All parents make mistakes. Sure, we think we’re great and we’re doing it right, because it feels right and because we’ve read the right books, but in actuality we’re making mistakes we know nothing about until it’s too late.
Too much love, too little, too much leeway, not enough – the consequences of these will not be known for decades, or at least until the teenage horror that was once your child picks up a psychology book and says, ‘Wah, the reason I can’t get a boyfriend is because you didn’t hug me enough/give me enough freedom/discipline me enough as a child!’ and all that crap. I guarantee that in twenty years time, everything we’re doing now will, apparently, have been wrong. But that’s the joy of parenting, guys!
Making mistakes we’ll be blamed for in the distant future is one thing; making mistakes with consequences in the here and now is quite another. For the edification of new or would-be parents everywhere, here are ten avoidable mistakes that I have made in my extensive ten months of parenting:
1. The muslin game.
Description: you throw a muslin over your baby’s head, and she pulls it off. You repeat with delight, and over time replace the muslin with sleepsuits, blankets, tea towels, nappies (clean), and whatever else is within reach: newspapers, books, telephones. What fun and what harm?
The unintended consequence: can we get Izzie to wear a sunhat? Put it on her head all you want, hold her hands, tie it under her chin, she thinks it’s highly amusing taking it off and flinging it away. After all, that’s what you’ve taught her with your fun and games!
How to avoid: don’t play with your child.
2. The bath plug
Description: at the end of a bath, you think it would be kind of cute if you let your baby pull out the plug. What a productive member of society she’ll be then.
The unintended consequence: the first thing Izzie does when she gets in the bath is pull out the plug. Because though you taught her how to pull out the plug, you didn’t teach her how not to pull out the plug.
How to avoid: don’t bath your child.
Description: when she’s in her high chair, your baby drops her beaker. You bend down, pick it up and hand it back to her. Well done! You’ve invented the game of dropsy.
The unintended consequence: twenty times a mealtime, every mealtime, Izzie drops her beaker on the floor. If you don’t pick it up, she screams; if you do, she immediately drops it again. What great fun!
How to avoid: don’t give your baby fluids.
Description: you throw a toy out in front of your baby, she flaps her arms and you carry her through the water as though she’s swimming until she grabs hold of it. How can teaching her to swim possibly cause a problem?
The unintended consequence: when Izzie’s sitting in the bathtub and wants a toy that’s floating out of reach, she thinks she just needs to flap her arms to get it. This creates plenty of splashing, but strangely the toy doesn’t get any closer. You’ve taught her to get water all over the bathroom for no appreciable gain.
How to avoid: don’t teach your child to swim.
5. Raspberries and wibble-wibbles
Description: you know what’s just adorable? Teaching your baby to raspberry. First with just the lips, and later with the tongue. And teaching her to use her finger on her lips while humming to make that wibble-wobble sound: people just die when she does it. How cute is your baby?
The unintended consequence: you know what isn’t just adorable? When Izzie raspberries or wibble-wibbles with a mouthful of food, and either sprays it all over daddy or rubs it up her face. These are not memories to treasure.
How to avoid: don’t teach your baby to make sounds.
6. Yuuuuuuummmmmm and nom-nom-nom
Description: when your baby refuses to open her mouth and take the magic aeroplane spoon, what could be more natural then holding it to your own mouth and pretending to eat with a ‘yum’ and a ‘nom-nom-nom’? Your baby’s like, ‘Damn, that looks like it tastes good, I want me some of that!’
The unintended consequence: every time Izzie eats anything, she goes,’yuuuuuuuuummmm nom-nom-nom’ until she swallows. Then she takes another mouthful, and it’s ‘yuuuuuuummmmm nom-nom-nom’, and no matter how many times I tell her the other kids will think her weird if she moans over every mouthful, she steadfastly refuses to listen.
How to avoid: don’t feed your baby.
7. Feeding off your plate
Description: when your baby sits on your lap as you eat your dinner, you find yourself tempted to answer the question: ‘Would my baby like broccoli? A chip? Jalapenos?’ (NB for any social workers reading this, that last one’s a joke). So you pick up a morsel of food from your plate and find that, lo and behold, a love of barbecue pork ribs is another thing you have in common.
The unintended consequence: from now on, everything you have on your plate, no matter what it is, where you are, or what time of day, it’s fair game. That little chubby hand will reach for cutlery, crockery, burning hot potatoes, boiling stew, spicy curry, burgers, ice cream, pizza (you can see I have a great diet). And if you tell her it’s your food, and she’s already eaten, it’s like talking to someone who doesn’t speak English. Who’d have thought it?
How to avoid: don’t feed your baby (see point 6 for further details).
8. Wafer bribes
Description: your baby screams whenever you put her in her play pen. So you decide, quite naturally, to give her a wafer to munch on when you put her in there. That way, she’ll associate the play pen with happy thoughts, and won’t scream.
The unintended consequence: now, whenever Izzie goes into the play pen, she looks around with a ‘where the hell’s my gosh-darned wafer?’ kind of expression on her face. Then screams. You’ve merely delayed the inevitable.
How to avoid: leave her free to roam around the house.
9. What’s in a name?
Description: every parent wants their baby’s first word to be them. So you walk around saying ‘dad-dad-dad-dad-dad-dad-dad’ while your partner warbles ‘mum-mum-mum-mum-mum-mum-mum’ and you wait to see who’ll win.
The unintended consequence: Izzie walks around saying ‘dad-dad-dad-dad-mum-mum-mum-mum-dad-dad-mum-mum’, with no idea what either means. Now that she says mum and dad a hundred times a day, how the hell are we going to know when she says it and really means it?
How to avoid: don’t teach your baby your names.
10. Afternoon naps
Description: it’s half four in the afternoon, you’re feeding your baby and she falls asleep between mouthfuls. You think to yourself, ‘It’s okay. She’s so peaceful I’ll let her have twenty minutes kip. Poor thing’s so tuckered out.’
The unintended consequence: congratulations! Your baby will now be up till midnight.
How to avoid: never let your child sleep. Ever.
And there, in a nutshell, are my tips: don’t ever feed your baby, give her fluids, play with her, bath her, let her sleep, teach her your names, or sounds, or how to swim, and be sure to leave her to run free with no restraint whatsoever. Then you’ll be a perfect parent and avoid making any mistakes at all.
But nor will you be a parent for long…