New Year, I thought this might be a good time to make some positive changes to my life.
Number One on my list is to try and be a better parent.
I wondered if you might have any tips to help me achieve this?
Don’t be ridiculous.
The New Year is a time for self-loathing, depression, regret, influenza, and hating thin people.
It is most certainly not an opportunity to fiddle about with anything as foolhardy as trying to be a better parent.
That way yet more misery lies, waiting to slay the last shreds of hope that cower in a pool of their own urine, deep in the putrid recesses of your drunk, over-fed soul.
Much more positive would be to accept failure where all aspects of parenting are concerned, and celebrate it by polishing off those Christmas chocolates you found behind the living room curtains.
New Year. Same old shit.
Keep it real, my friend.
(I am also available for Life Coaching and Positive Thinking techniques, if you are interested.)
Dear Parenting Guru,
I’m having a nightmare potty training my son.
For the last two months I’ve done nothing but mop up his ‘little accidents’ and we still seem absolutely nowhere nearer to dry-pants Heaven.
Can you offer ANY advice to help me through this horrendous, messy stage??
I don’t want to live in a house that smells like a French ski resort any more.
Susan, in Bristol.
There is no such thing as potty training.
There is only what I call the Extreme Bum Discomfort and Shame method of bladder-control education.
The problems all started with disposable nappies;
while very useful when you’re off camping for a week in Norfolk and need something to absorb your tears, they have been the death of potty training, removing, as they do, all incentive for your child not to empty his bowels into his best M&S Y-fronts before CBeebies even starts.
A child can have the same disposable nappy on for a week and fill it with more urine than you’ll find on the side of the average English pub after closing time, and still feel as dry as a nun’s crotch.
Truly, disposables are to potty training as pubs are to alcoholics.
I suggest you switch to re-usables immediately.
Even the best ones are akin to having a horsehair mattress wedged between your thighs, and a single drop of liquid swells it up so much that your child has to walk with his legs three feet apart;
this is especially challenging when each leg is only six inches long.
The humiliation in the local ball pit is such that I give it 24 hours until he’s in superdry Superman pants.
Dear Parenting Guru,
Our 18-month-old daughter has recently started to talk.
We were so happy about passing this huge milestone, until it turned out that she has a thick Welsh accent.
What can we do?!
Jane and Peter, Peterborough.
Dear Jane and Peter,
I’m sorry to hear your devastating news. Sadly, this does occasionally happen.
My nephew, born to my sister who has lived her entire life in Oxfordshire, speaks only in broad Glaswegian.
She daren’t let him out on a Friday night in case he gets into a fight, and it was a nightmare explaining to the health visitor why he would only take Irn Bru in his bottle.
(Accents are not genetic, so I wouldn’t worry if you’ve had a Welsh plumber in the last few years, Peter.)
I would suggest moving to Surrey, or sending her to Bedales immediately.
The world can never have too many plummy girls in thick eye-liner, loafers and alice-bands, working in PR.
Or take her to a rugby match in Cardiff and leave her there. She is sure to be well looked after by those who can understand her.
Pob lwc! (Ask your daughter to translate this, if you’re having trouble…)
My 15-year-old daughter wants to be allowed to start drinking alcohol.
I’m not sure how to introduce her to it in a safe, mature way.
What would your advice be?
When a 15-year-old child tells her parents she ‘wants to be allowed to start drinking alcohol’ it’s a sure sign that she’s been necking vodka in her bedroom for the last three years.
When I was growing up the accepted method of alcohol introduction was to beat children with a large leather slipper the moment they mentioned it, while quaffing copious quantities of ale oneself.
This worked perfectly well until some do-gooder mentioned children’s ‘Rights’, whatever they are, and it’s been a social disaster since then.
Thankfully all responsibility was taken out of our hands with the invention of alcopops, which are basically fermented Slush Puppies and contain at least one of our children’s 5-a-day, so their degree of Badness is very hard to quantify.
I suggest you send your daughter out with a twenty pound note to buy as much alcohol as she can and don’t let her back in the house until all of the beer/wine/ /vodka/cider/rum/gin/Cava/sherry has been pumped out of her stomach by the nearest A&E unit.
Then offer her a nice glass of Malibu for breakfast.
That should do the trick.
My two-year-old son cries a lot at night, and it’s exhausting us all.
There is a lot of conflicting advice about controlled crying, comforting, never leaving children to cry, and so on;
what would you advise?
I would suggest you make a quick trip to B&Q this weekend and staple-gun about three feet of the thickest loft insulation you can buy to the floor, walls, door and ceiling of the room in which your son sleeps – or doesn’t, as seems to be the problem.
I can almost guarantee that the moment you do this his night-time crying will cease.
Truly, it’s miraculous. It must be something clever they put in the foam these days.
This method should see you through nicely until he’s tall enough to reach the door handle, at which point you could invest in a soothing bolt on the outside of the door.
Anyway, by this stage he’ll be able to make himself a cheese toastie and play on the X-Box all night, leaving you to your much-needed shut-eye.
Good luck with it.
I have recently learned that I am to become a newspaper column, starting in September.
This is excellent news, as I do so LOVE a good column, especially if it has enough inches.
Thank you for all your beautiful, kind words; especially the ones I made up.
I couldn’t have got here without you, or my good friend Mr P Grigio.
Do keep your letters and questions coming, to
From September I shall be answering them all, and continuing to give you my most excellent advice on how not to kill your children too quickly.
I love you all, but especially those of you who love me back and send me Valium in the post.