London - Parenting, a child psychologist told me last week, is a series of successful failures.
Your job, she explained in a maternal and comforting way (she was that kind of woman), is to love them but always be in the wrong, to let them test their independence by rebelling against you, and to be the person they know loves them whatever they do.
To say I hung on her every word would be an understatement. “Come and live with me,” I pleaded, clinging to her ankles as she tried to leave.
Radio 4 had invited us both on to Woman’s Hour to debate under-parenting versus over-parenting.
The wonderful psychologist sat opposite me smiling kindly as I burbled on about accidentally finding out how to under-parent with my second two children after over-parenting the first two.
Under-parenting - when you let them discover the world for themselves - seems to work better for us than over-parenting, where you structure their days and never let them say “I’m bored”.
A child who has been under-parented might say: “Mom, look, I cut my hair,” while an over-parented one would ask: “Mom, am I going for my hair-cut before or after my extra Mandarin lessons/swimming/piano/circus training?”
Under-parenting is letting them watch meaningless American TV (Hannah Montana, I’m talking about you) at the end of term when they are so tired they barely know their own name, and over-parenting is scheduling their weekends to within an inch of their lives while taking pictures of everything they do.
I exaggerate, of course, probably because I feel guilty about taking no pictures of baby Mabel (she’s number four and, anyway, as most siblings are pretty similar as babies, I can always say the pictures of the oldest one are her when she’s grown up and her boyfriend asks to see them).
I argued on Radio 4 that under-parenting may sound the easier option (and an excuse for working moms like me to rely on when I have things to do) but in reality it’s the much messier and more time-consuming maternal choice.
The noise with under-parenting is of an “Olympic-Stadium-here-come-the-Spice-Girls” level.
The chaos of DIY entertainment means the house looks like it’s been burgled by a team of clumsy chimpanzees with hygiene issues.
With mine you also have to be made of stern enough stuff to watch the dire Monty Python-esque plays they write after three hours of being under-parented.
It also requires a complete loss of control and the ability to happily pick glue off the sofa in a non-judgmental, relaxed fashion.
Fundamentally, when you under-parent, you are their audience; when you over-parent, you are their director. You can be the master of their universe, or they can.
Personally, I think it’s easier to over-parent and ferry them from activity to activity than be in the house with them all day as they rampage about discovering themselves - but I’ve learned more about my kids doing that than talking to them from the front seat of a car in between swimming lessons.
It works for us. It may not work for you.
Each to their own (as I said to the mom who told me she’s convinced her two under-fives they are allergic to sugar and therefore must never eat sweets).
I have just spent 48 hours alone with the children (Mr Candy was on a stag do) and we did nothing. Nothing.
We made one trip out for sugary supplies but otherwise we occupied ourselves, never being more than about two metres apart.
Mabel, 14 months, learned how to come backwards down the stairs on her own, Henry, aged five, beat a personal best on his favourite computer game, while Gracie, eight, wrote a song called That Is Inappropriate and Sky, nine, made 18 cupcakes.
I wept as the Olympics drew to a close and I realised I wouldn’t see Tom Daley for a very long time. No one went to bed until 10.30pm.
We had fun, it was free and, apart from a few times when the children yelled “stop looking at me” at each other, we enjoyed each other’s company.
“All you need is love,” the psychologist told me earlier that week; everything else is a bonus.
What a relief. I really thought there was a right way of parenting, but now I am closer to believing there isn’t, perhaps I will feel less guilty about the whole process. - Daily Mail