As I surveyed the entire contents of my shopping bag yesterday – two packets of similar-but-not-the-same crackers and nothing else at all – it struck me that this scene, and the lead-up to it, quite aptly summed up my parenting.
It started when we realised we were out of cream crackers, and I had to go to the supermarket with the three kids after school. They all have crackers in their lunch boxes (with nothing – no butter, no cheese – the lunatics) and the cupboard was bare, so off I went to brave the supermarket aisles with three over-tired kids.
At the cracker shelf, I made my first mistake. I asked them which brand they wanted. (We chop and change between two brands, and I couldn’t remember which one was in favour right now.) Big mistake. Eldest wanted one type and smallest wanted the other. Middle child wisely stayed out of it, while I wondered how ten years into parenting, I still forgot rule number one:
1. Sometimes it’s better if you don’t give them a choice.
I suggested the crackers all taste the same, and they insisted they don’t. A stand-off ensued, hands went to hips, and jaws were set. The eldest calmly explained we always get this one, and the smallest was adamant we always get that one.
Then I remembered that crackers last about 200 years. “We can get both,” I told them, and put them in the basket. Because I know parenting rule number two:
2. Choose your battles.
And that’s why we left the shop with two giant packets of similar-but-not-the-same crackers in the shopping bag, and nothing else.
It wasn’t over though. At home, I decided we’d do a blind taste test. So I broke up bits of crackers and blocked their eyes, and got them to taste. Excitement bubbled up inside as I basked in the upcoming I-told-you-so glow. My eldest carefully tried both, and confidently picked her favourite. The brand she’d wanted all along. And that’s my next bit of parenting summed up:
3. Every time I think I have my kids sussed, they prove me wrong.
My middle child tried next, and I switched hands to shake things up, but she picked the same one as her big sister – two for two.
Now the big test – the small boy tried both. He went for the same brand as the girls. “Ah! So you see, the one you asked for in the shop was the wrong one – you prefer the one the girls like!” I said, finally getting my moment to be right.
“No, that’s the one I picked all along, I was right,” he said, and sauntered off, and that was the end of that. Teaching me my final lesson:
4. Actually even when they’re right, parents are always wrong.
(Tomorrow I’m going to see what I can learn about parenting from wine and chocolate, but not until after they go to bed.)