Dear Mary: how do I teach my grandchildren better table manners?

Q. We frequently have our very young grandchildren to visit. However it reduces us to teeth-grinding, stony silence when the parents allow their children to spend fleeting milliseconds at the table before galloping off around the room while we try to eat food which has taken time, effort and love to prepare. Trying to correct the children evokes defensive retaliation from their parents. We love having the family round. How can we tackle this diplomatically? – Name and address withheld A. Say nothing. The grandparent role is to love unconditionally and effect corrective behaviour by more subtle means than criticism. Tackle this with a two-pronged attack. Introduce them to food

The dangerous cult of ‘toxic parents’

Complaining about ‘toxic parents’ has been a viral hit on TikTok with videos on the topic racking up several billion views. Only one of those views is mine and there won’t be another because it was like peering through a window into a cross between a padded cell and a charnel house. In video after video, boys and girls across the English-speaking world – aged roughly 15 to 25 – share the trauma of what they’ve had to endure, courtesy of their terrible mothers and fathers. Many children suffer at the hands of the people who should protect them, but in this case what the kids find intolerable would, to

Rihanna’s Super Bowl show was a celebration of motherhood

Surprise! Rihanna is pregnant again. This was the big takeaway from the Grammy-winning singer’s Super Bowl half-time show on Sunday – her first solo live performance in seven years. The 34-year-old took a step back from her music career to focus on other projects such as her successful make-up and lingerie line Fenty, before giving birth to her first child in May 2022. Rihanna’s return to the spotlight was not met without criticism in America. Some Republicans condemned the NFL’s choice to have Rihanna perform due to her aggressively left-wing political views. Others took issue with the performance itself, pointing out that some of her lyrics and dance moves were

The hyper-competitive world of New York parenting

I stumbled upon it in one of the darkest corners of the internet: a Facebook parenting group. The mother’s intentions were pure, I tried to tell myself. But I couldn’t help feeling exasperated – and even a bit saddened – by her post: ‘I’m desperately looking for a Rubik’s cube tutor for my son,’ read the message. ‘He’s four.’ It was June 2020. The world was in the horrendous early throes of Covid-19. Governments were struggling to contain the virus. Researchers were working around the clock to churn out a vaccine. Millions had already lost their jobs and their health. Millions more would lose their lives in due course. And

As children go back to school it’s parents who need lessons

Britain’s children go back to school this week. But after months of chatter about grade inflation and the harmful effects of lockdown on learning, is it parenting, rather than schooling, that actually needs attention? New polling reveals that one in ten younger parents think it’s down to someone else to teach their pre-school children to speak. Dig a little deeper and this number doubles to almost a fifth for the very poorest parents. Getting the basics right is seen as someone else’s job. Too many children fall behind before they have even started school. Many never catch up. By the time they leave school, children from the poorest backgrounds are

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,

Parents must resist Stonewall’s gospel

I think by now it’s becoming horribly apparent to parents of every political persuasion that we can’t sit out the culture wars. You might call yourself progressive, loathe the Tories, but still… the ideological tide is rising, and when it laps at your own child’s feet, everything changes. It becomes impossible to ignore the fact that gender activism these days isn’t about gay rights or even trans rights, it’s not about being inclusive, it’s about presenting utter nonsense as plain fact. A generation of children are being fed a distorted version of reality. In particular they’re told that there’s no such thing as biological sex, that there are no born

What really happened when my wife left me in charge

I’m currently standing at the top of Brownie Point Mountain, having spent the past two weeks looking after our three sons while Caroline has been sunning herself in Barbados. I’ve been cooking, cleaning, washing – you name it. As if that weren’t heroic enough, I spent the previous week with our 18-year-old daughter in Mexico City helping her find a flat and a job. In other words, I’ve had no help from Caroline for three straight weeks. I feel so virtuous, I’m almost tempted to throw myself off said mountain. A place in heaven would be guaranteed. I daresay some women reading this will be thinking: ‘Why should you get

Why Chinese women don’t want more children

Years after my mother and I left China, I found out the real reason why. A neighbour had reported my mother for being pregnant with her second child. She was paid a visit by local officials who gave her a choice: she could either take herself to the abortion clinic or they’d take her there themselves. She chose a third option: to move to London to join her husband, who was working in the UK. In August 2004, when six months pregnant, she left her family and friends behind in Nanjing. My brother was born later that year in Kingston Hospital. Other families weren’t so lucky. Beijing demographers were concerned

Bad news, Boris – childcare has cost me £500,000 (and counting)

Has Boris Johnson only just discovered the ruinous cost of childcare in this country? He has, allegedly, been seeking a rich donor to pay for a nanny for his one-year-old son Wilfred. What’s surprising is not that the Prime Minister has apparently told friends he needs £300,000 a year to keep on top of his outgoings (life gets expensive when you have multiple dependents and properties), but that he has only now realised the cost of finding someone to look after his son. And how even a dual-income couple will struggle. Especially in London. I should know: I have been paying for full-time childcare for almost 14 years. For the

A meditation on everyday life: Early Morning Riser, by Katherine Heiny, reviewed

There were many moments in Early Morning Riser that made me laugh out loud in recognition. An episode where the main character, Jane, coaxes a wailing child to the car with marshmallows and milk after ‘a temper tantrum so severe that it might have qualified as a psychotic break’ so precisely pinpoints the absurdity of life with small children that it is hard to know whether to laugh or wince. ‘Patrice took a sip and yelled, Kalt! Apparently she had returned from psychosis speaking German.’ Yet Katherine Heiny’s new novel isn’t so much about parenting or marriage (a common target of her merciless yet affectionate wit) as it is a

