Why men matter (and other reflections on gender equality)

Many reports and studies show that there is increasing equality between parents in terms of traditional parenting roles and responsibilities;

For example British men are spending more time on domestic work than their forefathers (an increase from 90 minutes per day in the 1960s to 150 minutes per day by 2004), are taking increased responsibility for caring for their children (from 15 minutes to 2 hours per working day between 1975 and 1997, an 800% increase) and are increasingly becoming the parent with sole responsibility for childcare during the working week (21% of fathers of under-fives are solely responsible for childcare at some point during the working week)

While there is still some way to go before we can begin talking about true equity and equality between the sexes, these are positive trends.

And yet public media is unfortunately still very much geared to reinforcing the traditional “doofus father” stereotype – the blundering, largely absent, beer and sports obsessed icons of yesteryear, petrified to change a nappy, incompetent at meal times, useless around the house, and generally setting a bad example to their children.

And to compound this stereotype, society is also not currently particularly geared to accepting the change in the zeitgeist which the statistics suggest is happening,

Whether it is detail such as the fact that nappy change facilities are still largely positioned only in female public toilets; that there is still poor or non-existent pre-and post natal support for fathers; that marketing and advertising for baby products is still geared towards women.

Or more at the macro level like for example the fact that until recently there has been dreadful inequality between paternity and maternity leave entitlements, it is little wonder that men may feel intimidated by impending fatherhood.

Traditional notions of masculinity still pervade a man’s everyday life too. One only has to see the incredibly damaging four “rules of masculinity” pioneered by 1970s American psychologist Robert Brannon, to understand how many fathers have been coded to act.

  1. No sissy stuff – reject all that is associated with femininity
  2. Be a big wheel – wealth, power and status define your success as a man
  3. Be a sturdy oak – reliable and strong in a crisis
  4. Give ‘em hell – men are associated with risk, daring and aggression

These notions are damaging because they are divisive. They perpetuate notions that it is somehow emasculating to let your female partner go out to work while you look after the children at home.

Even though the proportion is at a historical low (and despite all the positive advances mentioned above) a recent study revealed that nearly one in five British men still believe that it is the woman’s role to stay at home and look after the children. Those one in five constitute an important critical mass, and one which needs to be addressed if a tipping point for societal change is to be reached.

For some families it no longer makes as much economic sense to automatically designate the father as a breadwinner because according to a number of studies the gender pay gap has all but disappeared in low income families and findings by the National Equality Panel in 2010[i] found that the earnings gap is continuing to narrow.

And this trend is likely to continue across all demographics as young girls / women now outstrip boys / men not only in school participation, graduation and results but also in further education and training.

So going forward, men in the UK are likely to have much more of a role in bringing up their children than their fathers, or their fathers father’s, ever did. And new research shows that this is perhaps no bad thing.

Researchers and child experts are realising that there are incredible benefits related to this societal shift. Research[ii] shows that infants of highly involved fathers have higher cognitive functioning, are better problem solvers as toddlers and have higher IQs by age three.

As well as better cognitive functioning, infants of highly involved fathers show better social and emotional development and well-being. And if that is not enough, involved fathers lead to less disruptive behaviour, less depression, less sadness, less lying and substance abuse and a myriad of other negative development outcomes in their children[iii]. And when men participate fairly in the home, research shows that everyone is happier and healthier.

What this boils down to is the need for gender equality and men can be important agents of change in this regard. An excellent recent report from the Government Equalities Office[iv] (which dad blogger John Adams – @dadbloguk – contributed to) points out some of the challenges that face individuals, organisations and societies when pursuing equality.

But the report argues that the key thing is to ensure that male voices are included in dialogue about gender and that actually, in doing so, amazing opportunities may arise. Many men will have much to gain through gender equality that allows for new ways of working and living for both men and women to flourish.

