Christmas was approaching at a rate of knots.  It had been a crazy year, and the Parent had been so busy.  It was frustrating from all angles, but it was true that parenting had often come second to work pressures.  Now was the time to put that right.

“Child, I’ve been thinking about this and with the start of a New Year looming, I’d like to give you some advice to make your way in the World.

I’ve written down 12 steps I think will really help you to navigate life as you grow up.”

The Child looked at the parent, paused for a moment nodding assent, and responded calmly.  Children are, after all, generally wiser than grown ups.

“Yes, I’d like that. But you always tell me listening is the most important skill in life.  You say we have two ears and one mouth, and that we should listen and speak in those proportions.  So could you give me a few days?  I’ll write down 24 steps to help steer you through the treacherous rocky shallows of parenthood and perhaps we could read them both together?”

Although thrown momentarily off course, the Parent quickly recovered and nodded.  “Yes… that’s fair enough.”  Secretly pleased that at least one pearl of wisdom had sunk in, the parent none-the-less had a nervous few days to wait before the child came back.

The child came back to the parent between Christmas and the New Year.  “Let’s read mine.” The child said, “Then yours.”  When we’re done, maybe we can talk about them?”

Here’s what they wrote.



Letter to my Parent

 1.  I have no frame of reference for your childhood

I know things were tougher when you were a kid.  I know this because you tell me, one way or another, all the time.  I know you’re toothbrush wasn’t electric and that you had to move your hand up and down to make it work.  I know you couldn’t see your holiday photos ‘til after you got home. I know you had it “tough” and that me and my friends are so lucky.

I know this, but it makes no sense to me.  I have no frame of reference for your childhood.  I can’t imagine what it’s like to not have things which I’ve grown up with.  Although the comparison of our childhoods resonates with you, I just can’t get anything meaningful out of it.  Just because I’m living in more comfortable times doesn’t make me spoiled and I hate it when you start any sentence with “kids today… ”

If we don’t break the chain, then I guess I’ll be saying the same things to my kids, so let’s kick this one in to touch.  And by the way, if anything I’ve got it tougher that you because I’ve got to contend with brilliant people who are paid a fortune to keep my attention firmly locked on my screen.  You had a tyre and a stick.  Please, drop the Monty Python act. (A reference I also don’t understand.)

2.  I’ll do what you do, not what you say

You’re the adult and I hate to admit it, but you are a role model to me.  Whether I like it or not, I am learning how to behave in life from what you do.  It’s important to realise though that I will learn mainly from your actions and not your words.

So, for example, don’t shout at me to stop shouting!  And yes, you havedone that, several times! Don’t tell me what to do when you’re doing the exact opposite.  Just think about it and catch yourself in the moment every now and then.

Equally, if you sing happily around the house then I probably will do so too.  Worry less about telling me what the right things to do are, and just be more like you want me to be!  Optimistic, interested, thoughtful…you can choose the shopping list.


3.  But, you can’t be too perfect

However, it also means that you can’t be too perfect.  Don’t hide allof your negative emotions from me; I need you to know you’re human.  I need to know it’s OK and it’s normal if I get frustrated from time to time and let my emotions show.

I also need to know that I’m getting the full version of you and that you’re not sheltering me from the real world.  This is partly because I’ll need to be at least a little prepared for the rest of my life and the anger and aggression that’s out there.  But it’s mainly because I need to trust you.  I need to know I’m seeing the real you and not some watered down Disney version. If I find that you’re a different person in the real world to the way you are with me, then I’ll have to start questioning everything and that’s a scary path to go down.

So be the person you want me to be, but make sure you keep real emotion in there.  It’s OK.  I can handle it!


4.  Don’t ask me to apologise…yet

I’m a child; you’re the parent.  There are going to be rows.  We are going to disagree on stuff, and there will be raised voices, huffing, stamping of feet and perhaps the odd slammed door.  I will calm down eventually and I will be sorry, but if you ask me to apologise in the immediate aftermath of a bust-up, then you’ll be disappointed.

In the movies, the child takes a deep breath and then gives a sincere “I’m sorry”.  That’s pure Hollywood.  No child in the real world can do this.  Remind me you love me, agree that we’re still friends and we can come back to the apologies later.  Probably much later.

5.  Talk to me – you’re the adult!

I love talking to you. That’s where you speak and I listen and then we take turns.  I learn more from these conversations than anything else.  I learn nothing from monologues and if you don’t listen to me I quickly learn to not bother talking to you.

It is hard for me though, because I don’t always understand all the words.  Nor will I appreciate all the nuances of what you might be implying or what I should infer.   But I love it none-the-less and I learn a lot from it.  Tell me about your day and ask me about mine.

My first response to your question will almost certainly be “Good.” or “Fine.”, but persevere and get me talking.  If I’m concise with my first response, its not because I don’t want to talk, it’s because it happened agesago and I live in the moment. It’s hard to recall even the immediate past; it’s all history to me!  Also, if I’m monosyllabic it might be because I’m hungry.  If in doubt, feed me.  That’s a good rule of thumb at all times.

