Dad's the word: We are Grand Masters of Empty Threats in our place

I threw a toy jeep into the general waste bin, where there was no chance of retrieval. And then the guilt hit. What kind of monster would do this to his own child? writes Pat Fitzpatrick

Bedtime in our house and Joe was refusing to play ball. For the third time in 10 minutes, he shouted from the bedroom that he needed one of us to come in because he had something very important to say.

This was a balls because we’d just flopped down on the sofa with plans to wolf down half a box of Snowballs. (You’d need something after a day in the trenches.)

The only good thing is it was my wife’s turn to go in and try and scare him to sleep. She decided to go nuclear and tell him there’d be no going to Billy’s party if he didn’t stop the messing. This is a biggy, because Billy throws a great party, for a four-year- old.

Joe’s voice came back from the darkness: “I don’t believe you.”

My wife asked why. Joe said:

Because the good things always happen.

He’s right. We are Grand Masters of Empty Threats in our place. The minute an invite to a birthday party arrives, we start threatening our kids that they can’t go if they don’t eat their breakfast/stop fighting/tidy up/leave us alone for 10 minutes to drink a cup of tea.

We followed this up a grand total of once, for an instance of First Degree Cheekiness. I don’t think any lessons were learned.

By the time the missed party came around, our daughter had completely forgotten about it, because the life of a six-year-old involves four birthday parties a week, so they can afford to miss one or two.

So, as Joe puts it, the good things continue to happen. And still we continue to fire out the threats. At this stage, I think it’s just a way of letting off steam.

In the past you could hit them, purely for their own good of course, but thankfully that’s not an option any more. (A lot of us got a backhander when a parent was just in a bad mood and it’s hard to forgive that kind of thing.)

So now we have to make do with the weak thrill of repeating, “That’s it! That’s it!” while we come up with some good thing that we can threaten to remove.

Sometimes we stumble on one that seems to frighten the kids. My wife had the genius idea of inventing Carlos last year, the guy who owned the Spanish campsite we’d booked for holidays.

There wasn’t a meal that went by where she didn’t reach for her phone and ring Carlos to tell him to give our mobile home to some German boy she’d also invented, who was dying to get his hands on our holiday.

Who cares that this has probably turned my kids against Germans and maybe Spaniards for life — every now and again it would scare Joe into eating his porridge.

And then I started Threat Stealing. This is where you take your partner’s best threat and ruin it by using it for all sorts of minor misdemeanours, like not tidying away shoes. A couple of days later and Carlos was about as scary as Theresa May.

I actually did follow through on a threat once. We went through a period of grabbing a handful of toys and putting them in the recycling bin, so they could be taken back out once the removal had nudged the kids into doing something.

Anyway, I lost the rag one day and threw a toy jeep into the general waste bin, where there was no chance of retrieval because it was covered in gunk. And then the guilt hit.

We had bought the jeep on holidays, it was one of our best family days out, what kind of monster would do this to his own child? I snuck out later, brought the jeep inside, cleaned it off, and put it back with Joe’s 200 other jeeps.

There is only one way to fix this. Technology. The dangers of the internet are nothing compared to the power of threatening to take a device off a five-year-old screen addict. So by the time you read this, my kids will have their own smartphones.

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