Why Mummy smokes

It’s 7.02 p.m. and I’m standing outside my house by the bins smoking a fag. Upstairs, I can hear that my six-year-old is awake but I’m choosing to ignore her. How repellent, I hear you murmur. And it is repellent, in many ways. I am a smoker and a mother, hardly the Madonna and child. How can these two realities ever be reconciled? They jam against each other all day long, uncomfortably.  Smoking is bloody great. If you’re a smoker that is. Otherwise it’s just disgusting It’s OK, I tell myself, every single day. I never smoke in front of them. Instead, I smoke when they’re in bed, when the

Stop worrying if your child is a picky eater

One parent in our class WhatsApp chat raised a pressing concern: her daughter was coming home every day with a full water bottle. Were other parents faced with the same unsettling discovery? There followed a lengthy discussion of how much water was left in each child’s bottle. Some children, when confronted, testified that they had drunk water during the day and then filled up the bottle at school. Anyone who expects children to enjoy cooked courgette has forgotten what it was like to be a child This was not good enough for the concerned parent. She took the matter to the teacher. ‘I am concerned my daughter is not given

‘Childhood has been rewired’: Professor Jonathan Haidt on how smartphones are damaging a generation

Something strange is happening with teenagers’ mental health. In Britain, the US, Australia and beyond, the same trend can be seen: around the middle of the last decade, the number of young people with anxiety, depression and even suicidal tendancies started to rise sharply. Jonathan Haidt, a psychology professor at New York University’s Stern School of Business, noticed a change when students who were brought up with smartphones started to arrive on campus. They were angrier. More fragile. More likely to take offence. Social media, he concluded, was shaping their view that society is in permanent conflict, which in turn led to ideas about microaggressions and competitive victimhood. All this,

Matthew Parris, Dan Hitchens and Leah McLaren

23 min listen

Matthew Parris, just back from Australia, shares his thoughts on the upcoming referendum on the Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander Voice (01:08). Dan Hitchens looks at church congregations and wonders why some are on the up, while others are in a spiral of decline (08:32), and Leah McLaren describes the delights of audio and tells us why young children should be heard, but not seen (17:57). Produced and presented by Linden Kemkaran

The insane craze for dog ice-cream

During the few hot days we had in June, I came across my first tub of dog ice-cream nestled among the Häagen-Dazs in my local supermarket. Scoop’s vanilla: ‘Tubs that get tails wagging.’ My first thought was that it was a joke, or perhaps for people who identify as dogs. So I looked it up as I stood in the queue, and it was as if a door opened onto our national psychosis. Purina ‘Frosty paws’, Wiggles and Wags ‘Freeze-Fetti’, Frozzys dog ice-cream, Pooch Creamery Vanilla, Wagg’s Sunny Daze blueberry, Higgins dog ice-cream, Dogsters ice-cream-style treats, Jude’s, Smoofl, Ben and Jerry’s… the market for dog ice-cream is limitless and it crosses the socio-economic

It’s time to ban young children from restaurants

When you have small children just getting them out of the door can be traumatic. Finding and applying each shoe can be enough to provoke a tantrum – and not just in the parent. And no, they can’t bring their Power Rangers swords, because we are going out to lunch and everyone knows that plastic swords and restaurants don’t mix.  Eventually you will arrive at the restaurant, although it will 20 minutes later than the booking. As you push the buggy inside, the establishment falls quiet like the Slaughtered Lamb in An American Werewolf in London. There’s a scrape of chairs – a pause – then the chatter resumes. But in

Carrie Johnson and the truth about children’s parties

The email was apologetic in its tone, if apocalyptic in its content. The entertainer I’d booked for my daughter’s fifth birthday party was no longer available – she’d been invited to perform as an extra on Strictly Come Dancing, an opportunity too good to miss. I swallowed my surprise (aren’t these appearances negotiated months in advance?) but couldn’t quell the mounting panic that anyone who has struggled to source a children’s entertainer at short notice without remortgaging their house will recognise.  With no expert in charge, a kids’ party is simply a mass socially-sanctioned sugar-fuelled breakdown – and that’s just for the parents. Even with an expert’s help (I eventually

