The Frog Pyjamas

Two mums, one blog, two takes on parenting


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Parenting in dark times

With my more direct hat on, I’d call this post: ‘How to be a good parent when the world is turning to sh*t.’

My girls are still small, so I didn’t face the immediate challenge many parents did on November 9. I didn’t have to explain to them what the hell had just happened or why Daddy and I were using quite so many bad words. Nor did I have to tell them why we and a group of fellow parents were drinking too much and boycotting all media last Friday night. (On June 24, I did try to tell Little A – in three-year-old-friendly terms – why I wasn’t at my best. However, her only response was to demand a snack, so it seems safe to assume she didn’t grasp my real opinion of Brexit.)

But as I ask myself how I’m going to bring my daughters up – as I stare into the gulf between the world they look set to inherit and the one I want them to live in – I figure I have challenges enough. We all do.

I want my girls to believe in human equality regardless of race or religion: to believe in it at so deep a level that they don’t even have think about believing it. I want them to empathise with refugees as desperate fellow human beings, not fear them as a rabid alien force hell-bent on stealing jobs and bombing cities. Yes, Theresa, I want my daughters to be citizens of the world and proud of it.

How do I teach them these things when it seems to have become OK to be openly racist? When being anti-Muslim can get you, oh, all the way to the White House. When there are violent attacks on Poles living in the UK? When some of my own friends and colleagues have been verbally abused for not being British? I want to bring up compassionate, loving human beings, but there is so much that will teach them to hate.

I also want to bring up confident women. I want it never even to occur to my girls that they aren’t as good as boys. I want them to value themselves for themselves. I want them to grasp the future with ambition and confidence. How can I do that when the newly appointed ‘leader of the free world’ has been caught on video boasting of serial groping? (FFS: his idea of a compliment to his own daughter is to say that if she weren’t his daughter, he might be dating her.) How can they not see this as a man’s world when that same self-proclaimed ‘grabber of pussies’ has just signed a bill to jeopardise women’s reproductive rights and put their lives at risk across the globe?

How can I look forward to the future for my children – let alone their children – when the life that people like me have been living for generations has comprehensively screwed up the planet? When for one major step forward (Paris climate deal), we have another lurch back into the fossil fuel dark ages. (Yep, him again. That man with the terrifying politics.) How do I – how can I – explain that to them?

Of course, I’m writing this from a position of massive advantage: even having time and scope to ponder these dilemmas, in itself, a kind of luxury. I know parents across the world are struggling to bring up their children in war zones or in famine. I cannot imagine the terror they face. Even in this country, there are mothers and fathers struggling to put meals on the table. When I kiss my girls goodnight, I’m not worrying about whether I can feed them tomorrow or whether our home will be taken out by a bomb. I know how lucky that makes me. But these concerns of mine are real, for all that.

So this is what I think I should do. Since this is one of the rare occasions when my professional life (as a climate ethicist) gives me some kind of claim to know what I’m taking about in this blog, I’ll go further: this is what I think we, as parents, should do.

We shouldn’t accept this bleak future. We had our children, so we owe it to them to leave them a decent society and a planet which hasn’t been totally trashed. Start with climate change. We can fight for our children by acting together. Marching, lobbying, petitioning, giving to environmental causes, supporting renewables, joining global movements for action. Locally, nationally, globally. We can show our own commitment to that change by changing what we do ourselves. (Drive less, fly less, use renewable energy, eat less meat and dairy. Etc.) Yes, many parents are short on spare cash – let alone spare time – but there’s almost always going to be something you can do.

And think about it this way: there are an awful lot of parents out there. That’s a lot of voters, a lot of consumers, a lot of potential givers to charity, or signers-up to living sustainably. If we used the voice we have together (Mumsnet, any takers?) maybe someone would listen.

If we think we should bring up our children to care about other people and the world they live in, that doesn’t change just because the ‘bad guys’ are in charge. It makes it more urgent. If society will tell our children that it’s acceptable – even patriotic – to be racist, or that women shouldn’t be presumptuous enough to want control over their own bodies, we have to keep on telling them otherwise, louder. And showing them. If we want them to grow up as strong women or as men who respect women, we have to be the strong female role model they need, or the male feminist. If we want them to be compassionate, we should make sure they see us having the courage of our convictions: supporting the victims of violence or discrimination, helping refugees, donating to food banks, campaigning for change.

And of course, we have to do all this without scaring them with too many of the dismal facts, too early. They need space to be children, too, and to grow up at their own pace.

