My four-year-old had such a monstrous tantrum the other day that I bought three parenting manuals. Being an anxious middle-class mother, this is what I do when trouble strikes – read books. I have dozens, on everything from water birth to sibling rivalry. I’ve even bought a book on the pointlessness of parenting books.
Much of the advice is hopelessly otherworldly – or at any rate, Californian. I am counselled, for instance, to use something called “reflective listening” to communicate with my “spirited” child. Instead of telling the blighter to stop kicking me and say sorry, I am supposed to help him identify his feelings and negotiate a way down from his “anger mountain”.
“I can see that you are very frustrated,” I should say. “You wish we could stay in the park forever playing Spider-Man versus the Hulk. How can we find a way to make going home easier for you?” So far, my attempts at reflective listening have been met with a look of furrowed curiosity (Mum’s acting weird again), followed by redoubled wailing.
Still, every now and then one comes across a mercifully practical piece of parenting wisdom. The Australian psychologist Steve Biddulph recommends that, as soon as both parents arrive home from work, they should sit down together with a stiff drink. The alcohol, he says, will make them more relaxed – and thus better parents.
This is such a joyously unmodern, generous-spirited piece of advice that it automatically makes me trust everything Mr Biddulph says. In fact, I think it should be the starting point for manuals of every sort. Planning a spot of DIY? Having trouble with your spark plugs? Just relax – it’ll all seem so much easier after a large Martini.