As UN Under Secretary General Ban Ki Moon points out, the evidence is clear

“Countries with more gender equality have better economic growth. Companies with more women leaders perform better. Peace agreements that include women are more durable. Parliaments with more women enact more legislation on key social issues such as health, education, anti-discrimination and child support. The evidence is clear: equality for women means progress for all”

This all strikes a very resonant personal chord with me. I have recently cut down to a four day working week in order to spend more time with my family. It initially wasn’t easy, and I had to have a number of tough conversations with my manager, my colleagues, my wife and most importantly, with my ego.

But it very quickly became a conversation about opportunities. My reduction in work hours, provided my wife with an opportunity to pursue a more challenging career and I got some all-important time off to be a better father and better husband.

The important thing to conclude is that new shifts towards gender equality are exciting and will benefit organisations, individuals and ultimately society. There is still a long way to go however, before a true tipping point can be reached.

However through modelling opportunities presented by pro-equality governmental and organisational policy, and continued dialogue around gender equality and the roles of men and women in society, there is no reason why a more equal vision of society cannot be achieved in our lifetime.

 

[i] Report of the National Equality Panel; Executive Summary, January 2010

[ii] See for example “The effects of father involvement: a summary of research evidence” Father Involvement Initiative, fall 2002

[iii] See for example this comprehensive conclusion of the impact of the father on their “children’s learning and achievement” Fatherhood Institute, May 2013

[iv]Men as Change Agents for Gender Equality”, Government Equalities Office, June 2014

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The Toddler Resistance Movement Guide to the School Run

The Toddler Resistance Movement Guide to the School Run

Latest update from the front lines comrades – it’s September and that means school has started. Now we all know school is great – tonnes of snacks, loads of shouting and running about and the mud pie kitchen. Oh yes, the mud pie kitchen! I mean, what’s not to like?!

But we all know that we can’t let on that we like school too much. We are a Resistance Movement after all, and we can’t resist something if we outwardly show the Ugly Giants that we like it. You feel me? So here’s the deal. Follow these instructions and resist, my schooled chums, resist!

1/. Wake up late and refuse to get out of bed until all your favourite clothes are laid out on the floor for you. Preferably in the shape of Olaf from Frozen.

2/. Swap out your pants / knickers at least sixty seven times. It’s an autumnal underwear palette you are after. Refuse the monochrome look, it’s so last year.

3/. Stuff your school jumper down the back of the sofa. This is an important plant that you can call upon later (see 15 below).

4/. Refuse to wear socks. Hold out for a multi-vitamin. Force the Ugly Giants to play their trump card early.

5/. Once you have the multi-vitamin, demand, in increasing levels of volume, to wear socks. Insist on putting socks on yourself. Scream at anyone who breaches your 5 metre perimeter until you have satisfactorily aligned your socks with your chi, any nearby ley lines and the eight planets of the solar system.

6/. At breakfast scream for Cheerio’s. A resistance movement cannot be sustained on an empty stomach and these little sugary O’s are perfect marching fodder. Half way through your bowl of sugary, salty breakfast cereal, stop and demand a fried egg on toast or anything else that requires the Ugly Giants to break open the cooking gear. Sprinkle Cheerio’s on the floor until you get what you want.

7/. You are holding out for an important Verbal Signal of Weakness (VSoW) from the Ugly Giants so procrastinate as much as you can. Use these precious minutes to discover a brand new hobby (such as dust inspecting or cognitive complexity theory), ask some important questions and demand answers (e.g. “why are big things big?” or a variation “How can big things be so big?”) or if you have a younger brother or sister simply hide him / her in a cupboard until the Ugly Giants are about to call the Police.

8/. If you have done everything right my learned friends you are probably nearing the point of VSoW so adjust your socks. The Toddler Resistance Movement demands sartorial perfection so get it right. Twenty minutes of committed sock fiddling should just about do it. Listen out for the Ugly Giant’s VSoW.