So it’s a tall order. But it’s not all bleak, the picture we have to show our children. Yes, those who are old enough to understand will have to know about Trump, about UKIP, about institutionalised climate change denial, xenophobia, and sexism. But we can point them to the Earth2Trump movement, to the ‘Bridges not Walls’ and ‘Love Trumps Hope’ banners all over the world last Friday, to those who have opened their homes to refugees, to the Women’s Rights Marches and their vocal, visible support from women and men. Yes, too many mothers had to explain to their daughters how a man with no experience and horrifying opinions won the presidency over a much better qualified woman. But they could also have reminded them of the many great female role models and success stories out there, from politicians to activists, sportswomen to scientists.

We should also remember that we have a huge resource in our hands, as parents. Our children are not only the people who will live in this un-brave new world: they are the ones who will, in a generation’s time, be reshaping it. We are bringing up the citizens of the future: the ones who will hopefully do a better job than we have. As well as being scared, maybe we should be a bit excited by that.

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Educating not fat-shaming: parenting and body image

“Mummy, are you fat?”
“Er- I don’t know. Do you think I am?”
“Yes.”

And so my daughter, aged nearly three, moved effortlessly into the world of female body preoccupation. (In terms of tact, though, she takes after her father.) Reading about the influence of childhood on body image, I’m now wondering how worried I should be.

Apparently, if we call our daughters fat, they are more likely to grow up with body image problems, whatever their size. Well, duh. But they are also less likely to have a “healthy” BMI, making such comments as ineffective as they are unkind. Other research warns us that trying to control our children’s diet, commenting at all – even positively – on their weight, or otherwise encouraging them to pursue thinness, could be setting them up for a future of insecurity. That’s for girls and boys.

So we need to be careful what we say. I hope it’s obvious that you don’t make disparaging comments about your child’s weight once they’re old enough to understand. (And certainly not when they’re an impressionable adolescent.) But beyond that, I’m not quite sure what we should be doing, or just how early all this starts.

Am I wrong to exclaim over the delicious chunkiness of our younger daughter, aged nearly 11 months? Should T. and stop referring to her (adoringly) as the “small fat one”? I can’t imagine it’ll harm her – we’ll stop before she knows what we are saying – but are we sending the wrong message to her big sister? Or is it OK because we’re countering the prevailing thin-is-best mentality? (“I’m kissing her chubby little arm,” Little A. announced the other day, cutely but – in light of this research – disconcertingly.)

I’m also stuck on how not to control my children’s diet in a bad way, whilst also doing all the things I’m supposed to be doing to control it. Because let’s not forget that other thing we are always reminded to worry about: childhood obesity. Of course, we can make sure we provide mostly healthy food, don’t make a big deal about the odd biscuit, and encourage our boys and girls to enjoy running, jumping, and generally rampaging. But I need to be able to explain myself when my daughter wants chocolate buttons every night instead of broccoli, and I don’t give them to her.

I get that, “Don’t eat that, it’ll turn you into a porker”, is out, but what about: “It’s bad for you to eat too much of that”? According to one researcher, that’s out too. Which seems very limiting. Of course we shouldn’t tell our children to be thin, but presumably we can and must encourage them to be healthy, and that’s got to involve some education about different foods.

I could always imitate a couple of my friends and appeal directly to the effects (positive or negative) of certain foods, in a non-weight related way. “Eat this fish, it’ll make you clever.” “No, you can’t have that drink. The sweeteners always make you behave like a maniac.” Etc. I’m also hoping that teaching my girls to enjoy cooking food as well as eating it is a positive thing: part of making it a legitimate pleasure. But it’s always going to be a balancing act.

Then there’s the still more difficult task of policing what others say. Can we? Should we? Of course, if they are actually offering insults, or waving pictures of Lindsey Lohan around and asking, “Don’t you want to look like that?” But what about the family friend who mock-stumbles and says, “Oh, aren’t you getting heavy?” as they throw your child into the air? It’s meant jokingly, even affectionately, but I wonder how young is too old to say that to a child.

Perhaps I’m wrong, but this troubles me especially for girls, scarily high proportions of whom already worry about their size. It can’t take long for our daughters to pick up that “You’ve lost weight,” is pretty much the ultimate compliment in the adult female world. Or that they never hear their mothers telling each other that they look great because they’ve put weight on.

