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The Indignity of Indiscipline (And Why Too Much Parenting Advice Leaves Me Bemused, Confused and All Out of 'Instinct')

During a brief stint teaching, my shoes were captured and held to ransom by students.

I don't remember the detail of their demands, just that I was handed menaces, printed across a photo of my missing footwear, by a good-natured 17-year-old called Simon.

The shoes weren't taken by force, you understand. That wasn't necessary - I'd removed them to pad around in comfort. (It was that sort of course.) My first mistake. Cotton socks do not confer authority. I tell you this not for catharsis but to demonstrate that good discipline is perhaps not my thing.

In general, the same flimsy approach to maintaining authority is applied at home. My daughter has no idea who is The Don, and nor have I. But don't go thinking this is because I'm some kind of laid-back parent. I'm not. I'm just baffled much of the time.

I can't be the only one who has decided on a strategy for dealing with a properly dementing aspect of toddler behaviour, before changing tack the moment a mother with a more impressive sense of certainty raises an eyebrow in my approximate direction. This, I believe, is known as being 'inconsistent'.

And it's not helped by the unstoppable behemoth that is the parenting-advice industry, which stomps over intuition and rides roughshod across instinct. In fact, the glut of expert voices competing to tell us how to raise our children has created a generation of madly self-conscious and bemused parents.

There's just so much of it. Instructions, warnings, commandments, congratulations-your-child-is-42. And if you don't read it yourself, someone who has will start murmuring about sleep training or attachment parenting or some damned study or other anyway. And you will think: "S**t, no wonder I'm knackered - I haven't been doing sleep training. What is sleep training?"

A need has been created. Next thing, you're hooked.

But the more we seek this stuff out, the further away we become from what we instinctively know to be right for our own children and ourselves. I don't mean we have all the answers, just that we've reached a point at which there are more answers than questions, and that just makes the whole business feel much too complicated.

For all I know there is some kind of Delphic oracle of parenting out there. Or else there isn't. Either way, I'm putting my clunky guides to child rearing out of reach. It's more enjoyable that way.

Right, I'm off to Google the best way to fire a dummy (pacifier) into outer space.


My shoes were eventually returned unharmed. The students continued with their terrifying campaign of fun.

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