9/. “Come ON, we’re REALLY late”. There it is! BOOM! You’ve done it. The VSoW. The reveal. The Ugly Giants are now putty in your hands. You can hold out for pretty much any type of bribery. Whatever you want from the snack tin, it’s yours my fellow schoolers.

10/. They are weak. They are vulnerable. Now is the time to hit them with the Holy Trinity. Tell them you don’t want to go to school, you want to change your socks and that you are so tired that you need one of the Ugly Giants to give you a piggy back from the breakfast table to the front door. That should get you an oat bar, at the least.

11/. When brushing your teeth, the Ugly Giants will shout “BRUSH, DON’T CHEW”. They don’t really mean it. Chew, like your life depends on it.

12/. Before leaving the house, demand the micro scooter. Demand every single piece of safety kit and clothing to go with it.

13/. Take off the safety kit and clothing. It’s clashing with your autumnal palette.

14/. On the walk to school, stop off and talk to cats, pick flowers and inspect beetles. Feed the flowers to the beetles and feed the beetles to the cats. Try and eat the cats yourself.

15/. At the school gates make one last stand. Ask difficult questions, ask for your jumper (which is stuffed down the back of the sofa. BOOM! Payload!) or adjust your socks. Anything to avoid actual school.

16/. If you have followed all the steps above you should be entering the school just as the gates to your classroom are locked. This will cause the Ugly Giants an embarrassing trip to School Admin to plead their case and get the gates unlocked.
If you have achieved this then congratulations, YOU ARE THE RESISTANCE!

#VSoW
#sockfiddling
#toddlerresistancemovement

Perfect Moment

A vivid but chaotic dream is interrupted by the sound of the bedroom door slowly sweeping across the carpet.

I am bought quickly into the room by the sound.

I open an eye and can see the door opening, but as yet no figure in the doorway.

The adrenalin and dull shock from the rude awakening quickly subside. I see the hazelnut curls on the top of my daughters head bob past the end of the bed, her footfall padding lightly on the carpet.

She rounds the bed post and her full face comes into view. She is full of sleep and there is no emotion on her face.

I don’t want to wake up yet. I don’t want the embrace of sleep to leave.

I hold my hand out to my daughter and close my eyes. I hear her feet pad a few more steps on the carpet and next thing I feel is her grip tighten around my wrist as she pulls herself into bed.

She collapses next to me and snuggles in tight, breathing loudly. She hasn’t quite yet worked out the concept of personal space, and while her head lies awkwardly across my jaw, and I receive a couple of accidental knees and elbows in delicate areas, her final position is comfortable enough for me to draw her in close.

She sighs loudly, contentedly. She appears to be in no immediate rush to go downstairs today.

She shuffles a little bit in the bed and nestles finally and comfortably in the crook of my shoulder. My face is now buried deep in her forest of curls.

I love being in here. It is soft and warm and smells sweet and earthy. I gently run my face through her billowy cloud of curls.

I chance a look at her, and her eyes are shut. Her breathing is soft and rhythmic, her chest rising with every breath, her warm outbreath kissing my shoulder. She is still and content. I close my eyes and my mind starts to wander.

I can hear morning birdsong outside, carried through the open window on a warm summer breeze which gently disturbs the curtains. In the distance there is the bark of a dog and the hum of a car engine. I can feel myself drifting, the warm embers of sleep burning on.

I have no idea how long we lie together, it doesn’t matter. I am snuggled up close to my daughter and we are still and quiet and entwined. She is safe, and warm and loved.

I don’t want this moment to end.

The Toddler Resistance Movement – A Guide To Swimming

After a particularly traumatic swimming experience I found my toddlers in their room, writing this on their Fisher Price tablet. Be warned people, they are getting organised!

The Toddler Resistance Movement – A Guide to Swimming

The Ugly Giants think that going swimming is all about learning to swim. Idiots. Whereas we all know that the objective of swimming is to get them to empty the bastard treat bag as quickly as possible. Follow these steps and you will be drinking Coca – Cola and grazing on smoky bacon flavour Wheat Crunchies before you are even out of the changing rooms.