Why British women are turning to Danish sperm donors

‘Hello, my current occupation is police officer,’ says Dex in a thick Danish accent. ‘It seems very adventurous and exciting to do, and to make a difference for the people I meet out in the world.’ Dex is just over 13 stone, around six feet tall, has very fair skin and blue eyes. His favourite animal is the dog. Dex is also a Danish sperm donor, and I’m listening to the beginning of an 11-minute voice-recording on his profile. On the website of the European Sperm Bank, which bills itself as ‘Europe’s leading sperm bank’ and is based in Copenhagen, there are hundreds of profiles like Dex’s available to British

The purgatory of soft play

Are you familiar with the child-focused phenomenon generally known as soft play? Often located in the windowless recesses of garden centres with an innocent-sounding name like ‘Snakes and Ladders’, these are compounds dedicated to the frenetic, ergonomic joy of children – assault courses for mites, with slides, chutes, ball baths and various dangling hazards all swathed in gaudy soft foam-wrapped plastic. On paper, soft play sounds like fun: what could be more enjoyable than watching your tiny ones zipping gleefully down slides in an ultra-safe environment, one where there’s even compulsory armbands for accompanying adults and locked doors to keep out perverts? What’s more, it’s an environment where your little

What Miriam Cates gets right – and wrong – about declining fertility

Fulfil your civic duty. Get married. Have children. That was the message from Miriam Cates, the increasingly prominent Conservative backbencher, to guests at a drink reception earlier this week. In what even her fiercest critics would have to concede was an impressively bold speech, Cates suggested that many of her female constituents want to work less and spend more time with their children. She claimed that politicians belonged to a class that had been protected by marriage and family, insulated from family breakdown to such a degree that they fail to realise how important it is. Few politicians can ride out a Twitterstorm without some sort of retraction, and Cates is no

Will child-free flights take off?

At first glance, I wasn’t sure if an email I got recently about ‘adults-only flights’ was a joke. I’m a parent of two teenage boys who has observed with dismay the growing intolerance for children in the public square in recent years. But I’d never heard anything like this. So I reviewed the study of 1,000 adults conducted by PhotoAID, and while I don’t know how scientific it was given that it was carried out by a company that sells passport and visa photos, the results are striking. Eight in ten survey respondents said they want adult-only flights, and 64 per cent said they’re willing to pay a premium of 10 to

The rise of the ‘Denis dad’

Pity the ad man of 2022. Jokes about men and women and the differences between them are so very tempting, but can easily get a brand into trouble. Until not so long ago, the safest way to poke fun at family dynamics was through the figure of the incompetent dad. A 2012 American ad for Huggies nappies challenged five dads to ‘the toughest test imaginable’: looking after their babies solo. It must have seemed like a good idea at the time, given that the useless dad appears in almost every sitcom of the past half century. But Huggies was forced to pull the campaign after complaints from insulted fathers and,

The enduring wisdom of Robert Baden-Powell

I do not yet have any children of my own, but a large extended family means plenty of young nieces and nephews to buy presents for come birthdays and Christmas. Those moments provide an opportunity to indulge in some pedagogic guidance: I’ll be damned if you’re getting the latest Fifa game for the PlayStation 5 – you can have a real football to kick around outside. Ditto the inevitable requests for Nintendo virtual reality headsets and Frozen merchandise. Happily, I’ve got at least one Christmas present this year sorted already – and I’m quietly confident my nephew is going to enjoy reading it as much as I just have. Lord

