Making the most of a new life


It might be a comic, but it is not funny.

It is rant week on ChangingDad, and I’m getting those niggly things about parenthood that irritate me off my chest. These are not things that are, in the final analysis, important but bother me nonetheless.

Today I want to talk about children’s magazines. These are the things we get hassled for in places such as supermarkets, railway stations, motorway service areas and pretty much every convenience store. There is no escape from them, and no wonder considering the profits that must be made from them.

In order to make them more attractive to children, as if having their favourite characters on the front were not enough, they usually have some sort of plastic toy clamped to the front. When I look at these all I see is some crappy thing that is going to break as soon as the average child gets hold of it. To my boys they look like the gold at the end of the rainbow, the nirvana of their shopping expedition.

And so the pestering begins, and goes on and on and on. More often than not we resist the temptation to give in, but perhaps one time in ten we are just too tired or in too much of a hurry to go through the whole process of steering the conversation elsewhere; usually a reasonable lengthy process.

So we end up with one of these comics, open up the treasure and, more often than not, it falls out either broken or breaks on impact. If not then it breaks within five minutes of being played with, with predictable consequences, meaning that the discontent has only been delayed from shop to home.

I find this to be a very cynical policy by the makers of these products, and the worst kind of marketing. They play on the desires of the children, and they play on the fact that the magazines are sold in situations which are often stressful for parents who will give in rather than being embarrassed in public by their children. In fact the only playing that is not done is the children with the toys. We are played by the marketers every time.

Any trip through a supermarket with a child will tell you how effective marketing is with well known characters staring down from the shelves on anything from yoghurt to clothes, from birthday cakes to kitchen roll. A Lightning McQueen yoghurt will taste much better than a properly healthy one, and a Pooh nappy is much more comfortable than a biodegradable one with a generic animal on it; and while I find this frustrating it is no where near as bad as those crappy magazine toys.

In the end though I do not think that these strategies work as well as they could because, despite what the marketers may think, children actually are not that stupid and soon come to realise that they are being sold a pup (but that is a whole other story).

This is what really gets my goat. What marketing practices annoy you? Do you think that our children are targeted more than the rest of us, and is this ethically wrong?

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The ChangingDad 12 Blogs of Christmas: 8. Eve

The boys are now in bed. They have had a few presents and had a chance to get to know them and play with them. There has been much excitement with tearing of paper and joyous looks on their faces.

Then comes my favourite part. The bit where we put out the stockings, leave a drink and mince pie for Father Christmas, and go outside and leave sparkly reindeer food on the drive, and a carrot on the doorstep, and then persuade them to go to bed in their excitement: otherwise he might not come. Sure it is subterfuge, but of the nicest kind, and they both take part in the ceremony with great keenness, and I just love concocting a story for them.

So after all the build up, the planning and the suspense Christmas has finally begun, and it was very nice to sit down with Karen, have a glass of wine and open our presents to each other (that way we could actually open them ourselves). It was a lovely quiet oasis in the middle of an otherwise extremely full-on time of the year, and it was great just to sit and reflect and be with each other. Who knows how short the night will be, but I did tell Jake that Father Christmas comes around 8am on Christmas morning. Let’s see whether that one works.

Wishing you all a very Happy Christmas. May it be everything you want it to be.

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The ChangingDad 12 Blogs of Christmas: 7. Bendy Bus Memories

It is Christmas Eve and, along with our policy of spreading Christmas out, we gave the boys a present each to open up this morning. They both got identical plastic bendy buses. They were something that we had been looking for for ages, and finally found them about a week ago, hence they were a little something extra.

We had been looking for them for so long because Jake has had one of these for ages and had played so much with it that the tyres had disintegrated on it and he really missed playing with it. It was special too because my late Father bought it for him and he always played with it when we went up to visit. We would get to a certain place on the motorway on the way up to Grandpa’s and Jake would talk about playing with the bendy bus when we got there: he just loved it.

So there was much joy when these presents were opened this morning, and when Jake and Sam started playing with them we heard what turned out to be quite an emotive sound from the bendy bus that reminded me of visits to my Father, that fake engine sound when they pushed them and the wheels turned. I think this was the same for Jake who went quiet for a while until he started playing again.

This for me was a timely reminder of who would not be around this Christmas, reinforced by our visiting the rest of my family yesterday. We have now lost a whole two generations of family since the Christmases of my childhood, and my Step-Sister and I are now the eldest. Our parents and grandparents have all passed away, and it has always been a sadness for me that my Mother never got to see her grandchildren.

This is the second Christmas without my Father and I shall miss his jolly presence. When my nieces were younger he always dresses up as Father Christmas for special surprise presents on the 26th; he was in charge of the black plastic bag which collected up the packaging and wrapping paper, and did in such a way that made us laugh; and he made ridiculous guesses as to what his presents might be. Most of all he always made us very welcome and made sure everyone had the Christmas they wanted. It was never a stressful experience going home for Christmas; quite the opposite.

In this sense Christmases will never be the same again but, like our parents and grandparents before us we have to move on; and this year we are back up to three generations again as one of my nieces had a baby during the year and it is so brilliant to have children around at Christmas. This does not mean that we forget those who are not with us, it is a great time to remember them fondly. But who would have thought a noisy plastic bendy bus would have helped us to do just that this year.

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The ChangingDad 12 Blogs of Christmas: 2. Pace.

Christmas means many things to many people. But to young boys and girls it mostly means Santa and presents, an increase in sweetie availability, and a break from normal routines; and our boys are no exception to this.

One thing we have learned from our limited experience of being parents at Christmas, this year is our sixth, is that it pays to spread it out a bit. I remember when I was little there was a huge expectation that built and built and built until I could hardly stand it. I used to lie in bed on Christmas Eve under heavy bed clothes shivering away (we used to go to my grandparents, who did not have central heating, in usually freezing Northern England), waiting ‘for him to come’. There was a massive opening frenzy and then, well it was all over; and I did not know what to play with first.

With the boys we have a more staged approach over a few days. This began when we merged two Christmas cultures, Karen’s German Christmas of opening presents on Christmas Eve; and mine of opening them on Christmas Day. This year it seems to be stretching out to four days with my family on the 23rd and Karen’s on the 26th. I much prefer it this way and, I think, so do the boys. They get a chance to look and play with their presents at a more leisurely pace and, well, last year then both slept until 8am on Christmas morning. Here’s hoping for the same this year, it’s a very long day that starts in the middle of the night.