Drawing on my iPad with crayons? Yeah, umm, I’m not sure I like that. Maybe you could stop? Please?
I’m not sure if this is a dadhack or just a theory, but that’s never stopped us before, so here we go. This came out of a conversation with friends, when our similarly aged daughters met – and clashed. Big time. My darling angel sweetness was entirely without blame, whereas our friends’ daughter should have been sectioned on the spot. There was shoving, shouting and the kind of behaviour that should have seen Home Office ankle bracelets slapped on all concerned. That is how I remember it, and aint nobody telling me different. Anyway, it became apparent, later, over wine, that we had very different approaches to the use of ‘red lines’ in parenthood.
Red lines: they’re what we used to call boundaries, until we realised that red lines sounds groovier and more, y’know, exciting. The point where tolerably disruptive behaviour turns into you-are-never-having-Haribo-again rants. Our friends and I discussed that red lines were easy to draw in certain areas. When a tickle turns into a thump, I think we can all agree that a swift, effective intervention is required. But what about when possessiveness, perhaps borne of insecurity, becomes a petulant rant? When are you going to step in? Are you going to step in?
It’s a tricky business. And you may be theoretically clear about what constitutes ‘beyond the pale’…but then circumstances have a habit of showing you up to be a two-faced hypocrite. The type who talks a good game about the need for Grace to be said in Latin before every meal, but then lets them get away with first degree homicide and fishfingers in front of CBeebies. You’re knackered. You’re late. Asda is closing soon. Or maybe once, just this once, you’d like an easy life. And so on.
And so you bungle on, and if you’re sharing childcare, you plough your own furrows. Sure, you hope you’re heading in roughly the same direction, guided by similar values. But in terms of getting it right, it’s finger-in-the-air time. And that never stopped a fight. So maybe it’s time for ‘that conversation’. (No, not that one, don’t bother with that one – it won’t happen any more often, in fact you’ll be lucky if it happens at all.)
No, the chat you need is the one where you compare notes, based on real-life examples and theoretical what-ifs, to agree the point at which you’d say, “Hold on china, that stops right now.” This sounds clinical, I know, the advice of a man who thinks that lunch should come with its own Gantt chart. But that’s why you’re on dadhacks, not Earth Mother Parenting, remember? Bear with me.
You’ll start off with the easy ones, and that’s just fine: “No child of mine will get anything without saying ‘thank you’ first,” for instance. Then, after warming up, tackle a few mind-benders: “Is some rudeness to guests something we can live with?” “If junior is exhausted and shouts at us, will we turn the other cheek?” Your challenge is to avoid saying “It depends,” while opening another bottle.
(You’ll notice that in all of the above, I conspicuously avoid suggesting what you might actually do when the line is crossed. Who do you think I am, SuperManny?)
Draft your code of conduct
The idea here is that you do some of the heavy lifting up front, getting your thoughts in order so that, in the heat of battle, you know when to pull out the big guns. If you know any less appropriate and twisted metaphors than that, comments are open below.
If, as a couple, you don’t agree on the fundamentals, I’ll do a Derek Acorah and predict that you’ll be unhappy and frustrated, and your child will be confused and disruptive. But it’s a conversation that, frankly, you’d be advised to have with yourself, never mind your significant other. It’s not easy, let me tell you, because it requires you to define what you believe in, and then questions your resolve in seeing this come good in your child. But having done it, you can kick back: you’re good to go with your own, shared, code of conduct.
Maybe you’ll conclude you’re a pushover, kids will be kids, and that they’ll come good in the end. Perhaps you’ll decide that the rot stops here, and start laminating house rules. But whatever you conclude, at least you have your red lines / boundaries / lines in the sand (delete as required).
Like the Governor of the Bank of England, you’ll no doubt deviate from your chosen path whenever it suits, although thankfully you won’t have to write anyone a letter to say why. But the point is that you’re much less likely to be boxed into a corner when all hell breaks loose, wondering when to step in. Because you can be sure that by the time you’ve worked that out, your job has just got much, much harder.
Are you clear on what constitutes unacceptable, or do you just wing it? Can a child actually run two operating systems at once? Tell us in the comments.