The House Dad Chronicles: Does giving in to pester power make me a weak parent?
I didn't want to buy them and think it's an obscenity that they're on sale in the first place given that we haven't even done Halloween yet, but I had succumbed...to the Power of the Pester.
I never thought I would, swore I wouldn't. But either because I'm weak or too easy going (definitely not the latter, according to my wife), in the last few weeks I have given in to every last demand of my children because, frankly, they have worn me down and the fight has left me.
I simply cannot be bothered with the endless negotiation any longer and thus the word 'No' seems to have abandoned my vocabulary.
More time on the computer? Go for it. Another Cornetto from the freezer? Fill your boots. Christmas sweets at the supermarket till three months before JC's birthday? Get the three-for-one deal.
I'm wrung out with their demands for more this, more that, Johnny At School's Got One – Can I Have One Too?
Yes m'dears. Have one, have three, have a FRIGGIN' MILLION. I don't care. Just stop PESTERING ME. Now hand me that duvet and a bucket of sand. I'm going to bury my head for a while.
It's like having three starving wasps in my ear. Take my oldest son's birthday party, for example. Last year, we didn't throw parties for our two youngest children's birthdays. Shameful, I know.
One of the reasons was I felt that because they were both born in the school summer holidays no-one would come anyway. But the main reason was I saw an opportunity to save a fortune and a hell of a lot of hassle.
I've taken my kids to parties where the parents seemed so frazzled they've looked like they've been plugged into the mains.
They usually fall into two categories: those who decide to open their homes, and those who hire a hall. The advantage of the first is that you don't have to ferry piles of sandwiches, sausage rolls and jellies to another venue – and then ferry the piles of plastic tut aka presents back. And, of course, it's cheaper (unless you've hired the obligatory magician). The downside is that your home resembles London after The Blitz once the festivities are over.
The second option is just really, really expensive, really, really stressful and really, really not for me.
And until this year, I'd managed to avoid either of these two fates because I figured my kids were too young to remember whether they'd had a birthday party or not. But this year, there was no escape.
My oldest son had his 'official' eighth birthday in September (yes, like the Queen). I told him there was no point having a party then because parents would be too busy preparing to send their kids back to school.
"When then?" he inquired.
"Oh, later in the year," I replied.
"We'll have a think and come up with a date."
Five minutes later, he reappeared holding my diary. "So when, then, Dad? Shall we put something in the diary?" he added, handing me a pen.
We settled on Saturday October 6. And thus the Power of the Pester was ignited. What to do where to go, how to do it, who to invite, and the killer – who not to invite!
"Make a list," I instructed.
"Decide which three mates you want to take."
'Er, Dad, I have more than three friends," he insisted.
"OK, how many then?"
"TWENTY?? I don't know twenty people let alone have 20 friends. Do a long list, then we'll whittle it down."
His first attempt had the name of every single kid in his class, plus his brother and sister.
"Too many," I said, chucking it back. "Too expensive. Choose six, tops."
I was pestered into settling on 14. Next was the venue.
"Can I have a bowling party?" my lad asked.
I spluttered. "Do you have any idea how much that will cost for 14 kids, plus the party bags, and the cake?"
"Please, Dad. Please, please, PLEAAAAAAAAAAASE. Oh go on, Dad. Pretty pretty PER-LEASE."
And thus last Saturday, I found myself in a bowling alley, surrounded by my son's friends, muttering to myself how much all this had cost me.
But it didn't end there. As soon as the bowling was over, the kids darted across to the attached amusement arcade. And there was my son and several of his friends, looking up at me with Oliver Twist eyes, asking for 'Just a coin please, sir' to stick in a slot, never to be seen again.
Only one coin, became two, became three, became @%&$@* dozens! I know I could have kept my hand in my pocket – after all, I didn't want to encourage gambling did I?
But I succumbed once again to the Power of the Pester. Does that make me a weak parent? It does in my eyes.
In fact, surrendering isn't just bad for my wallet – it's also bad for my children in the long term, according to Philip Hodson, fellow at the British Association of Counselling and Psychotherapy.
"Giving kids everything they ask for means they'll always have a childlike approach to money," he explained.
"The effects of this may not be apparent until later in life, when they've stacked up debts because they can't budget."
It's when your kids start regularly interacting with other children - often from different financial backgrounds to your own - that 'pester power' really kicks in. Hodson suggests repeating the phrase, 'different families, different rules', when faced with the 'everybody else has...' demands.
"But be careful not to make your child a victim by being too different from their peers; we all need friends in the playground."
Instead of just saying No, independent financial adviser Philip Pearson recommends talking through with your child why they want something and how they can go about getting it.
"Discuss the idea of saving up for it - or at least making a contribution. If they want something badly enough, they will do it. If not, then they can't have wanted it that much in the first place."
Hodson recommends asking lots of questions about what it is your child wants.
"Get them to sell it to you, then say what you're prepared to contribute," he says. "For example, if they want something costing £50 in a month's time, say: 'Right, this is my offer - we'll stump up £20, how are you going to get the rest?'"
The key is keeping it fun, while teaching them that we can't always have what we want.
"Pocket money should be earned: I don't believe in money for nothing at any age," says Hodson.
Designate jobs in the form of household chores. "Don't be too critical if they aren't done perfectly," says Pearson.
"Praise is needed in order to encourage. Keep tasks simple and fun."
Also, sit down with your child each week to count the money from their piggy bank so they can watch it accumulate. "With young children, it's best to keep the saving period from when they first want something to when they get it no longer than three or four weeks, so they don't lose interest," says Pearson.
Jane Furnival, author of Smart Spending, shares her tips:
• Teach young children to recognise different coins by playing shop games with real money. Eventually, they will learn that once it's spent, it's gone.
• Teach them to be critical of what they see and hear. Discuss adverts with them and teach them to look under the surface of the glossy advertising sell on TV and in newspapers.
• Don't encourage the effects of merchandising by kitting out your child's bedroom in a theme like Thomas the Tank Engine or Bratz - you will only have to do it again when they move on to the next obsession.
• If you are brave enough, when a child has a tantrum in a shop, just have one back: "Yes it's awful isn't it? I just WON'T buy it for you." That stops them, as it's embarrassing, and they may resort to dragging you out or offering a treat to shut you up.
I know there's a balance, but I justify this new-found Surrendering To the Power of the Pester because for all the expense, I can see that my kids do appreciate it.
And to illustrate the point, on the way back from his bowling party, my eight-year-old said this, completely out of the blue: "Dad, I just want to say Thank You for my party. I know how hard you and Mum work. I had a brilliant time. Thank you, thank you, thank you."
Hmmm...what's he after, I wonder?