Knowing when to not intervene is a vital parenting instinct –

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It is raining. Pluie ca change. To banish the eternal sogginess, which seems to be the weekend’s default setting nowadays, a baking session is convened.

The Great British Bake Off is worshiped in our house by all the children (and adults too), but it results in our grocery bills escalating to alarming levels as egg whites, almonds and icing sugar are bought in huge quantities in an attempt to replicate some of the contestants’ creations.

“You need a coat,” I tell the 12-year-old as we get ready to go out to the corner shop to top up dangerously low baking supplies. “It’s tipping down.”

“I’ll be fine,” he says. He is wearing a T-shirt and flip-flops.

I, and the three-year-old are donning wellies and cagoules as if we were off to climb Scafell Pike rather than to buy some Nutella and unsalted butter.

“Well, don’t complain when you get wet,” I say, as we leave the house.

The youngest runs off down the pavement in search of puddles to splash in; I follow swiftly after, while the 12-year-old dawdles far behind.

Then, from across the road, I hear shouting from a group of children. They are calling out my eldest son’s name: “Hey! He’s wearing flip-flops!”

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There are about five of them. They are local friends of the eldest one, but very much the cool gang, including one who has already secured a (junior) contract with a football club. There’s even real-life girls, doing that swishy thing with their hair that they have just discovered at that age.


The across-the-road shouting, I can tell, is good natured, but I look back and can see that the flip-flop wearer is hanging his head in shame, rather than insouciantly splashing his way through the ribbing.

“Where you going?” they holler to him.

“I’m off to buy Nutella,” he shouts back.

“You sure you don’t need to buy some socks,” one of them suggests. Cue much laughter.

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I carry on walking, instinctively aware that the 15 yards between me and my eldest son should to be maintained. He needs to handle this on his own. Knowing when to leave well alone is probably a more important parenting instinct than when to intervene.

Later, in the shop — the friends having dispersed — we gather and I ask him why he’s looking so glum.

“I wish I’d been wearing trainers,” he mumbles. “When I saw them, I did a mental face palm.”

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Children now speak in fully formed emoji and iterated text speak — “hashtag fail” is now an actual phrase, rather than, well, a hashtag.

I try to cheer him up and find a silver lining in his damp mood.

“Was it right that I carried on walking?” I ask.

“Yeah. If you’d been next to me that would have made it doubly worse.”

Sometimes, it is these small parenting victories that make all the years of nappies, sleepless nights and trips to A&E worthwhile.