If it were up to me, every single book ever written about “parenting” would be burnt and its author shot. I brought my kids up by following three basic maxims: never make a threat you can’t keep, always treat children like ordinary little people, and lie to them as much as you can — that’s easy when they still believe you’re God.
The third rule I found particularly useful because it taught my offspring not to believe everything they heard. My son spent six months of his most formative years cheerfully calling the things that sing from the treetops “fish” until his mother worked out what he was saying and whence he’d got it. Still, there’s been no lasting damage — he’s a 25-year-old chemical engineer now, and when anybody invites him on an angling trip he borrows a fishing rod, not a shotgun. Alan also eventually worked out that you don’t really have to wait until your parking meter expires before you leave your bay — when he was about six we once sneakily decided that as there were no traffic cops lurking outside Pinetown library we’d take a chance and scarper rather than wait 15 minutes. It was really bonding to be so wicked together.
It’s essential that when you lie to children you don’t tell them the truth afterwards — the educational value lies in letting the little sods work it out for themselves. My very upright sister once brought her precious little daughter to Durban on holiday, and I invited the four-year-old, who’d only met me about twice before, to accompany me to the tearoom. As we left my driveway she sternly instructed me to put on my seatbelt. I told her I wouldn’t, so she threatened to tell her mother. “Then I’ll have to kill you,” I fired back. After a short silence she whispered “OK — I won’t tell her then”. Alex is now in her late teens, and I don’t know if the nightmares have stopped, but I reckon her solid understanding of how much men detest unsolicited advice from females will stand her in good stead in adult life.
Apart from making your life simpler and teaching your kids how to think for themselves, you can also save money by deceiving the little swine. When I took my lot out in the car I’d promise to buy them a straw if they behaved. Then we’d stop at the corner shop on the way home and pick up milk, bread, and whatever else we needed, along with two straws from the counter. I’ve no idea what they thought straws cost — R5.00 seems to ring a bell — but to them it was a real treat to vacuum up a glass of Oros through theirs when we got home. That meant as much to them as a trip to Disney World did to some other kids. The trick was in not spoiling them by doing it too often …
Kids are much more robust than the cretins who write all those parenting books realise, and sharper, with far better developed senses of humour than they’re given credit for. Bring them up with love ‘n lies and they’ll work out just fine. That’s my story, and I’m sticking to it.