Which brings me, of course, to the real challenge. It’s not just about what we and those around us say to our children. It’s not even just about what we do (or don’t) encourage them to do. It’s also about what they see us doing, and hear us saying to one another.  If we constantly comment on our own and each other’s weight, if we spend our lives dieting, we’re setting them up for body insecurity. And, hopefully, if we enjoy a range of food, exercise, and generally don’t make a thing of it, then they will have a better chance of following suit. Again, duh. But that doesn’t make it easy to carry out.

I don’t diet. That’s simple, since I made promised myself several years ago to stop wasting my life on such a futile occupation, and reinforced that when it came to the baby weight second time round. But I do have some spectacularly unhealthy food habits I don’t want to pass on, starting with an inability to eat anything cake or chocolate-related in moderation. If my girls pick up my chocolate binges but not my love of cycling, they will not only not be thin – which doesn’t matter – but not be healthy. Which does. And even if they are, that all or nothing approach to sweet treats has its roots in a food-as-sin mentality that I wish I could unlearn.

So for me – as I expect for many mothers – demonstrating a healthier attitude to food means quietly re-examining some of my own eating patterns. But it also means shedding a lifetime of insidious little phrases. “I shouldn’t, but I will.” “Oh, OK then: I’ll be naughty.” “I won’t. I’m trying to be good.” All of which tell our daughters that food is something they should feel bad about enjoying, and so, almost certainly, make them think about it all the more. And which tell our sons, if not the same, then at least that that’s what they should expect from the women in their lives.

It’s going to be a struggle. But it’s one worth trying, for my daughters. For the record, when Little A. said I was fat, I laughed and said I thought I was a pretty normal size but that it didn’t matter anyway. I don’t know if that was the ideal response, but it was the best I could manage at the time.


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Nativity hazards: parental expectation and the Christmas camel

Two years ago, with Christmas fast approaching during the Heir’s nursery year at school, the following exchange took place:

The Heir’s teacher: I asked your son to be Joseph in the Christmas Play.
Me: [Surge of maternal pride]
Teacher: But he didn’t want to be Joseph.
Me: Oh dear.
Teacher: He saw the other costumes and has chosen to be…
Me: [brief moment of hope reignited – a shepherd? a wise man?]
Teacher: … A camel.
Me: [hope fades]

In fairness, the Heir embraced his chosen role with enthusiasm, and managed on the big day to at least appear to be in the right place at the right time throughout. If I had never before seen a camel divide its time between picking its nose and fiddling with its genitals, I was merely grateful that the latter remained inside his camel costume for the duration.

Similarly, when the Spare made his theatrical debut on the same stage a few short weeks ago, it coincided with a seasonally inappropriate enthusiasm for naturism. While all around me parents willed their little darlings to remember song lyrics and steps, I prayed that mine would keep his clothes on.

Having now enjoyed/endured (delete as appropriate) a grand total of four pre-prep nativity plays, I have a healthy respect for the hard work that goes on behind the scenes. No wonder the teachers look exhausted by the end of term – those twenty-odd minutes the children spend on stage represent hours and hours of hard work scripting, rehearsing, creating costumes and generally ensuring that everything is perfect for an audience of expectant parents.

The first problem these long-suffering staff encountered was at the casting stage: the Spare came triumphantly home and announced that he was going to be a polar bear in his year’s nativity. Intrigued to know how such an unlikely animal might be scripted into the traditional setting, I questioned his teacher who confirmed this was just wishful thinking on the part of the Spare. I wondered briefly whether his sheer strength of mind might result in a hasty relocation of Bethlehem to the Arctic Circle, and was relieved when, reconciled to the absence of his favourite animal, he chose instead to be a star.

Then there is the learning of lines and songs. As both my sons are currently obsessed with all things lavatorial, it came as no surprise when rehearsing the songs at home that they quickly replaced several key official words with base interjections of their own. Cue much sniggering and egging each other on to further excesses of silliness until almost every other word of several songs had been substituted. After many fruitless attempts to make them stick to the correct lyrics, I decided to turn a deaf ear and thankfully they were neither brave nor foolish enough to treat their teachers to their own versions.

On the big day, the audience were requested, politely but firmly, not to wave at their children whilst on stage as they would be “in character”. We were also asked not to use flash photography because not only would it distract the children but would interfere with the quality of the professional DVD that was being recorded (yours for £16…) The DVD creates an additional hazard the savvy parent quickly learns to avoid – being interviewed on the way out and immortalised on camera. The first year O and I can be glimpsed ducking out of the way, but we have now perfected the art of lurking behind until some other poor soul has been preyed upon then making a dash for freedom. This is probably a good thing as I am not sure my contribution of “that was hysterical” would be greatly appreciated among the misty-eyed “it was wonderful”s and “they did so well”s delivered by other, more sentimental parents.

