Lynda Hallinan: Anything that can go wrong will go wrong in the school holidays

Last updated 05:00 08/10/2017

Lynda Hallinan: Sometimes mums get sick and tired and snotty and crotchety too. And when that happens, the path of least resistance is the path I've going to lead my children up.
2499 pieces of Lego littered our floor. I stood on four of them, and vacuumed them up out of spite.

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OPINION: It's Murphy's Law of Parenting: anything that can go wrong, will go wrong in the school holidays.

Oh, what a week I've had. I've just wallowed through seven days of snot and self-pity, courtesy of a heinous bout of hayfever that progressed to chronic sinusitis with a side helping of conjunctivitis. 

If you can spray it, swallow it, sniff it or snort it up your nostrils (and it's legal), I've taken it this week. I've taken codeine to suppress my hacking cough, antihistamines to repel spring pollen, benzocaine to numb my raw throat, ibuprofen to reduce my inflamed sinuses, antibiotics to defeat the bacteria breeding inside my snozz and champagne because, well, it's the school holidays. 

I've been so sick that, on Monday, I seriously contemplated spending $24.90 on 25ml of homeopathic cough syrup. "Does this stuff actually work?" I snuffled to the pharmacist, holding up the tiny bottle. He looked at me as if I was mad, which I clearly was. That night, feverish and full of gunk, I dreamed of the resurrection of my dead cat, Mr Pants, and had to grieve his loss all over again upon waking.

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My husband, in case you're wondering, went to work to do important man stuff, while both grandmas fell over at the first hurdle (my mother broke her arm and my mother-in-law got bronchitis), leaving me to test a new survivalist parenting strategy on my two small, unsympathetic boys.

Here's what I did. Nothing. I gave in, gave up, gave them everything they wanted. 

"Can I have Goody Goody Gumdrops ice cream with canned whipped cream for breakfast?" asked Lucas, 6. 

"Yes," I said.

"Can I have a chocolate donut, a sausage roll and a bottle of juice?" asked Lachie, 4.

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"Yes," I said. 

I took them to The Warehouse and told them they could have whatever they wanted, providing it wasn't a Nerf gun (we already own a plastic arsenal). We left 20 minutes later with two pairs of summer shoes, two pairs of trackpants, four pairs of socks, a $40 bucket of home-brand Lego and two Nerf guns.

The Lego bucket held 2500 building blocks. An hour later, we were down to 2499 pieces, the kids having thrown one bit out the window. Two hours later, 2499 pieces of Lego littered our floor. I stood on four of them, and vacuumed them up out of spite. 

Later, we went to McDonalds for dinner. My children ordered Happy Meals with a bottle of water. And a frozen Coke. And a lime thickshake.

Back at home, I went to bed. 

"Can we play on our ipads?" they asked.

"Yes," I said, handing them each a pair of headphones.

At 10pm, they tippy-toed up to my sick bed. 

"Can we go to bed now?"

"Yes," I said.

It's called permissive parenting, and all the advice-espousing parenting books and blogs vehemently oppose the concept. In her Huffington Post piece "How to Set Limits for Kids Without Harshness, Fear or Shame", social worker Sarah MacLaughlin writes that kids need boundaries and limits to feel safe. 

"I am not a proponent of permissive parenting," she scolds. "Stay decisive, even when you change your mind. Confidence in your decisions is crucial and staying consistent in your decisiveness is way more important than a rule being unwavering."

"Children – and some grown-ups – often grumble as if rules were made by a bunch of spoilsports," adds parenting know-it-all, sorry, guru, Marianne Neifert, author of Dr Mom's Prescription for Preschoolers: Seven Essentials for the Formative Years. "Don't be too easy. Parents who are unwilling or unable to enforce appropriate limits do their kids a disservice. Rules prepare children for the real world. They provide a sense of order. They make kids feel competent. Trying to raise a responsible, cooperative child without age-appropriate boundaries is like trying to raise a goldfish outside its fishbowl."

But in the real world, even goldfish inside fish bowls can come a cropper, and sometimes mums get sick and tired and snotty and crotchety too. And when that happens, the path of least resistance is the path I've going to lead my children up. 

"No matter how often children act as if they want to be in control, having too much power is frightening," nags Dr Neifert.

But I've got an empty two-litre ice cream container on my kitchen bench, and a quiet house with two children building army bases out of Lego, that suggests otherwise. 

"'No', is a complete sentence," wrote the novelist Anne Lamott.

And so is "yes". 

- Sunday Star Times


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