14/08/2014 12:57 BST | Updated 20/05/2015 06:12 BST

Teach My Boy How To Swim? Who Has The Time?


My six-year-old son started swimming lessons with his school last week – and it made me feel a pang of guilt. Because it is more than a year since I went swimming with him, or his older siblings. That was on holiday in France but since then I haven't so much as put a toe in the water, except at bath time.

Too busy, you see. Too bogged down with the mundanity of all the 'important' things in life: making a living, getting the kids to and from school, making sure they do their homework, keeping the house tidy, cooking and clearing up.

In fact, my life is so filled with these 'essential' day-to-day chores that I have totally forgotten that a part of my job as a parent is to pass on to my children the life skills that I take for granted.

OK, I – and my wife – did an alright job with the first two, now aged 12 and nine.

Taught them to swim. Taught them to ride a bike. Taught them to cross the road at zebra crossings ("All drivers are idiots, so make sure they have stopped using their mobile phones/putting their make-up in the mirror before you cross"). Taught them how to use a knife and fork in polite company.

But the youngest (because he's the youngest) has missed out on gaining entry to House Dad's University of Life.

I guess I figured he'd just pick it up from his siblings. Unfortunately, he hasn't. He seems to be missing the Learn-By-Observation Gene and because I've grown weary with age, I haven't got around to teach him.

Here is a charge sheet of my Bad Parenting Shame with regards to my six-year-old:

• He can't ride a bike;

• He can't swim;

• He puts his underpants on back to front;

• He wears his T-shirts inside-out;

• He can barely zip up his coat;

• He uses a knife and fork like a hammer and nail.

(He also happens to be the cuddliest, most gorgeous, most loving, most empathetic, kind, caring human being I've ever come across. But that's a different story!).

So, yes, my youngest son is hopeless at lots of things. And it's my fault. But perhaps not! see, I've just come across some research that says there are thousands of parents like me (you know, time-starved excuse makers).

The research suggests that a third of eight year-olds (31 per cent) can't swim confidently despite that being the age at which children are allowed to swim alone.

Almost half said their seven-year-old couldn't confidently cross the and four children in ten can't ride a bike by the age of seven. So perhaps I'm not such a loser after all!

The survey by Quibly (, an online community supporting parents raising children in the digital age, also looked at how parents with primary school aged children spend their time together.

Time-poor parents only find time for the most pressing matters with two in three saying they're able to help with homework yet only 50 per cent said they were able to read to their children every week.

Holly Seddon, editor-in-chief for, said an increasing number of parents are being forced to work longer hours which is impacting on the speed at which children develop important life skills.

She said: "There are ever more demands on parents' time. More than half of the parents we surveyed said they didn't have enough time to spend with their children.

"It's important that instead of being made to feel guilty, parents can access help in a way that fits into modern life. Luckily there are many options out there and technology can play its part too."

All well and good, but what's a House Dad to do about it? Holly Seddon has some advice.

She said: "Some local swimming pools offer intensive swimming courses, which my own kids have taken. If you're able to take a half-term off work, this is the ideal time to get kids up and swimming. This skill can then be practiced at weekends when you have a little more time."

She added: "Reading together can seem like a chore to both tired parents and kids, but teachers assure me that it's not just about what you read, it's about reading itself.

"It's great to snuggle up at the weekend when you have a bit more time and read through the book provided in the book bag from school. But day-to-day, read anything together.

"Get them to read out cooking instructions while they help you make tea or road signs on the school run. I use a lot of e-books with my youngest child, as these often have read along features but don't need my constant attention."

Sounds good. Is there more?

"Talk through what you're doing, all the time," said Holly. "Teaching road safety need not be a mission, it can be a normal part of day-to-day walking about. Talk through what you're doing at the side of the road every time you cross and get kids to say it along with you.

"Use technology to help. The Safety Aware app (£2.49 iOS), for example, teaches children the rules of safe crossing, in a fun cartoony style that sinks in while they're having fun."

Technology you say? That sounds right up my street. I bought my boys an Xbox for Christmas and they would spend 24 hours a day on it if I let them.

OK, my youngest can't swim, or ride a bike, or cross the road, but I guarantee he could beat any so-called 'rounded' adult at Minecraft. Now there's a skill worth knowing when the cybernauts try to take over the world, surely?

What's the moral of this story: relax. There aren't enough hours in the day to try to teach your children everything you've learned. They'll pick it up in their own good time.

I don't remember my dad teaching me a single thing – because he was too busy putting food on the table. But I learned by watching him: seeing how hard he grafted to feed his family; observing how tightly he tucked in the corners of our beds at night (we woke up in the same position as we went to bed); admiring how he opened doors for old ladies and offered to carry their shopping bags.

And by those observations and others, I've survived. Somehow. I might not be a brilliant parent. But I'm good enough. Just.