6.  Don’t be too critical

 I know you are trying to teach me, but don’t correct everything I do.  If I tidy the room and miss a sock under the sofa, don’t let the sock be the only thing you comment on.  I know you are pointing it out for the right reasons, and I can understand that you want it done fully, but I’m just not programmed to see mess and untidiness yet, and I’ve done most of the hard work.

Why not, say just thank you?  And maybe once in every five times say something like “Oh, look here’s another bit”. I’ll be trying to make sure you I spot everything next time, honest.

7.  But don’t praise me too much

I know you love me and you think everything I do is great, but don’t tell me I’m brilliant too much otherwise I’ll believe it, and then we really will be in trouble! Although I’m young, I can generally distinguish between something that’s amazing and something that’s “pretty good for my age” so go easy on the absolutes.

Also if you keep telling me how talented and how clever I am, then that will start to become my self-definition.  I’ll learn to ignore feedback that gives evidence to the contrary and I may start to quit things that I am not instantly amazing at, because that will start to challenge this self-definition.  I’m too young to know what to do with an existential crisis.

It’s true, praising hard work rather than the results is better, but this too can be problematic for me. Whether we like it or not I’ll be judged on results rather than effort when I get to the world or work. Downplaying the importance of results is dangerous; I may develop a sense of entitlement based on my efforts, regardless of whether I am productive or not.

Further, over-praising may enforce my natural desire as a child for your attention.  This might turn me in to an attention-seeking show-off or I may become really needy.

Finally, please don’t hit me with a praise sandwich.  I’m not an employee and I have an instinctive aversion to learned management techniques!

I know this sounds like everything you do is bad, but I don’t mean that.  It’s nice to be praised for my hard work when I’ve tried really hard, and if you’re impressed with something (or unimpressed for that matter), then it’s OK to tell me this.  But what I want most of all is your attention, your interest and to know your support is there if I need it.

8.  Always be there

They say parenting is 90% showing up.  I don’t know if this is true, but you are my rock and my foundation.  Love me unconditionally and always be there when I need you.  Please.

9.  I’m different to you

I know we’re genetically related and we are similar in many ways, but I don’t necessarily share your love of cricket/gardening/opera.  I think its cool that you have real interests, but be careful pushing me in one direction or another, I’ll find my own path.

I’m also a kid, so things like slime and swimming through your legs at the pool, never get boring!  I’m also going to jump on the bandwagon of the latest craze or fad no matter how silly it is or how many times you’ve seen it before.  Fads are tied up with learning about possession as well as belonging within communities, making new friends…I can’t really explain it, but I want in, so don’t judge me too harshly.

Give me the space to enjoy my things and there’s more of a chance that I’ll ask you about yours.

And don’t forget my brain is still growing, so I’m going to go through risk-taking phases, boundary pushing periods and waves of introspection.  Don’t be too tolerant of my excesses, but cut me a bit of slack and give me the space to go through this fad/phase and then on to the next.


10.  I learn by repetition

Sorry about this. It means you’re going to have to sit through the same cartoons, films and songs time and time again.  I’ll have an endless appetite for Uno and even Top Trumps although we’ve never yet finished a single game.  This is what you’ve signed up for; it turns out that the wheels on the bus just keep going ‘round and ‘round.


11.  Don’t set unrealistic rules…

I know you want to set things up so that we all get where we need to be on time each morning and so that everything’s tidy and washed.  That’s great; I want those things too, but just setting out a new plan for how this is going to work doesn’t mean it will.

Don’t expect me to embrace your plan and “own” it and to be “accountable” for it.  Again, I’m not an employee.  If I load the dishwasher, don’t expect me to think of it as my job and to keep checking to see if it needs doing again.  Sorry, but it’s just not on my radar.  I’ve got slime to play with.

If you want me to do something regularly, give me really specific instructions.  “Load the dishwasher once a day after tea, and if it’s full put it on.” That kind of thing.  This way I’ll do my bit, but don’t put it on your list of tasks successfully delegated to the kids.


12.  I want everything now

I don’t have your frame of reference and so time means less to me than it does to you.  This means I want everything now.  That’s how I’m genetically programmed!  It’s a Darwinian thing.  I’m surviving by wanting things immediately and really badly.  I can’t learn delayed gratification over night and patience isn’t a virtue to me, it’s a foreign country.


13.  My friends really matter to me

Deal with it.  They are my community, my teacher and I learn from bouncing off them.  Don’t try and be their friend and please don’t be a Victorian parent in front of them. Just be cool, OK?  By which I mean chilled.  For heaven’s sake don’t try and be “street” or “down with the kids”.  At all costs, do not change your voice or accent when you talk to them.


14.  Don’t coach from the side lines

I could mean this metaphorically.  Get involved. Get to know me and my world and live in it some of time.  Walk in my shoes, etc..  But mostly, I mean it literally.  Don’t shout coaching advice from the edge of the pitch!

