Parenting: To Coddle, or Neglect?

By Richard Glover Published Feb 2, 2023 16:47:59 IST
Parenting: To Coddle, or Neglect? ILLUSTRATION BY Sam Island

 The youngest sibling in a family, according to a recent report,is often sleeker and fitter than the first-born child. While I’m with the scientists when it comes to global warming, the importance of vaccines and the need for dental hygiene, I must break ranks on this.

I have had children. I have observed the children of others. The only possible conclusion: standards slip with each additional child.

With the first born, everything must be perfect. They are fed a diet of high-quality vegetables and organically reared meat. The staff, by which I mean the mother and father,are in the kitchen night and day,pausing in their culinary efforts only to read linguistically challenging texts and to perform ethnically diverse folk dances for the child’s amusement.

Photographs are taken, almost constantly, recording events such as First Burp, First Wriggle and What We Took To Be The First Smile But In Retrospect Was Just Colic.

As the child grows older, a protective, loving and educationally rich system is established in which they are permitted to watch one hour of television each week, providing it’s a nature documentary.

Ballet shoes are purchased. Acello—a cello!—is not considered too great an expense. The first soccer game is witnessed not by one parent, but by two parents, four grandparents and an uncle visiting from overseas. There are pop stars with smaller entourages.

The child, inevitably, is considered “gifted”. It’s at this point that the second child is born. Standards immediately decline.

The hand-operated mincer, in which baby food had been freshly prepared by the kitchen staff, is never retrieved from the bottom drawer. Instead, commercially produced slop is suddenly rated“nutritionally superior—and so much more convenient”. The bed-time reading session, which, with the first child, had involved 50 minutes of funny voices and entertaining asides, now lasts the three minutes between when Daddy first lies on the bed and when Daddy begins snoring.

The number of photographs moderates from five a day to one every six weeks. A trendy brand of jumpsuits in which the first child was dressed have been replaced with cheap copies from the discount store.

Television viewing is still restricted to ‘nature documentaries’, but the definition of ‘nature documentaries’ appears to have widened to include The Lion King, Toy Story 4, and real-estate reality shows.

The soccer entourage has dwindled to one rather hungover father, whose interest seems to be largely focused on finding something to eat. And the request for a trumpet,in order to join the school band,is declined on the basis of expense—why don’t you try Mum’s old guitar?All this, of course, is just lumbering up for the arrival of the third child, at which point standards collapse completely.

The definition of toddler food has now grown to include a serving of nachos and some gnawing on the edge of last night’s pizza. This ‘meal' is served while watching a ‘nature documentary’—one that appears to involve Bruce Willis shooting at people in a New York airport.

The third child will be six years old before they are the subject of a single photograph, and even then it's just their right leg in a photo of the dog. They are dressed in clothes handed down from a second cousin,soaked in extra-strength detergent to remove the stains.

They hitchhike to soccer.They learn music on a kazoo.When it comes to table manners,the only guidance they are given involves the phrase: “Don’t wipe your hands on the furniture, that disgusting. Use your T-shirt like your father.”

How, given all of this, can science still claim that the youngest siblings tend to be the healthiest?

Their theory, should you be interested, goes like this: First-time mothers, it is said, are less adept at pumping calories into the kid when the kid is still in the womb, and so the proto-kid shifts its metabolism in order to store more fat.

This then becomes a lifetime habit, with the first-borns waddling around trying to keep up with their sleeker, younger siblings.What nonsense.

Here’s my alternative theory: The younger ones, having grown up with parents oblivious to their welfare,are now living a life so dissolute they don’t have time to put on weight.

Offer them a home-cooked meal and they’ll decline—they’d rather go outside and smoke a cigarette.

Or maybe, just maybe, humansare like grapevines. The best wineoften comes from grapes planted instony soil and starved of water. They thrive on the neglect. The grapes are smaller, but more powerful, filledwith flavour. And that may be the story of the fit, slim, and intense younger siblings.

I’d like to prove my various theories by showing you photographs of these later-born children,recording the circumstances of their childhood and adolescence. What a shame that there appear to be none in existence.

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