Meltdown vs New Clear Parenting

The Meltdown is a modern meme, in that it’s a joke everyone laughs at and no-one takes seriously. A parent screaming at staff because they won’t give their child an actual crown is like dog shit in the street: an inevitable effect of someone careless with their bodily emissions, but you just keep away and step around it. Nobody else is going to get their hands dirty helping out.

The tragedy is that the meltdown parent is right: their child is the most important thing in their world. They just don’t understand how to use that fact. If simply telling people the truth actually worked COVID would be contained, our world wouldn’t be on fire, and “billionaire” would be a fantastical word used in a few poems about the beauty of mathematics. But screaming that your opinions are “as a mother” works the same as screaming at strangers about anything else you’ve done with your genitals: you sound crazy and they’ll avoid you.

The meltdown parent really is best explained in terms of nuclear power: the most incredible energy source available to human civilization but only if you can control it. You have to harness it, channel it, use it to drive what you really want to achieve. A good nuclear power station can run entire cities of candy stores and Christmas light showrooms, perfect lands of happiness and joy. But going into meltdown just poisons everything for a hundred square miles and makes strangers wince and warn each other not to get near that toxic mistake.

“Going nuclear” sounds like the most powerful option, but we’ve all seen public parenting meltdowns and they don’t work. Like the physical reaction they’re named after they’re an uncontrolled released of energy from a deeply unstable nucleus. Strangers duck and cover, maybe record it for the internet to laugh at. It doesn’t work because going into meltdown is the easy way out. It’s pseudoeffort, activity which feels like you’re working toward things without any risk of achieving them. Because it only requires rage and frustration, both freely provided by the modern world. It doesn’t need any thought, because that stuff is hard.

Dramatically unleashing lots of energy instead of doing the difficult task of figuring out what actually works is a child’s strategy, not a parent’s. A task so difficult it takes years to learn. So difficult it actually defines people as “children”, because they can’t cope on their own, and “parents”, the people figuring things out for them. The more urgent an issue the more power the baby puts into wailing louder and louder, and it only ever makes things worse for everyone. It’s like a CHECK ENGINE light shining so bright it blinds the driver, and turning so red it induces BLOODTHIRSTING RAGE right through their skull directly into their brain. Any parent knows this isn’t hyperbole, this is just the second hour of a screaming baby’s too-early-AM wail.

Now imagine how much worse that approach is from the parent.

So harness this new clear truth. You know your children are the most important thing in existence, and you’d level cities to save them from the slightest harm. Use that power to drive your work and play instead of a moody mushroom cloud. Enjoy plutonium-power pushing past bureaucracy and exhaustion to help your children, instead of skipping to screaming. Because a nuclear deterrent only works when you have it but don’t mention it. It keeps people from doing anything stupid. But someone screaming about how they could nuke anyone over anything, thinking it’ll get them better service, well now they’re the one doing something stupid. And everyone else has to avoid or stop them.

Kid Gloves over an Iron Fist

Escorting your kid is one of the few things more fun in the real world than a video game. Video game escort missions are annoying interruptions, saddling you with a stupid stranger who can’t do anything but get stuck against walls while you wish you were fighting with strangers. In the real world kids are the most important person in the world, you know they’ll eventually learn not to run full speed into walls, and only psychopaths actually want to attack other people. But you still need to protect and guide this adorable incompetent through crowded public areas.

The secret is that this protection goes both ways. Picture yourself as a Beast Master escorting your Fabulous Radioactive Diamond-Fanged Tiger through the town. It’s gorgeous, it’s glowing, it’s swallowed at least a kilo of plutonium. You want to protect it from everyone else, but you also know it’s just as important to protect everyone else from them. You are conspicuously conscientious about making sure they don’t bother other people, keeping them in check, keeping them controlled, taking every pain to protect the other people who are just as important as your kid.

This is a lie.

A useful lie! Which is one of the most powerful tools in the parenting toolbox. It’s surprising how many parenting skills also work on strangers, until you realise they’re both cases of “dealing with an unreasonable idiot you’re not allowed to just throw through a window” . Like any powerful tool the useful lie should be used carefully, thoughtfully, and against any idiot who even thinks of upsetting your child.

You know you’d bulldoze an entire shopping centre to save your child from tripping, but you can’t let anyone in that centre know it. Because nobody wants to be bulldozed, but quite a lot of people have nothing better to do than start shit with strangers. That’s the opposite of you, someone already incredible busy with the best person ever. So you pretend those strangers are just as important as your child! Strangers like this. They don’t truly appreciate that it’s the highest compliment they’ve never deserved, but they do seem to like it. Which avoids all kind of problems.

Remember: It takes more muscles to smile than trigger a flamethrower, but using them saves your fuel and keeps you cooler.

Idiotically Evil Eyes

In fantasy stories a child pure of heart can detect evil in those around them. Real children can do the same, it’s just that the signal for “darkness within the breast of man” is the exact same as the signals for “my nappy is full”, “I’m thirsty”, and “I want something as yet to be determined.” But you can use the same power yourself by taking your child outside, anywhere, and suddenly the deepest truth of everyone around you is plain to see.