1. Whinge to the Ugly Giants in the days / hours / minutes leading up to your swimming lesson. Shouting about it loudly and frequently makes it happen quicker, and therefore gets you to that treat bag quicker. Fact

2. Once at the swimming baths, refuse to get changed. This should result in a decent treat payout. Refuse the banana, let that sweat in the change bag. Hold out for the Organix muesli bars. The Ugly Giants love the smell of chlorine and humid banana on their clothes anyway. Freaks. 

3. Once changed, refuse to wear goggles. In fact refuse to wear any kind of bastard swimming aid. This includes floats, goggles and swimsuits. This stuff is for losers, and will hamper your chances of executing the mission. Stay focussed. 

4. Having spent the whole morning demanding to go to your swimming lesson, refuse now to get into the pool until you get to call shotgun on the floating aids. The acoustics in this place are ace my fellow swimmers, so to secure the holy grail of floating aids (the shark fin float), cry loudly. Remember you are slowly breaking the Ugly Giants in preparation for the ultimate treat payload – Strawberry flavoured Petit Filou yoghurt.

5. If the swimming instructor is one of those tenacious types and refuses to immediately let you into the basket of floating aids, shout “STOP TOUCHING ME” very loudly. I have noticed this gets you what you want. 

6. Run everywhere. The adults will soon tire of telling you to stop. Once they have stopped nagging, run as fast as you can and fall over dramatically, preferably into the pool. This may hurt, but it should result in a heavy treat payload. A small price to pay for that buttered slice of raisin Soreen, my aquatic friends. 

7. Spend 10 minutes warming up by removing all buoyancy aids from your swim suit. This is a good test to see if the bastard life guard is paying attention. You will need him / her later on (see 10 and 11 below) 

8. Create the illusion of walking on water by strapping all buoyancy aids to your ankles and moving swiftly across the surface of the water whilst shouting “I’VE BEEN TOUCHED BY THE HAND OF GOD” This isn’t for snacks, it’s just for kicks people. 

9. The swimming pool is big and cold. When the instructor is not looking, head for the warm bubbly place with the “no children” sign. Get in, keep your head down and keep pressing the bubble buttons. You may get 5mins or so of chill time. Use this time to eat the bag of Monster Munch you smuggled in down your swimming nappy. 

10. Now we’re building up to the piece de resistance. Grab some attention by floating motionlessly and face down on top of the water. This excites the Ugly Giants. (NB an advanced technique in this regard is to collaborate with the other children in the pool and coordinate a Mass Face Down Float (MFDF). If nothing else, this allows you to see which of the Ugly Giants is paying attention) 

11. Alternatively sink to the bottom of the pool and stay there as long as you can. This is a sure fire technique to get the Ugly Giants away from their iPhones. They spend too long on them anyway. Bastards.

12. Now you have their attention, EXECUTE THE MISSION. Remove your swimming nappy and take a massive poo. Ideally it will be a two day stored up poonami. The bigger the better. (NB This is also a good way of testing the pool evacuation procedures. Anything more than a 60 second delay, report the bastards to the local council). Once out of the water, use this as an opportunity for naked screaming. This will yield a quick snack. 

13. The Ugly Giants understand that you are going to be hungry after swimming so once in the changing room use this opportunity to scream loudly until they have emptied their treat bag. Demonstrate how hungry you are by stuffing everything into your mouth at once. Including the buoyancy aids you have smuggled out in your swimming nappy. 

14. Spend as long as you can in the changing rooms. Changing rooms are either freezing cold or stiflingly hot. And the acoustics are amazing. The Ugly Giant’s resolve will weaken quickly under these conditions, so use this as an opportunity to scream loudly until you have emptied the treat bag and negotiated your way to a double showing of Toy Story and pizza in front of C-Beebies when you get home. What you do in the changing room echoes for eternity. 