Of course I do think it is wonderful and I am thrilled that my boys have the confidence to stand on stage and deliver lines to a packed theatre at such a young age, but thus far my overwhelming feeling afterwards has been of relief that they weren’t centre of attention for all the wrong reasons. Hopefully the year will come when I can just sit back, relax and enjoy the show, but I am not quite there yet.


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How having a daughter has made me more of a feminist

I’ll start by being clear: I was never not a feminist. But among the things that get me heated – human rights violations, climate change, the barbaric way we treat other animals – the wrongs faced by affluent women in affluent societies were not, until recently, near the top of the list. Yes, they bothered me, but there is only so much energy most of us can devote to being outraged.

Since my daughter was born, however, I’ve found a whole new fount of feminist indignation. I am reminded every time I open a paper or follow a link on Facebook that her life will be harder than it might have been simply because she is a girl. And I find that very hard to bear. What I accepted for myself, if not with resignation, at least with fairly low-grade grumbling – “yes, it’s crap, but it’s nothing compared to Saudi Arabia” – makes me furious, distraught, for her.

It breaks my heart that my bumptious little dot will grow up in a world in which teenage girls accept sexual harassment as normal. That she faces a future in which derogatory language and casually discriminatory behaviour are so pervasive as to have rightly been coined “everyday sexism”. Hell, one in which even female-named hurricanes are apparently granted less respect than male ones. (You don’t believe me? It’s in the Washington Post.)

Unless things change, my daughter will be judged by her looks, whatever she does and whatever she grows up to look like. She will be taught by image after photo-shopped image to regard thinness as a cardinal virtue, and by a production line of twerking Lolitas that sexualisation is the route to success. If she is like her mother – or a scarily large number of her mother’s friends – she will devote years of her youth not to reveling in being young, but to unprofitable and unfavourable comparisons of her own body with those flaunted on billboards and magazine covers; not to enjoying exercise for its own sake, but to one gym membership after another, seeking a shortcut to an unreachable perfection.

No matter how intelligent, how talented, she is, she will find it harder to get up almost any career ladder than she if she had been born a boy. Any visual media career would, almost certainly, have a shelf-life as long as she could present a pretty face and adolescent figure to the world. (Yes, there are exceptions, but they are few and far between.) If she shares the experiences of some even in my own profession – academia – she will regularly be ignored or talked over, with all the insecurity about her own ability that that breeds. If she takes time out to have a family of her own, she will risk (at best) a setback to her own career.

And whatever she achieves in other areas, novel after novel, film after film, magazine after magazine will tell my girl that her life is incomplete until she has been “saved” by that holiest of holy grails: a partner. (Most of them, for that matter, will imply that that partner has to be a man.) If she is like too many of the women of my generation – smart, successful women – she will spend more of her teens and twenties obsessing about her love life than she does relishing her opportunities, her friendships, and the start of her career. All this makes me miserable. And angry.

At the moment, my small daughter is wonderfully oblivious. She’s one of the most boisterous of her little cohort, fighting her male playmates for the plastic slide or baby walker, bashing her father on the head as he carries her down the street, escaping at the world’s fastest toddle from any activity which requires sitting quietly still. But that happy ignorance cannot last.

Something, sometime will dispel it. A chance word from an unthinking adult will alert her to the fact that, like it or lump it, there are different rules for her. I don’t know exactly when, but in a world in which even plastic bricks are gendered, it can’t be too many years away. It might even come from me, if I don’t watch myself, since I’ve found myself occasionally joking that some action or gesture “isn’t very ladylike”. It doesn’t matter now, but it soon will, and I could kick myself. (Her father does better, if only by virtue of his proud approbation for her loudest farts.)

So here, for what it’s worth, is my promise to my little girl. Of course I’m not going to cut her off from all the enjoyable and positive things currently considered “girly”: from playing with dolls to the life-changing wonderfulness of female friendships. But I will not let them define her. I will try, day after day, to contradict what the media, and too much of popular culture, is telling her about how she ought to live and what she ought to be. (And, yes, I would buy dolls for a son, if he wanted them.)

