I GREW up on You are the Ref. The cartoon strip in Shoot (and later The Guardian) showed a tricky scenario on a soccer pitch, and asked you what decision the referee should make. The correct answer was provided at the end of the cartoon, by an actual referee.
I’m thinking of starting something similar called You Are The Parent, to help people referee situations with their kids. Here’s one that happened in our place last night. There were toys all over the floor of two different rooms — this is on the low side, it’s usually three. My wife and I were whizzing around the kitchen cleaning after dinner etc, so I gave a room each to the son and daughter and told them to pick up their toys. They ran out the back to the trampoline when I said this, because I lost control of my kids a while ago and I’m struggling to get it back.
They eventually came back in when I said they could watch Oddbods on Netflix once they were finished the tidying up. (You’re an eejit if you don’t use Oddbods to control your kids. Mine are addicted, it’s the new sugar.) The sound of plastic on plastic told me that my son was tidying up his room; the sound of whistling in the other room told me my daughter wasn’t.
I marched in there, proper cross, and threatened all sorts. She replied it wasn’t fair, she didn’t make the mess. I said I saw her playing on the ground there earlier on, she had to clear it up. She said her brother made the mess, she was only playing with that mess for a couple of seconds and the whole thing was COMPLETELY UNFAIR.
I saw her point. I probably shouldn’t have, but I did. I think this is because in 1981 my mother promised to let me watch Man United against Middlesbrough on Match of the Day, but then the time came, she insisted on watching her Late Late Show instead. It’s funny how these little injustices stay with you.
I want to do the right thing by my kids. I know you need to be a bit of the dictator when it comes to parenting, but I don’t want to make arbitrary decisions and then justify them on the “I told you so” basis.
In fairness, my daughter is terrible at lying, but how am I to know she didn’t pick last night to start getting the hang of it. Imagine if I could just check the CCTV feed for that room on my phone and discover what really went on. It would bring an end to all the uncertainty.
Modern-day referees have VAR (Video Assistant Referee) to give them a second look at the big decisions. And that’s only a game of soccer, which is nothing compared to what’s at stake when you’re trying to shape a human being.
I’m not messing here. Parents use a massive amount of mental energy adjudicating on he-said-she-said squabbles around the house. When I was loading the dishwasher the other night, the two of them kicked off a “you started it” row in the dining room. I had to allow myself a brief vision of smashing the house down with a sledgehammer, before I was calm enough to head in there and sort it out.
My daughter is a Junior Hippy, so I’m sure she’ll object to cameras watching her every move on privacy grounds. We’ll see how that stands up in a year or two when she’s spending every waking hour on Snapchat.
So look, if you call to my house, try not to be too spooked by the Big Brother in every room. Because you need all the help you can get when You Are The Parent.