Death Stare Gracie is right – rules really ARE for fools


Death Stare Gracie is right – rules really ARE for fools

When she was two I once left Gracie, now eight, lying on the pavement screaming her head off after a bout of inexplicable toddler rage had rendered her impossible to talk to, comfort, or discipline.

There she was outside Boots, in her little pink wellies, howling.

It was an illogical fury, the kind you’d witness among precious celebrities whose daft demands are not met: J-Lo with no blue Smarties in her dressing room perhaps, or Madonna missing her favourite leotard.

Tough lesson to learn: Lorraine's daughter's tantrum left her paralysed by fear, not of what the gathering crowd of onlookers thought but of failing as a mother (file photo)

Tough lesson to learn: Lorraine's daughter's tantrum left her paralysed by fear, not of what the gathering crowd of onlookers thought but of failing as a mother (file photo)

On this occasion there was no rhyme nor reason for Gracie’s outburst.

I’d spent 20 minutes quietly trying to wrestle her rigid body unsuccessfully into her buggy, and when I gave up she suddenly morphed into Animal from The Muppets, arms and legs flailing furiously. Her emotions were so tempestuous and turbulent she couldn’t control them, nor could I.

So I walked away — only about five steps away, you understand — but I turned my back on her because I was paralysed by fear. Not fear of what the gathering crowd of onlookers thought but fear of failing as a mother.

I felt helpless and powerless because I had no idea what to do next. What kind of a mother does that A big, fat failure of one, that’s what kind.

Well that’s what I thought at the time. Now I have four children, of differing temperaments, I know better.

Now I know that mothers are made, not born, that sometimes we get it right, often we don’t. Failure is one of your five-a-day when it comes to motherhood.

I only mention ‘Gracie’s moment’, as we refer to it, because yet another book has come out destined to make women feel a failure: French Children Don’t Throw Food, which claims Gallic children are better behaved than their British counterparts because their mothers are stricter.

Advice overload: Lorraine says she cant take on board any more parenting information like that given by Supernanny Jo Frost

Advice overload: Lorraine says she cant take on board any more parenting information like that given by Supernanny Jo Frost

For a brief moment I considered buying it
(after a weekend of boundary-testing moments from the less popular tome
British Children Don’t Give A Damn) but I won’t because it’s hot on the
heels of far too many other books, TV programmes and government edicts
pointing out how our parenting is some how lacking.

Frankly I can’t take on board any more parenting information.

I’m still recovering from Supernanny, whose TV series popularised tyrannical ways to tame two-year-olds, and The World’s Strictest Parents (ditto for teenagers).

Then I was floored by the Tiger Mother book, a guide to getting your children to weave baskets while playing the violin and winning Olympic Gold medals, which arrived minutes before new government guidelines — aka ‘childcare for morons’ — that show actual-sized pictures of the plates to feed a toddler from. No actual-sized pictures of beads they will stick up their nose or toilet rolls they will inevitably flush down a loo, though.

Correct me if I am wrong but I can only assume there is an army of mums out there who’ve successfully absorbed all these rules and don’t feel like they are herding cats armed only with Haribo as a disciplinary tool

Why is it all these books and programmes are about forcing your children to behave Demanding they do what you say Wrestling the joyful free will unique to youngsters out of them so that, by the time they’re adults, they fit into the boxes society perceives are suitable

'I like (and admire) my spirited
offspring. Sure, they could be better behaved but it doesn’t make me
love them any less'

Of course they’ve got to be polite, wear underwear, go to bed on time, occasionally eat broccoli, blah blah blah, but this constant stream of new parenting advice is confusing and stressful. It sets you up for failure.

Frankly I like (and admire) my spirited offspring. Sure, they could be better behaved but it doesn’t make me love them any less. They have enjoyable personalities and they always say thank you.

I have, of course, touched on the subject of discipline before.

Last week I mentioned my eldest’s newly perfected ‘death stare’, borrowed from her future teenage years and used in response to demands she may not agree with. It was meant as a light-hearted comment but the readers’ response to it surprised me (I also deliberately mentioned the previously inflammatory word ‘nanny’, which they totally ignored. Disappointing).

Many people advocated unforgiving emotional tactics amounting to ‘beat that nine-year-old into submission’.

Well, when I had children I wanted to enjoy them, not defeat them with punishing ‘seen but not heard’ rules of behaviour so many of you seem to want me to adopt.

If this attitude continues, team, you’ll all have to get on that naughty step. And I will have to reluctantly conclude that Gracie is right when she says: ‘Rules are for fools.’

LORRAINE CANDY is editor-in-chief of Elle magazine.