I never considered sending my daughter to boarding school – until the pandemic hit

Last summer, we joined the sharp-elbowed ‘exodus’ that saw demand for places at independent schools increase by up to 30 per cent. We were guilty, according to the Observer, of creating ‘an even larger divide between affluent and disadvantaged pupils’. Not to be out (middle) classed, we went one better, enrolling our 15-year-old daughter as a boarder. Home for the holidays, she so animatedly regaled us with her experiences that we might have smugly congratulated ourselves on our selfless financial sacrifice were it not for one qualification: ‘But I’d rather be here, with you.’ We’d never countenanced boarding. The derisory online provision of her state grammar throughout lockdown was a

Cindy Yu

A tiger mum’s recipe for academic success

You might have seen ‘Asian dad’ memes on the internet, poking fun at the famously high expectations of fathers from my part of the world. ‘You Asian, not B-sian,’ he says in one version. Or: ‘After homework, you can play… the piano.’ My personal favourite is a picture of a crying Chinese girl saying: ‘I only got 99 per cent in test. What do I tell my parents?’ Her father’s reply: ‘What parents?’ Much of Asian parenting is laser-targeted at getting into a top-tier university: Peking or Tsinghua would do in China; Ivy League or Oxbridge abroad. The last certainly brings its own challenges: how is an Asian teenager to

The moral debate over Covid jabs for children

Israel has the world’s attention, becoming the first country to achieve mass vaccination. What it does now may be followed worldwide. The first big development has been the use of immunity ID cards which give vaccinated Israelis access to gyms, indoor restaurants and — soon — holidays in Greece. Britain is preparing to follow suit, with Michael Gove considering UK vaccine certificates ahead of the great unlocking on 21 June. He’s widely expected to come out in favour of IDs in some form. But the other idea attracting interest in Whitehall is Israel’s plan to vaccinate children. Israel’s deputy health minister Yoav Kisch has said those aged 12 to 16

Toby Young

The conservative appeal of drug gangs

According to the Metropolitan Police Commissioner Cressida Dick, the easing of lock-down will be accompanied by a rise in crime in the capital, including the violent type associated with drug gangs. Just last week, the police recovered two zombie knives, two Rambo-style blades and a kitchen knife at the scene of an attack on a 16-year-old boy in Brixton. But it would be wrong to view this coming crimewave as a problem that just affects London’s underclass. According to Sheldon Thomas, the chief executive of an outreach organisation called Gangsline, a rising number of middle-class teenagers are being sucked into the gangster lifestyle in the wake of Covid. Thomas rather

How middle-class is your dad?

Not all Facebook groups are forums for insurrection, anti-vaccine propaganda and rude remarks about Bill Gates. Some are just places where people talk about their dads. ‘Middle Class “Your Dad” Talk’ is a group where some 23,000 members share observations and witticisms that all follow the same format: ‘your dad is extremely specific about how the dishwasher is loaded’; ‘your dad judges others’ success by how big their kitchen island is’; ‘your dad was building up the courage to confront the postman about leaving the garden gate open until he saw he had a tattoo on his arm’. Mums are generally left alone. ‘Your dad is extremely specific about how

My kids think my move into the garden shed means divorce

I’ve moved out of my home. No, Caroline and I haven’t broken up. It’s just that we’re having the house rewired, which means we have to be out of our bedroom by 8 a.m. Ordinarily, that wouldn’t matter but about eight months ago I started a blog about lockdown and I’m usually up until 4 a.m. working on it. We have almost 7,000 subscribers to our daily newsletter and I want it to be waiting for them when they wake up. And superhuman though I am, I can’t survive on four hours’ sleep a night. I haven’t gone very far. I’ve stuck a blow-up mattress in the garden shed that

Lockdown used to be the norm for new mothers

I laughed when my Spanish midwife mentioned in passing that in Latin American countries they have a custom for new mothers known as la cuarentena — the quarantine. This was back in late February, a few weeks before my daughter Lily was born. I remember thinking it seemed not only ludicrous but archaic for a woman to spend a 40-day period stuck at home after giving birth. Modern mothers got on with life. I planned to do just that. I had invested in all the necessary equipment. The car seat was installed. I had bought the state-of-the-art breast pump which connects to my phone. My husband and I had chosen

The power of children’s imaginations

Last summer, in the bc era, I took my then three-year-old to a new group play session: ‘Lottie’s Magic Box.’ Off we trooped in the usual north London fashion: child on scooter, imperious and unmoving, hauled along by mother in the role of husky. Micro, purveyor of scooters to the middle-classes, sell colour-coordinated leads especially for this purpose. It sometimes crosses my mind that they should also sell whips for the pre-schoolers to brandish. The map on the event website directed us to what looked like an office block in a park and as we opened the door, any wisps of hope that this might be an uplifting hour of

In defence of modern children’s books

A few years ago, I was surprised to open a newspaper and read that the head teacher of a London public school had decided to ban my books from his library. He described the adventures of Alex Rider, which have sold around 20  million- copies worldwide, in terms so derogatory that I have no mind to repeat them. Suffice it to say that the article quite put me off my cornflakes. But the strange thing was that — once I had got past the sheer offensiveness of his language and a mindset that believed that banning books could ever have good connotations — I was actually quite sympathetic to his wider