I will buy her toy railways, and proper, build-something-interesting blocks. (None of that pink, make-your-own-beauty-parlour abomination, although she’s welcome to enjoy the new female scientists range.) I will show her videos like this brilliant ad and buy her books where the heroine subverts gender stereotype (starting with this wonderful tale of a princess who rescues her prince only to ditch him when he proves decidedly unreconstructed).

When she gets older, I will take her career aspirations seriously. I will never, by word or expression, give her reason to believe that some paths are off limits because she’s a girl, and I will pick an immediate fight with anyone who tries to do so. (Engineer like her grandfather? Brilliant. Playing rugby for Scotland? Great, only let’s hope she hasn’t inherited my lack of coordination.)

I will find female role models to counter the barrage of Barbie-figured, famous-for-their-looks celebrities. Politicians, scientists, sports stars, but also the many talented and successful women that I am lucky enough to have as friends, family, and colleagues. I will make sure she always knows that my career is as important as her dad’s and that family life – that elusive “work-life balance” – is as important for him as it is for me. (It helps that he took some of the parental leave, and would do it again if we have another baby. Also that he is really quite good at hanging out the washing, and better in the kitchen than I am.)

If I can, I will teach her to eat and to live healthily, but without making a fuss about it. And by cultivating (or at least faking) a healthy indifference to whether I can squeeze into a particular size of jeans myself, I will try to counter the body-image neurosis that she will be taught to accept as her feminine inheritance.

I know my limitations, though, and I know them even though I make all these plans with the full support of her father. We can do a lot, as parents of girls. We can teach them to question the received truths that society throws at them from the moment they are born. We can do this in what we do as well as what we say. But we can’t do it all.

That doesn’t mean it can’t be done. Not all of it: we can’t change biology, as our guest blogger has pointed out. Our daughters, if they want to have sons or daughters of their own, will face a time pressure their male counterparts, by and large, don’t. But there is a lot they could be spared, given some effort at the societal level.

And that’s the really depressing thing: none of this is new. Much of it could have been written by my mum, more than 35 years ago. It’s because things haven’t changed – or haven’t changed enough – that I’m feeling so outraged now. We need collective action: from consumer pressure to end the sexist categorisation of toys (it worked with Hamley’s) to the kind of wholesale institutional change needed to ensure that sexual harassment actually gets reported, because it will be taken seriously.

And, parents of boys, we need your help. We need you to teach your sons to regard their sisters and female friends as every bit as brave, as worth listening to, as likely to be interested in building a Lego masterpiece or jumping in the mud, as they are. We can create girls who expect and demand more, for themselves and for each other, but unless they are to face numerous personal sacrifices to get it, we need the men who will surround them – the brothers, husbands, boyfriends, friends with whom they will inherit our society – to be prepared to give it.


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Comfort without religion: teaching my son about death

“There are dead people under these stones,” remarks the Heir, hopping merrily from one gravestone onto another. “Do you think the big ones have really fat people underneath them?”

Although we are trying not to laugh, my husband O. and I are somewhat taken aback – not by the nature of the comment (a friend shared her knowledge on this subject with him at half term) but by the apparent indifference with which it was delivered. Death has been a popular topic with my eldest son ever since the sad demise of his granny’s cat a couple of years ago, but up until now his conversations about it have been laced with some anxiety.

When Daisy, said much-loved cat, was put down, I found myself in something of a quandary. I wanted the Heir to understand about death, and that it is final (hence my dislike of euphemisms such as “falling asleep”, “passing” and “lost”) but he is a sensitive little soul and I did not want him to become overly frightened.

So, very matter-of-factly, I explained to him that next time we went round, Daisy would not be there. I was straight forward and practical, telling him that she had been very old, her heart had stopped beating and she had died. (Now wasn’t the time to go into the vet’s role in her death.) I said that although her body had remained, the part of her that was her character and feelings etc was no longer there. I answered his questions as best I could – that he already had some understanding of how the body works was very useful – and was honest when I didn’t know the answers. I skirted round certain areas, telling him a firm “no” in response to “can I see Daisy dead?” but not elaborating (thankfully he hasn’t asked) about the various methods of corpse disposal. It wasn’t until the aforementioned half-term chat with his friend that he became enlightened about burial and I have yet to mention the alternatives…

Once he had an (albeit childishly innocent) understanding of the concept of death, I did my best to “normalise” the subject. I drew his attention to occasional road-kill when we were out in the car, in an interested rather than a ghoulish way. I let him look at and touch dead rodents intermittently brought in by our cat, and he saw that these things held no fear for me. When going round the supermarket I taught him that meat comes from animals. He listened attentively and I thought I was doing a great job until he said “pork comes from pigs, beef comes from cows… what animal does broccoli come from?”