I took my son to Drag Queen Story Hour

The nice young man in the library had told us he was worried about protests when I booked tickets for Drag Queen Story Hour. We only began to hear the chants halfway through the show; they drifted up from the courtyard in front of St John’s Hall, the council building that houses Penzance library, through the window behind where my son and I were sitting. They got louder and louder – the children started looking round, puzzled, and the drag queen gesticulated at me to close the window. It took me a few moments to realise what the gestures meant – I had assumed that it was what they call

The toxic cult of the superhero

‘We don’t need another hero,’ sang Tina Turner back in the sexy-greedy 1980s. How times have changed. These days we have Superheroes Are Everywhere, a children’s book written by the Vice-President of the USA, Kamala Harris. Puffs tell us that ‘the book teaches that superheroes can be found everywhere in real life, from family members, to friends, to teachers at school and college’ and that it is an ‘encouraging, uplifting book [which] inspires kids to recognise the super-heroes all around them and promise to be, like them, brave, kind, helpful, and more’. Those little darlings between two and five who have ADHD – as so many bourgeois children mysteriously appear

Parenting matters. It’s about time we were brave enough to say so

The Duchess of Cambridge has been out and about hosting roundtables with very important people, discussing what can be done to support the nation’s pre-school children. Royal aides tell us she consulted ‘the sector’ to find out what should be done about the children who turn up for the first day of school barely able to speak or hold a pencil. What ‘the sector’ inevitably wants is more funding.  Kate Middleton has become the first royal to set up a think-tank, the Royal Foundation Centre for Early Childhood. This week she summoned ministers, civil servants and academics to discuss the findings of a poll: it seems most Britons want a

Enjoyably plummy and male: Battleground – The Falklands War podcast reviewed

The Battleground podcast on the wars of the 20th century, said presenter Saul David happily, ‘will have lots of bombs and bullets but we’re also interested in other aspects of conflict: social, political and cultural’. He’s a military historian. His co-presenter, Patrick Bishop, went on: ‘Alongside the personalities, the battles and the technology – and there will be plenty of that, we promise – expect to hear some thought-provoking stuff that puts conflict into its wider context.’ He is a veteran foreign correspondent who has written lots of war books; I first met him in Kosovo. The opening series is on the Falklands War, partly because we’ve just had the

Letters: The hard truth about soft power

Soft ground Sir: We have heard much over the years from the overseas aid lobby about the value of soft power. Now the chips are down, we see how empty those claims were. Aidan Hartley (‘Russia’s special relationship’, 16 April) outlined how African nations have lined up to support Russia rather than Ukraine or the West, exposing how wasted the UK’s investment in soft power has been. The same applies to aid given to Pakistan and India. The absurdity of an overseas aid target of 0.7 per cent (of GDP) must be abandoned and replaced by an 0.5 per cent spending ceiling, at or below which the UK’s aid objectives

A question of bravery

Joe Biden announced in November: ‘Transgender people are some of the bravest Americans I know.’ When Conservative MP Jamie Wallis came out as trans last month, Boris Johnson hailed the revelation as having taken ‘an immense amount of courage’. Mr Wallis says that he was subjected to sexual violence after having ‘hooked up’ with another man in the autumn, which raises the question of whether the parliamentarian might be plain old gay. But then, nowadays being gay is dull. In fact, homosexuality having become a big snooze is one of this century’s healthiest turns of the cultural wheel. ‘There’s something you should know’ – freighted pause – ‘I’m gay.’ OK,

Anxiety is killing parenthood

Britain is on a slow descent to oblivion. Scotland is even closer to the abyss, with a birth rate of just 1.29, well below the UK’s sub-replacement level of 1.65. It turns out the answer to the West Lothian question is that West Lothian will disappear. Doomsday demography should matter, but Whitehall is in no way prepared to deal with it. New research published this week found that mental illness in early adulthood could account for up to 60 per cent of future childlessness. A generation too worried to have children spells disaster for countries that need to support ageing societies. Researchers looking at the populations of Sweden and Finland