Parenting

Parenting three boys is like trying to solve the riddle of the fox, chicken and grain

Chicken and disco ball illustration

My ongoing fears about my incompetent parenting were compounded last week when I found myself utterly incapable of meeting the needs of one of our children. I’m loth to write about this, as my previous column on the kids’ bedtime was met with a number of tweets along the lines of, “Man struggles to look after kids. How VERY progressive.” For the record: I am inexperienced at bedtimes because I work evenings. But some people have assumed it’s because I am reinforcing the patriarchy.

My wife and I have three boys, and it turns out this is the perfect number to ensure that you are never doing something that everybody wants to do. There are disagreements, Fomo, and forced compromises. I often wonder if the kids would be better named Fox, Chicken and Grain – as in the riddle about how to take them across the river one at a time without the fox killing the chicken, or the chicken eating the grain. It is a puzzle I would often use when I was a maths teacher, until one child told me he would take the grain first, and then watch from the boat as the fox killed the chicken, which is the answer I imagine Boris Johnson gave as a kid.

We were at a farm park for the day, and one of the boys wanted to take part in the end-of-the-afternoon disco. This struck terror into my wife’s heart and mine, as the disco mainly involves the kids being led in a series of dance challenges before being encouraged to “get the boring grown-ups up here!”. Then a group of adults do a half-arsed hokey cokey, before the kids are given sweets, leaving you to deal with the sugar rush on the car ride home.

The other two boys wanted to play mini golf, and it was decided that Fox and Grain would do that with my wife, while I would go to the disco with Chicken, because my wife was still having flashbacks from her last hokey cokey.

Once we arrived at the disco, my son looked around and said he thought it was boring and wanted to go to the golf. No problem, I said, and we headed to the other side of the park. As we approached the green, he informed me that he now wanted to go to the disco. I asked him if he was sure, in a voice that I hope perfectly masked my frustration, and we headed back to the dancefloor.

Within minutes, he came back and said he didn’t want to be there after all. At that point I became irritable and explained firmly that I was trying to help him have a nice time, but that he needed to make a decision or we were going to spend the rest of the day walking back and forth across the farm. He said he definitely wanted to play golf, which I initially misheard as, “Dad, I am trying to make you cry.” We went to leave. He told me he was no longer sure.

Just as I lost my rag and told him to make up his mind, my son pulled a face that expressed very clearly how intensely he was struggling with the dilemma. It was heartbreaking. I had been behaving as if my son were doing this deliberately to annoy me, which of course was not the case. He was just experiencing Fomo to a debilitating degree. Which in fairness to him, had played out identically with me when I was buying the family car – and he had been much more understanding.

I told him that the disco looked great and it was probably too late to do golf now. He looked at me as if a weight had been lifted from his shoulders and headed on to the dancefloor, leaving me to reflect on how poorly I had dealt with the whole thing. The gloom lifted only when my wife returned from golf early and Chicken asked her to do the hokey cokey. I made sure I looked gutted.

[“source=theguardian”]