15. Remember, collaboration is a key weapon in our armoury. The Ugly Giants are rendered useless in the face of a double toddler, steamy naked, screaming onslaught (DTSNSO). So if there are two of you, do what you can – drop your clean clothes in the puddles, make a naked break back to the pool, swan dive into the sanitary bin, lick the floor. Whatever you do make it noisy, make it big and make it quick. Those fruit flavoured jelly tots will soon be yours. Shock and awe people, shock and awe. 

16. And remember people, to keep those snacks coming, you need a repeat performance. Plant the seed by repeatedly and noisily demanding to go swimming again during the journey home. The Ugly Giants will be like putty in your hands by this point. MISSION ACCOMPLISHED. Over and out.

 If you are reading this, you are the resistance

 

 

 

 

Bastard Holidays

You look tired, why don’t you book a holiday – give yourself something to look forward to. I’ve just been on one with my boyfriend and it was amazing

These were the simple words, uttered by a friend in the kitchen at work today.

Well my smug, well rested and bright-eyed friend, these are the reasons why a) holidays are actually bastard exhausting these days and why b) holidays are not bastard well meant to be looked forward to anymore

1/. For you packing means throwing a few clothes in a bag and walking out the door. For me packing begins weeks before the holiday begins, if not months. In fact I have started packing NOW in April for a holiday we are planning in August (* takes a hit of gin to stop the twitching)

2/. You won’t have your face clawed off by a bezerk toddler if you forget to pack Peppa Pig leggings.

3/. Studying and thinking about holiday property room configuration is about as tedious as reading Mr Messy on a perpetual loop. Oh I forgot, you have no idea how tedious either of those things are. Bastard.

4/. Your journey to your destination will be a chance to watch the landscape go by, catch up on the latest movies, read a holiday novel or get some restful sleep. For me it will make Marlow’s journey up the Congo River look like a fairground ride. Because listening to two toddlers having a screeching competition for two hours whilst stuck in French traffic is not something anyone should have to go through. (* sets up Amnesty International on speed dial)

5/. Upon arrival at your destination you can fling open the French doors and flop onto your bed. I, on the other hand, will have to immediately set up a perimeter and carefully remove the car seats before the squashed raisins, brioche and colouring pens begin to fuse, multiply and morph into a deadly contagion like they did Last Time. (* sets up Centre for Disease Control on speed dial)

6/. Holiday property brochures always lie. For you this isn’t an issue. For me that bastard line in the configuration plan which turns out NOT to be a wall between rooms, but a line to denote a change in flooring materials, will mean sharing a room for TWO FECKING WEEKS with my wife and two bastard snoring children. This means wake up at 06:30, lights out at 19:30, no down time, no drinking and shouting loudly and definitely no sexy-time.

7/. For you, free standing glass cabinets and unfenced gardens will provide charming property character and a pleasing sense of boundless space. For me, these things will provide The Crazies with their first experience of near death base jumping, and free-range and self-guided toddler tours of local highways and electrical sub-stations.

8/. Your holiday is a chance to indulge in two weeks of pure hedonism, escapism and down time. For me I will need to put all my own needs on hold in order to plan and execute exciting child centred activities, fun and games EVERY DAY for two bastard weeks. But it will be the fact that I forgot the bastard Peppa Pig leggings that will dominate conversations for the entire journey home. In between the bastard screeching competitions of course.

9/. Your evenings will be spent on balmy terraces, enjoying fine wine, leisurely food and scintillating conversation. Mine will be spent ramming food down my mouth as quickly as possible, shouting loudly at my wife and watching while one child feeds fish fingers to a tank of expensive looking oriental fish, and the other asks an angry looking man at the next table why his nose is so big.

10/. You will lounge on a beach recliner and will luxuriate in a thirty second application of Hawaiian Tropic sun cream, the mere smell evoking a tropical paradise. I, on the other hand, will be spending half my days sprinting up and down the beach trying to marinate my slippery children with a dense pasty gloop just to get minimal sun cream coverage. And don’t get me started on the question of bastard sun hats; because this is a question where Superglue is the only answer.

