There are many aspects of parenting which you can't be taught. In fact almost all parenting skills can't be taught. There are often decisions to make which have no clear rights or wrongs. You kind of have to feel your way through. Do what seems right, learn from mistakes and adapt it as you go. I'm not sure that I will ever feel that I'm doing it right. Every day I feel challenged and doubt the decisions I make; small things like should I have let the children eat dessert when they didn't finish their main course? Is that going to make them bad people forever? Was I doing the right thing letting them play in rain without a coat on or run into the sea still wearing their clothes? And the slightly bigger issues like should we have got rid of the children's dummies earlier? Do they spend too much or perhaps too little time in nursery? Have we put them on the list for the best school? I don't lay awake at night worrying about it but I certainly don't think I do everything right first time.
One issue which came up reasonably early on was what do we let them watch on the television? As a baby you give little thought to what is on the box whilst they are up and about. You spend all day talking about how they are 'little sponges' who are just taking everything in and learning all the time and all evening with them sat on your lap watching The Wire. The first film Iris saw at the cinema was Hitchcock. At just two months old Anna and I enjoyed a night in together watching Quentin Tarantino's Inglorious Basterds. There is little logic behind these choices.
But then they suddenly seem more alert and you start to restrict your viewing, contemplating each programme's suitability before putting it on. I think this is an issue which tends to be more prevalent with your first child, as by the second one arrives you have a big child running around and absolutely no time to watch television anyway. So you stop watching American dramas about gang crime and drugs and stop watching films where people get their scalps cut off. In my experience the change of viewing habits tends to occur around the same time you become conscious of swearing in front of your children. This happens in three distinct stages; the first is when you realise that you shouldn't be swearing or being inappropriate in front of a child, the third stage is when you stop swearing in front of them. The second stage is a rather odd one where you simply whisper all swear words, but for some reason not enough so that they can't hear you but just enough so that you actually draw their attention specifically to the coarse language. It's silly. I admire anyone who can jump straight from stage one to stage three.
Anyway the next issue with television is working out which children's programmes they can watch. I'm pretty laid back with this and don't really care too much. If it is on kids tv then it can't be too bad. And in general the children tend to only watch CBeebies which is fine. But Anna now enjoys using the iPad and although you may leave her watching one thing it doesn't take much for her to be watching something completely different. I learned about 'Guided Access' and use it to make sure she doesn't flick from iPlayer to YouTube and start watching something she shouldn't. Unfortunately not until after her Peppa Pig viewing came to an abrupt end one day when she went one link too far and found some badly edited episodes focusing on Mummy Pig's dildo and Peppa Pig Does The Hunger Games... "Peppa and George will now battle to the death."
I realised today, however, that these were not the worst things she would watch on the iPad. Today I experienced a Barbie movie. Christ almighty. I considered trying to eloquently describe how bad it was but I don't think I do better than 'what a complete load of utter fucking rubbish.' Storyline - rubbish. Script - rubbish. Morals - rubbish.
But none of this compares to one big decision we once made about Anna's television viewing. When Carolyn was pregnant with Iris she loved watching One Born Every Minute. It was some sort of self torture ritual she enjoyed. And one day I came home with Anna whilst Carolyn was watching it. She asked if she could watch too. We looked at each other and nodded. Why not? It's all natural stuff. So we sat with her and explained what was happening. Questions inevitably followed... "Did I come out of mummy?", "Did she scream too?", "Were we in a swimming pool?" "Did I come out all slimy?". It became one of her most requested shows and we let her watch it occasionally. Did she fully understand it all? Probably not. I'm not convinced I do... I'm not sure if our neighbours were pleased with our practical parenting however; one day we were in the garden playing with Anna when she took her swimming costume off, started screaming at the top of her voice and laid down in her paddling pool. When we asked what had happened she just screamed "I'm having a baby! Aarrgghhhhhhhhhhhhhhh". And there was her entertainment for the rest of the summer. Her obsession does continue - just the other day climbing under the covers which were over her aunt and then sticking her head out and saying "Auntie Alice, you have start being sick now. I'm the baby in your tummy!" Perhaps letting her watch it wasn't such a great idea.
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