Just support me and enjoy the game.  I’ve already got instructions from the coach and I’m doing my best to follow them.  I don’t need two bosses here!  By all means talk through the game with me and pass on your wisdom after the game.  I’m not being sarcastic; you are older than me and have seen more games.  There’s also a different perspective from the side of the pitch.  So please hold your counsel ‘til after the match and I will appreciate it then.

Most of all, I don’t want to be the kid whose overly competitive parent starts a fight with the other team’s Mums and Dads.

15.  It’s never too late 

Whatever patterns we’ve fallen in to, regardless of how little you’ve been around and no matter how much I stare at my phone, it’s never to late for us.

This doesn’t mean to say I’ll instantly engage just because you resolve to try harder.  It will take time and you will have to persevere. But underneath my “am-I-bothered?” exterior I really want to reconnect too, so keep trying for both of us.  I’ll come ‘round eventually.


16.  Don’t over-teach me

Be interested in what I’ve done and ask about how I’ve done it.  Talk to me about it; ask me,  “What will you do next?”

Note that this is different to asking, “What wouldyou do differently next time?”  The distinction is subtle but I pick up on these things.  The first allows me to visualise myself in the future, building on my work to date.  The second carries an implied criticism that I need to change something about what I’ve just done.  This then reeks of teaching and although I love learning, I hate being taught.  Ask me if you can help and, if you can, think of ways you and I can build on what I’ve done and work together.

I’m starting to realise that you don’t know everything.  I honestly thought you did at one point, but I’m now relying on you to tell me when you know something and to be honest when you don’t.  I need to know what’s fact and what’s opinion.  If you bluff, then I’ll learn to bluff and make stuff up too.

Don’t get stressed if I hi-jack your explanation of something; I’ll learn far more if I complete the train of logic for myself rather than hear it from you.  And finally, let me knead the bread.  I learn from doing things.  I know I won’t do it right, but I learn by making mistakes.  What’s more important: the learning and the shared experience or the shape of tomorrow’s bread?  (Obviously, this isn’t just about the bread.)


17.  Not everything is interesting

No matter what you did at school, or what your job is now, I find it hard to get interested in the Middle Ages, or rock formations.  Cut me some slack if I don’t get an A in everything.

If you want me to do better, help me to find subjects more interesting.  Talk around the subject and give me some context.  I learn by building on what I already know, so the more landmarks there are on my map, the better I’ll navigate the territory. Be interested when you don’t know something that I’ve learned.  I love teaching you!

18.  My brain is complex

I don’t mean to lose my temper, but I’m not always in control of the cascade of thoughts and emotions which are roiling through my brain!  It’s a complex soup of neurochemicals and hormones in there and there’s no user manual.  I’m figuring this thing out one mistake at a time.

19.  Work is less important than I am

I know work is really important to you and I love that you are hard working.  I also get the fact that work issues are often more urgent than anything else.  But I am more important than your work.  Don’t forget that.

Please try and deal with your work issues and keep them separate.  Don’t bring your mood home with you.

20.  Teach me humour

Joke with me and listen to my jokes.  Humour is surprisingly complicated and I can only really learn it through trial and error. I get that humour is about acceptance and belonging and not everything has to be side splitting, so even “Dad” jokes are important for me.  I want to see that it is great to crack a good joke and that it’s OK if a joke falls flat.  It’s better to have loved and lost, as you’d say.

As I grow up, humour is probably the most important communication tool in my box, so make sure I’m bathed in lots of it.


 21.  Ambiguity is difficult for me

I naturally want things to be right or wrong.  School reinforces this – with every test I take.  So does TV; there are always goodies and baddies.  So don’t be surprised if I don’t appreciate nuance or grey areas. Don’t get angry if ask too many questions during a film where the bad guys are likeable.  I’m trying to figure it out.


22.  Be sociable

I love it when you have friends around and when you are clearly having fun.  Above all else, you are a role model to me, and if I see you working hard and enjoying life with good friends, then this is what I will aspire to. Plus you’re really funny when you’re relaxed and not being a parent!

23.  You and Me

I know family is everything.  I love that, but can we find something that’s just the two of us?  It doesn’t have to be a big thing, or something we do every week. It’s just nice to spend time with only us. It’s not that I need to feel special, we should do this with every permutation in the family.  It’s just really nice to have you to myself sometime.  Hopefully you feel the same?


24.  Be happy

If you’ve read this far, then chances are that I’m doing OK and you’re doing a good job.  Thank you!  We’ll have ups and downs of course, but I love you.  And I need to keep you on side, because I’ll really need your help when I have kids!




The Child and the Parent nodded at each other.  One slightly nervous and one with a lump in their throat.

“Wow.” said the Parent. “I must have taught you more than I realised!”  They both smiled at the weak joke.

“That’s so much for one day. I’ve got a lot to work on!  Let’s come back to mine in a few days”

“Good Plan” agreed the Child.

The parent held open their arms and the two hugged.  For now, that was enough.


Click here to advance forward a few days to Part Two