11/. Because by the time I have finally cleared the laundry backlog from this damn holiday it will be time to think about packing for the next bastard holiday.

So there you go my relaxed and just-returned-from-holiday-faced friend. If I sound bitter, it’s because I bastard well am. Bastard Holidays can feck right off.

The Last Push

“One more Peppa Pig and then it’s time to go to bed. No, I said ONE more. JUST. ONE. MORE!”

“Brush your teeth, properly. PROPERLY! Don’t stick the toothbrush THERE!”

“Put your pyjamas on. Where are you going? Put your pyjama trousers on! Not on your head! Take them off your head! Take the trousers OFF YOUR HEAD!”

The bed time routine. The last push. The eternal battle between adult and child; one party desperate to push the envelope, milk the minutes and extend the day; and one party desperate to curtail, to finish, to seek closure.

The friction. The tension. The exhaustion.

Sometime around 6:30pm our family moves into the bedtime routine. I feel it as a parent, and the children are feeling it too.

The older child might complain of tiredness, but the younger child will never let on, and will continue to run around the house, a morass of flailing limbs and wobbly sprinting.  

But he will be betrayed by the occasional flop on a chair, a rubbing of the eyes and the ultimate give away – the yawn.

This is the signal. The yawn.

It’s time to warm the milk and put on the DVD.

It’s a familiar routine, goodness knows how it started but it kind of works. Warm milk in front of 20 minutes of whatever DVD happens to be in vogue at the time.

Each child gets to choose one episode. These are the rules.

It is beautiful watching each one take it in turns to choose their episode. They revel in their empowerment, exercising their right to choose and they deliberate for what seems like an age before finally selecting their choice.

Each selection is accompanied with gleeful bragging rights and a giggly sprint back to the sofa.

The other child will take exception to the choice, but it will be only temporary. It is all part of the pattern, part of the routine.

And the episodes will finish and there will be a momentary tantrum when the television is turned off, but both children know that there are bigger fights ahead, so they reserve their energy.

The parents may have won this battle, but there is still a war to be waged before this day is out.

Climbing the stairs is another battle. The older child is quick, up in a heartbeat, mind set on the mischief that can now be caused in the upstairs domain.

The younger child delays, deliberating over each dangerous step; pausing to inspect every wood knot on the handrail, every speck of dust on the stair runner and every dead spider that resides on the Staircase of Wonder.

There are some nights when I can deal with this, and sometimes even entertain this journey of exploration. But tonight is not one of them. My objective is to complete the routine as quickly as possible, get the children safe and snug into bed and get back downstairs to whatever treasure awaits.

And the treasure could be a glass of wine, it could be a pint of beer, it could be a favourite television show, a conversation with the wife, a favourite book or just simply a sit-down-and-stare at whatever object happens to be in eye line.

It doesn’t matter what it is. It is a reward.

A reward for knowing I have made mistakes that day, but that I will grow from them

A reward for knowing that I have done the best I can, that I have been the best I can be and that I have loved with as much room as there is in my heart.

And a reward for knowing that I have got my children safely through another day, with some degree of decorum, mental health and personal hygiene still intact.

So the reward is there in my mind’s eye. It looms larger and larger, sometimes taunting, sometimes alluring. But it’s there.

And it’s there, calling like a wanton siren from the shadows, when for the millionth time toothpaste ends up smeared on my black work jumper.

It’s there throwing its hair back and fluttering its eyelids as one child escapes half naked back downstairs and the other attempts to flush their face flannel down the toilet.

It’s still there, beguiling and flirtatious, as the young one refuses to get undressed and the older one, cackling manically, does a naked swan dive into the laundry basket, sending clothes spilling over the floor.

It’s like herding cats. Crazy, psychotic toddler cats.

