All you need to be a great parent is £10M, a mansion, a fridge that refills itself automatically, a great internet connection and possibly a unicorn.
You’ll also need a cleaner, housekeeper, nanny, chauffeur, cook, personal shopper, seamstress, entertainer and maybe a hospital wing.
If like me, your whole world has been turned upside down by the arrival of your sleep thieves, and you don’t know if you’re coming or going, here’s what I think you need to be a great parent.
1. A sense of humour.
This is unbelievably important. From the moment you change your son’s first nappy and he pees all over your face, hands and clothes (yours and his), to the moment your daughter asks you (loudly) in a public toilet if the reason you call your fanny a Minnie is because you sometimes stick white mice up it. Just laugh. There is literally nothing else you can do. Embrace the humorous moments, because these will be your comfort blanket when things get really tough. And enable you to carry on being a great parent.
2. The ability to survive off 5 hours sleep.
This could be a night, or over a couple of days, it depends how lucky you are. Caffeine is more important than food now. But please drink responsibly. I don’t call my children sleep thieves for no reason. They seem to have an inbuilt sleep deprivation mechanism that’s programmed to go off at various times during the night. They are essentially a tag-team of torturers. I don’t know if they plan it in advance or whether it’s an innate skill they all possess. Either way, the lack of sleep is the line between me being a great parent, and me being a grumpy caffeinated mess.
If you can survive on such little sleep (irrespective of whether your blood type is now coffee) and still function reasonably well during the day you’re doing great. If you can’t remember the names of your children and your eyelids are heavier than say, your car, lock yourself in the toilet immediately for a power nap.
3. Selective hearing.
This one isn’t just for the kids, oh no. I know they never hear you when you tell them to tidy their room or do their homework. But you can learn from them and their ways. Selective hearing comes in handy when they want to watch Peppa Bloody Pig on repeat for 2 years. Or when they watch the same TicToc video for 45 days straight. That one is guaranteed to make you want to rip your own ears off. If only for an excuse to go down to A&E for a bit of chill out time.*
If you work hard on this, you’ll be able to selectively tune out all the random screaming/crying/arguing and be able to detect a ‘real’ or a ‘pain’ cry within a 2 mile radius of your child. Which means you can drink a whole cuppa and enjoy half a packet of (hidden) biscuits occasionally.
*Don’t actually do this. I do know A&E is only for emergencies, not for general chill out.
4. Shopping skills.
No, you’re not shopping for anything fancy, don’t be silly, you’re a parent. I mean grocery shopping. I can’t deal with online grocery shopping, it takes me too long to find everything, then I get kicked out of my delivery slot, abandon the basket and end up going to the shop anyway. But shopping in store is a different story. I’d be amazing on Supermarket Sweep. I’d smash Nora & Bob from Grimsby right off the set as I zoom around in a blaze of glory. I can steer that unsteerable trolley down every aisle one handed. I don’t need a list. Hell no. I buy the same stuff every week anyway, and now I use the scan as you shop thing I can do a full weeks’ shop in under 43 minutes. Putting it away is a different scenario entirely though. Shopping fast (and well) is a skill. You’ll need it for everything; birthdays, Christmases, Easter, school uniform, forgotten-about-birthday-parties, school mufti days, you get the gist.
ALWAYS have tissues. Or wet wipes. Or if your bag is big enough, have both. I wrongly assumed that once children were potty trained my days of carting about extra stuff were long gone. But I hadn’t banked on the fact that children leak so many different fluids from so many different places at the most inconvenient times. And catching snot or vomit in your hands is beyond nasty. But often necessary.
A super great parent would probably have some form of miniature first aid kit stashed about on their person too, but tissues/wet wipes are usually sufficient.
The sleep thieves see me try, they see me get frustrated, they see me struggle, sometimes they see me fail, but they never see me give up.*
Being a parent isn’t like any other job where you can just hand your notice in when you’ve been pushed way past what you thought your limit was. Even if your limit is above the stratosphere, it will still be breached. You need resilience. Spades of the stuff. Or at least enough resilience to get you through the day until bedtime. Yours, or theirs, whichever comes first.
*Well, apart from the time I attacked a crazy coupe car with a hammer in a sleep deprived/pmt rage, but that’s another story.
It’s a shame you can’t order in extra supplies of this from Amazon, because there have been times where I was seriously lacking in this rare quality. My Mum used to say to me “patience is a virtue, rarely found in women, but never found in man”. But what she failed to mention is that toddlers and children going through puberty are not familiar with the concept of patience. But they are somehow capable of zapping every last shred of it that you possess. Whatever it is that gets you through these unbelievable energy and patience zapping moments, go for it. (Unless it’s illegal, then don’t).
8. Negotiation skills.
In 2018, Harvard Law School named Nelson Mandela as one of history’s best negotiators. But I reckon even he would have struggled to negotiate with a 3 year old. I mean, how do you negotiate with someone who’s crying because they’ve already eaten something that they wanted to eat?
Has Nelson Mandela ever tried to negotiate with someone throwing an almighty hissy fit because a slice of ham is touching both sides of the bread in a sandwich?
Has anyone successfully negotiated their way out of the house with a child that refuses to put shoes on because the cat looked at them funny?
Well, I won’t lie to you. Negotiation involves tears, tantrums, raised voices and stomping feet (all probably yours). But eventually you will be able to persuade your child that broccoli isn’t poison. Or else just give up and put it in the bin. Whatever. You’re still a great parent. At least you tried eh?
Because no two days are ever the same. Children are highly volatile, unpredictable little buggers. Did your little darling profess undying love for bananas yesterday so you went out and bought a massive bunch? You may as well turn them into cake, because he’ll suddenly develop a superman/kryptonite aversion to bananas today and throw himself on the floor at the mere sight of something yellow.
You need to be able to go from lazy Sunday morning feels to organising the troops for a D-Day size operation in the space of about 2 minutes. You’ll need to change hats frequently throughout the day, from peacekeeper to chef to cleaner to first aider to teacher to drill sargeant to cuddler to chauffeur to dresser to personal shopper to admin assistant. And back again. Multiple times. Basically, just accept that everything is harder, more unpredictable than you ever thought possible and you’re now a small child’s prison bitch.
Keep smiling you’re doing great.
10. Open arms.
Unless it’s physically impossible, or you‘ve got the brunt of the stomach bug going round and can’t get your head out of the toilet, always, always, always accept a hug if it’s offered. A hug can solve many problems and it’s scientifically linked to numerous health benefits for both the hugger and the huggee. Whether they are 6ft 4 or 3 minutes old you can never hug too much. Because one day soon there will be a time when all their affection goes on their boyfriend/girlfriend/shoe collection and you’ll miss all those hugs at random moments.
Anyway, aside from all the basics like food, warmth, shelter, love, morals, clothing, and a fast reliable internet connection, that’s what I think makes a great parent. Or maybe The Beatles were right and all you need is love. What do you think makes a great parent?
One thing that doesn’t make you a great parent is drinking irresponsibly. But that’s another story entirely.