As someone who can veer towards the authoritarian style of parenting, one of the most helpful pieces of wisdom I received was, 'Choose your battles.'
There are so many potential battles we could have: 'Tidy your bedroom', 'Eat your crusts', 'Keep the water in the bath', 'Wear your coat to school', 'Put your toys away', 'Come to the table', 'Keep out of the puddles', 'Brush your hair', 'Clean your teeth', 'Learn your spellings', 'Hang up your bag', 'Don't pinch your sister'. Because the list is endless, if we make every issue a battle to fight not only will we wear ourselves out, but more importantly, our children will never learn which things are really important.
As a family, we spent a memorable October half-term staying with friends in their beautiful harbour-side cottage in Cornwall. We planned to mark the final evening by going out for a meal. The restaurant we chose was across the estuary, and so instead of driving round by car we decided to add to the fun of the evening by piling into their small dingy and sailing across to the other side. We agreed to meet on the jetty at 6.30pm.
The autumn air meant that by 6.30 it was quite chilly. We had dressed up for the occasion and, undeterred, put on an extra layer and went down to the jetty.
Everyone, that is, except our third son, Ed, who was then six. He had a new, full-length wetsuit, and his six-year-old logic was that, if we were going in a boat, a wetsuit was the correct thing to wear. In contrast, my adult reasoning told me that everyone else had dressed up for dinner and wetsuits were for the beach. Despite my best efforts, Ed refused to be persuaded to change. At 6.45, with the rest of the party getting colder by the minute waiting for our arrival, I paused and asked myself the question: is this a battle I need to fight? And so down we went to the jetty and over to the restaurant, Ed in a wetsuit and everyone else dressed for an evening out.
It was a hilarious evening that we still remember. Ed did overheat, and getting in and out of the wetsuit when he visited the loo caused a queue that rivalled Harrods' sale. But looking back, we nearly missed out on the fun of the evening, and the memory we'd carry with us for years to come, by my choosing to have a battle that wasn't really worth fighting.
Correct clothing for a meal out may be a battle you want to fight. If it is, stay firm and fight it tooth and nail. But be careful, because you will almost certainly have far more important battles to fight further down the road. Decide what things are important to you, then say 'Yes' to as many of your children's requests as possible, and 'No' to the rest.