Responsibility comes at a price

John Hearne

Parenting is all about making your kids do what you want.

In order to make this happen, you have to construct an appropriate rationale. Eat it because you'll grow big and strong. Go outside because fresh air is good for you. Don't ask any more questions because the 'Why Monster' will get you. And so on.

But Annie is getting older now, and she's able to pick apart our arguments to expose the naked self-interest underneath. Last weekend I left my wife at home at the mercy of our three children. Annie was cranky and bored so my wife suggested she play a game on the computer -- just so she'd give her 10 minutes' peace. "Well Mammy" says Annie, "I've watched an awful lot of television today, and if Daddy was here, he wouldn't let me go on the computer." So she wouldn't go on the computer because it was the wrong thing to do.

So what do you do when your kid's moral compass is better than your own?

She is all about delayed gratification. If the two boys get sweets in the shop, they have them eaten, paper and all, before I have them strapped back into the car. Annie, however, stashes her bag of crisps away and waits until she's watching her evening TV programme before getting it out. This, of course, sends the boys doolally. When I explain, they stare at me blankly, like I've just talked them through the finance bill.

Annie is quickly developing into a third parent. During that same weekend, when she sensed that my wife was about to crack, she clapped her hands together like a holiday-camp attendant and said, "Hey! Who wants to draw?" Next thing she's bouncing between her brothers saying how wonderful their pictures are.

I know first-born kids tend to get saddled with too much responsibility. We've gone out of our way to avoid this. We never put her in charge. But Annie seeks out responsibility.

But she's no angel. She's after taking a real interest in the current political mess, and put together a manifesto of her own. "When I'm the Government everyone will get loads of sweets," she says. "But I will get the most."