One of those nanny programmes is on television, where an overly assertive childless woman wades into a family of screaming kids and shocks them into going to bed on time. Even though I'm a teacher and am supposed to be engaged with childhood development, I hate these programmes (the only nanny I want on my TV is Mary Poppins).
But I still find myself watching and longing for the time when the word "parent" was just a noun. In days gone by, if you had a child you didn't have to parent it as well - you put it outside in a pram and went back to scrubbing the hearth. Now, thanks to an onslaught of parenting manuals, media reports on parenting studies and (in my case) teacher training, we are painfully aware that if you don't fill your child's formative years with the correct balance of creative play and organic meals you've only got yourself to blame when they grow up to be a serial killer - or a banker.
Despite our best efforts, my husband and I are still a bit hit and miss with our parenting. We're at our worst on a Sunday morning, when, despite owning two small children, we attempt to preserve the sacred lie-in. Between us, we can deliver milk to one child while putting Postman Pat on repeat for the other without fully opening our eyes.
We do, however, recognise that this is not parenting at its finest. Meeting some friends for Sunday lunch recently, we were put to shame by the fact that, since waking at 5.30am, the family had consumed a healthy breakfast, completed several jigsaws, gone for a bike ride and been to the pool, all before 10am. Clearly, we needed to up our game, so what better way to spend the next Sunday morning than with a family swim?
It started so well. We managed to get all four of us up, dressed and into the car in well under an hour (although the house looked as if it had been turned over by MI5). At the leisure centre, we successfully negotiated changing rooms and swimming nappies, entering the water with two smiling, happy children. It was all so pleasant that we took our eyes off the clock; it wasn't until we got out that we realised our error. Just like in Jaws, we had stayed too long in the water. We had two hungry, cold, wet, tired children and they were about to blow.
The smallest one was the first to detonate. Realising that his milk levels were running on empty, he vocalised his concerns with the full force of both lungs. Struggling not to drop him, I fumbled the locker open and dragged out bags while using sign language to suggest to my husband that he get the other one dressed. Two minutes later, I squeezed into their tiny changing room to help deal with a shouting toddler who was refusing to put clothes on and trying to escape under the cubicle door. We spent the minutes that followed cold, wet and scrapping.
"I'm going mad," my husband told me in a brief lull. Picking my knickers out of a puddle, I had to agree. We finally made it back to the car, our ears ringing. "We are NEVER doing that again," my husband declared. "If they fall in a pond, they're just going to have to drown."
Next Sunday, we're going to put them outside in a pram while we scrub the hearth.Jo Brighouse is a primary school teacher in the Midlands, England.