But soon we are reading books. Nearly there, last push.

Same rules apply, each child gets to choose one book.

Some nights the book choices are great – short, easy and quick, entertaining even for the adult.

Other nights the choices are long, deadly dull books.

Tonight is one of the latter. I resist the urge to persuade the child to choose another book, and read it for the umpteenth time, almost on auto pilot. I get no enjoyment from it, but the children are spellbound.

Then I tuck the older child up, she goes down easily and snuggles up in her duvet. The younger one is still fighting, refusing to get into his grow bag, starting to meltdown.

I am not in the mood for this, and I can feel a knot of tension rising in my chest. I start to sing and rub his chest and immediately his eyes open and his body relaxes enough for me to get his legs and arms into the grow bag and the zip done up.

I breathe a sigh of relief and pull the side of the cot up, the final signal that it is over, the day is over.

I kiss them both good night and they both make one final complaint, but I am walking out of the door, and it is a half-hearted complaint. The day is over and they know it.

I find something to do in the room next to them for a few minutes and then check back in on them.

Both fast asleep, snoring.

I allow myself a smile. I am standing there, a muddle of warm tingly emotions, fatigue and exhaustion and I watch them sleep and my heart melts.

I count my blessings that I have steered them safely through another day. One of many in what I hope will be a long and happy journey.

I count my blessings that they are safe, that we live in a country of peace, where bombs do not drop, and warmth and shelter and love are a given.

I count my blessings that however exhausted I am come the end of days, the love I feel for my children is a constant presence in my heart.

This is the bed time routine.

I make for the landing and close their bedroom door behind me, the last stage in the process.

I check my watch and make a quick calculation. I can get through the tidy up process and still have an hour or so for myself. My shoulders relax and I breathe out a sigh of relief.

The cork comes easily out of the bottle of wine.

The last push is over. For tonight at least.

 

I originally wrote this post as part of an anonymous blogger feature on mypetitcanard.co.uk, go check it out, its a great blog. Or follow on Twitter @MyPetitCanard

Breaking Bread

"You know where you can stick your noodles!"

“You know where you can stick your noodles!”

Look out for the cup, if you keep tipping it you are going to spill it! Don’t tip it, it’s going to spill. IT’S SPILT!

Sit down please. Sit down please. SIT. DOWN. PLEASE! No, not on your face, on your bottom….”

Don’t throw the fish finger. DO NOT throw the fish finger. If you throw the fish finger…I TOLD YOU NOT TO THROW THE DAMN FISH FINGER…..”

Ah! Meal times with the family.

The stress.

The tension.

The chaos.

THE MESS!

It’s not that I even like Cheerios (which is why it was so hard to explain to my co-worker that time I went into work with a phalanx of them stuck in my beard).

So why do I bother insisting on this anarchic routine twice a day (three times at weekends, goddamit)? Wouldn’t it just be easier to just leave a pile of food on a plate on the floor and let them pick at it like skanky hyenas over the course of the day?

Sure it would.

But there is something in that which goes against every fibre of my being.

And this is probably because both my wife and I come from families where food is a deity, and meal times are the closest to worship we will ever get.

My name is the Secret Father, and I’m a foodie.

There, I said it.

If it is not home grown, organic, fair trade and hand knitted I don’t want to know. And I expect this ethic to extend to my children too.

So you can imagine my chagrin when, having prepared a chickpea (organic), spinach (from the allotment) and garlic (organic, home grown) dhal, I have to sit there and watch as my son picks out all the spinach and all the garlic, and then painstakingly removes each damn chickpea, one by one, until he is left with nothing more than a bowl of dhal stained rice. 

Which of course because it is a starchy carbohydrate, with very little nutritional value, he adores.

And then the whinging starts. “Hungry. Hungry. HUNGRY!”

