It's all in the eyes (or how to master the 'hard stare')
Before you have a child, you have a vague set of ideas about the type of parent you’ll be.
In my case, this was shattered soon after the birth of my first baby - on the day I waved the white flag on introducing a ‘routine’, stocked up on dummies and, by the time he was a toddler, gave up on the purple broccoli and chickpea bakes and bought some chicken nuggets.
I regret none of these things: after all, I’ve got three happy, healthy children, none of whom seem to have suffered unduly from haphazard sleeping routines at three weeks old and the odd Birds Eye product.
But there’s one thing I do wish I could master better: The hard stare.
The sort of piercing glare that – when directed at a misbehaving child – is so powerful and laden with disapproval that they instantly cease playing up and start acting like the angels you know they can be when nobody’s actually looking.
I read about this a couple of years ago, in an article advocating continental parenting techniques.
French women, apparently, don’t stand in the supermarket shouting at their kids when they’re busy demolishing the wine aisle or shoplifting from the Pick n Mix.
They simply straighten their backs and give them the BIG EYES. That’s all it takes. No shrieking required. No dementedly trying to make yourself heard over their racket. The eyes are all that’s needed – done right, this stare is like Kryptonite in Superman’s knickers.
As the mother of three boys between the ages of three and ten, I have had plenty of opportunities to test this theory.
The first time – when the eldest two were having an almighty conflagration in Pizza Express over somebody demolishing someone else’s world in Minecraft – I glared at them so hard my retinas started squeaking.
It went entirely unnoticed.
Determined to be the civilised, authoritative parent I’ve always wanted to be, I wasn’t going to add to the mayhem by raising my voice.
So I kept glaring. And glaring. On registering my expression by this point, my husband was almost ready to call an ambulance.
It quickly became clear that this just wasn’t going to work. I didn’t have what it takes to do it the French way. So I resorted to what I always do i.e. hissed: ‘RIGHT that’s it! STOP IT or you’ll get no ice cream,’ before hiding behind a menu and slugging a mouthful of wine.
It’s a technique I doubt will ever appear in any parenting manuals. But it’s stood me in good stead so far.