Inevitably, we came round to the fact that people as well as animals die. It began with his interest in genealogy. Once he learned that Granny and Grandad were Mummy’s mummy and daddy, and that his other granny was Daddy’s mummy, his logical mind brought him to ask about “Daddy’s Daddy.” I told him that Daddy’s Daddy had died several years ago, that he was a wonderful man who would have loved the Heir and the Spare very much. As it was purely abstract he was very accepting and has had some lovely chats with O. about what “Daddy’s Daddy” was like. (He has refused point blank to use any other name.)

What I failed to take into account was what he would then do with this information and the effect it could have on other people. One Sunday lunch, as we sat round the dining table with O’s mother, the Heir suddenly announced “Daddy’s Daddy is dead.” Luckily my mother-in-law is made of strong stuff and where a lesser woman might have crumbled, she remained calm. I felt terrible – but how can you teach tact to a four year old?

When the Heir asked me outright “what happens to you when you are dead?” I had to think very carefully before answering. With the exception of Father Christmas (I disagree with Richard Dawkins that it is harmful for children to believe in this particular fairy tale) and the occasional white lie (“I have absolutely no idea who ate all your chocolate buttons…”) I generally prefer that my children be told the truth. They are very logical and in my experience so far fabrication or even sugar-coating ultimately leads to confusion and uncomfortable situations. So I told him honestly: nobody really knows, but lots of people have various theories about it.

Religion can help enormously when it comes to offering comfort on the subject of death. However, although respectful of other people’s faith (as long as they don’t use it as an excuse for inappropriate behaviour or try to force it down my throat), I fall on the atheist side of agnostic, and am therefore unable to find or offer solace in the form of any definitive god, heaven, afterlife, reincarnation or whatever. I do not necessarily either want or expect my sons to grow up with the same (lack of) beliefs as me, but I want them to be well educated about all scientific theories as well as religions so they can then make an informed choice.

I left the subject of gods and religion largely out of our early conversations about death, but once the Heir started school I was no longer able to filter what information he received. Recently, we were driving home from school and I asked whether he had heard the thunderstorm that afternoon. He had indeed: “Mrs X [a teacher] told us thunder is God getting out of bed”. I am sure it was just a harmless throwaway comment, offered to comfort a child frightened by the storm, but nonetheless I was surprised. As far as I am aware his fairly multi-cultural school is non-denominational, although they do put on a nativity play every Christmas.

“How does she know it was God?” I enquired. “Maybe it was Father Christmas getting out of bed?” The Heir fixed me with a steely gaze, leaving no doubt as to his opinion of me: “Father Christmas lives in the North Pole, Mummy,” he said. “We wouldn’t hear him getting out of bed.”

It is hard to know where and how to draw the line. I want to protect my boys from some of the harsh realities of life for as long as I can, but I do not want them to be brainwashed. If I felt able to placate them with tales of comfy cloud beds, meeting up with dead friends under the watchful eye of a nice chap with a long white beard then perhaps I would, but I cannot pretend to believe something when I don’t. Ultimately, he will find out soon enough that Father Christmas isn’t real (I was disillusioned at an early age by a small friend telling me, apropos Christmas stockings: “I don’t believe in Father Christmas, but I do believe in mums and dads”) and when the time comes he will be sad but he will recover. If, however, I feed him comfort-blanket scraps of faith that I don’t believe in myself, his distress when he becomes disenchanted will be a thousand fold.

I was forewarned about so many aspects of parenting, such as teething, sleepless nights, potty training, learning to read and write, but this was something for which I was completely unprepared. For us, the whole subject is very much a work in progress – the Heir is still only five years old – but I hope I have done a good job so far. As with so many things regarding my firstborn, it assumed such significance: I had a perfectly innocent canvas to work with and I was desperate to do the right thing, seeing my responsibility as educating but not indoctrinating.

We are making headway – his grave-hopping comments prove that somewhere along the way he has started to feel more relaxed about the whole subject. Perhaps he has taken lessons from the Spare, who either just isn’t as sensitive or is benefitting from second child-itis, fearlessly absorbing crumbs of information destined for elsewhere. The other day I went up to kiss him goodnight and found him out of bed, lying on the floor. “What on earth are you doing?” I asked him. He giggled naughtily: “I am just pretending to be dead.”