And this then leads to “The Discussion” between Mrs Secret Father and myself;

Mrs SF: “Well, we can’t let him go to bed hungry”

Me: “Why not? He needs to learn to eat what he is given”

Mrs SF: “But he will wake up in the night hungry!”

Me: “Just leave him. He won’t starve himself”

Mrs SF: “I’m going to get him something else to eat”

Me; (hissing) “Don’t! Don’t do that! Don’t. Do. It”

Mrs SF: *returns with a selection of yoghurts, garlic bread and Cheerios.

Me:*gives wife a Paddington Bear stare.

You get the picture.

Basically my wife comes from a family of feeders. She would be mortified if one of her brood went to bed one calorie short on their daily allowance. Because that would mean she is a BAD MOTHER.

And I come from a family where if I left anything on my plate, my father and brother would swoop like vultures within seconds and pick over the carcass of my leftovers.

And if I left it, I knew there was nothing else.

And I knew that feeling hungry was a rubbish feeling. And I learnt that when I was hungry it was harder to play football, harder to run and jump and harder to cycle so far from home that the Police had to be called.

And as a boy, that just wouldn’t do. So I ate everything I was given.

But now these days, after a long day at work, when everyone is grizzly and just a little bit short with the day, it is tempting some meal times to just give in. Because being out to work full time, there is only so much “quality time” that I can have with my children.

And sometimes, just sometimes, I don’t want to have to spend that “quality time” being strict and grumpy and stern at the dinner table. Meal times should be fun.

So I don’t want to have to spend that time repeatedly insisting, like some demented parrot, that a 2 year old child who is off their head on carbs and yoghurt, should “sit nicely at the table” for a few more minutes.

Because frankly, asking a 2 year old to just sit still is hard enough without complicating things by adding the “nicely” bit.

I don’t want to have to negotiate every damn mouthful of whatever it is that my children are refusing to eat that day. Because let’s face it, my toddlers are the SAS of negotiation and will have me waterboarding a bowl of Calpol in no time.

I don’t want to have to spend 25 minutes on my hands and knees wiping the floor clean, whilst simultaneously having leftovers poured on my head by a cackling child. Because whatever fashion is on trend at the time, squashed knee raisins and rice noodle hair is never going to be a “look”.

And I don’t want to have to keep hounding down an errant toddler who has breached the sacred perimeter of the dining room table for the 50th time in five minutes, just because they can’t possibly eat another mouthful unless Iggle bloody Piggle is sitting with them.

And because yelling “STOP twerking at the table!” is something I should never have to shout in my own home.

And so I frequently ask myself – why do I bother? Why not just feed them pizza, cake and fruit shoots and let them eat it all in front of CBeebies? Why not just let it all drop for an easier life?

Because I can’t.

And the answer is both profound and frivolous.

Frivolous because part of me (the weird-uncle-that-lives-in-the-loft part of me) actually enjoys the noise and vibrancy and chaos of meal times.

That’s not to say I enjoy having sausages squashed in my ears (because sausages are big and my ear holes are small), but there is something rather great about a noisy, colourful table, heaving with food, vitality and conversation.

Even if that conversation is just increasingly shouty, repetitive instructions.

And the answer is also profound because meal times are a celebration. They are a celebration of nurture, life and energy; of the family unit with all of its drama’s, weaknesses and foibles; and of the human condition. We may be weak and fragile and yet we are a social animal that craves company.

And what better company than those sitting around a table devouring a delicious meal together?

Food is what keeps us going, and mealtimes have been uniting people, families, tribes and clans throughout history, providing sustenance, company, rest and a chance to connect over the breaking of the bread.

Despite the tantrums, the persistent nagging and the occasional flare up, I am going to continue to teach my children the importance of eating as a family. However much they play up, my instinct tells me that this connection will be invaluable in years to come.

So that when my tribe eventually breaks up, which it inevitably will do, we will hopefully always have that one thing remaining in common.

The love of a decent family meal together.

 #cheeriobeard

#waterboardingcalpol

#squashedkneeraisins