The first and best in any grouping of humans are the happy ones. People smiling to see a parent and child, a friendly nod, a cute reminder of their own childhood or parenting, all kinds of slight but sweet social contact as the child generates a wonderful field of anti-friction smoothing everyone’s progress through the day.

The second and still brilliant are the nothings, because nothing means no problems. People walking past without notice, acknowledgement, or any other kind of interaction. Social neutrinos wending their way through the world without ever impacting any strangers, and that’s just fine because that’s the way they like it. If everyone acted like that the world would have far fewer problems.

The third, and this isn’t so much stepping down to bronze but off the podium and falling into a septic tank, are the evil eyes. Any parent has experienced these. The ones who glare at you daring to exist in a way which doesn’t directly benefit them. It cannot be overstated how much you haven’t bothered these people. I’m not a delusionally defensive parent blaming strangers for getting upset that their wedding dress stole some of my screaming angel’s cherry juice. I’m walking down the street with a smiling kid and sometimes strangers stare like I’m carrying their parents’ corpses over the shoulders of my “Bob’s Cheap Dog Food Deliveries” T-shirt.

Obviously these assholes aren’t a problem for me either. I’m over six foot tall and a hundred kilos so people don’t start shit for little things like having a child or mixing measurement systems. I have a whiter skin and smile than Count Dracula travelling with diplomatic immunity, and am just as unappealing a target for bullies. But talking to other parents tells me that many mothers endure abuse from these shitheads, dressed up as “advice” or “warnings” or the other kinds of wisdom some assholes think they have because they’re old now. True insight isn’t a smell of urine, you don’t get it automatically just by sitting around long enough. And anyone hassling a stranger specifically because they have a small child is the worst sort of enemy. It’s how Disney movies tell everyone who’s the asshole when they can’t be bothered to draw horns and a flaming pitchfork.

I remember all this when I see their angry glares. Which I traditionally counter with a grin broader and brighter than the Arecibo radio telescope dish in broadcast mode. And all I can think is: you’re being awfully snooty to a child for someone so much lower in anyone’s priorities if something goes wrong. Should a buffalo herd stampede down Oxford’s shopping street, a low but no longer zero probability given 2020’s progress so far, any emergency responders are going to save that kid first. Then any identifiable parents. Then anyone else who needs help. Then, if there’s time, they might hang around and dig out the dessicated mummies in case archaeologists can learn something from the fact their eyes have apparently been replaced with glinting crystals of piss.

The Tongue of the Tiger

There are a only a few rules for cute kids’ clothes:

1. smaller than adults

2. something cute


and the makers of this tiger shirt were so close to scoring that hat-trick.

From directly in front it’s a cute cheeky tiger. From any other angle it’s “oh god where are his pants.” No-one ever wants to see a flesh-coloured protrusion below the midline. If you’re the same height as the kid it’s clearly poking out of their belly button, but you also lack the conceptual capacity to have any problem with the pink poker-outer. But I haven’t been the victim of a shrink ray, magical amulet, or lazy science-fiction writer, so I haven’t been reduced to the age and/or size of a child. I’m always seeing this from above and the corners of my eyes are extremely upset.

I can confirm by experiment that peripheral vision does not get over this. Peripheral vision isn’t about careful analysis, it’s about hitting the panic button first and saying “You’re welcome” because you’re still alive later. It still hasn’t accepter there aren’t hungry carnivores just out of sight at all times, so it’s not going to evolve new behaviours for one piece of child’s clothing. Especially since, at the kid’s current rate of growth, this jumper will last for less time than some of the more exotic products of the Large Hadron Collider*.

*Which sounds ridiculous but is actually true!

There are very few circumstances where seeing a tiger tongue is a good thing. Even as an expert tiger veterinarian, a job description which makes James Bond look like a useless bureaucrat, having to examine their tongue is bad because it means the tiger might be sick. Unexpected tiger tongue is usually terminal: either you’re seeing a hungry tiger up close, in which case you’re going to die, or you’re having dinner with one of the really evil Bond villains who’s also a big game hunter who thinks they’re showing off by serving exotic animal, in which case you’re going to die AND there’s less tiger in the world instead of slightly more.


W “w!”

A “a!”

T “t!”

WAT “wat!”

E “e!”

R “r!”

ER “er!”

WAT “wat!”

ER “er!”

WADDER “wadder!”

We learn so much about ourselves when we teach. For example, I’m learning I have a hilarious accent.


Social media is stuffed with fathers trying to turn their own children into a viral success, which is only slightly more evil if you do it in a bioweapons laboratory. Idiotically online parents are an new renewable resource. So we should harness them to improve our own abilities! Let’s pan this torrent of idiocy to find golden nuggets of wisdom where they went wrong. Learn some proper parenting by watching the counter-examples of the BAD DAD OLYPMIAD.

We’ll only watch dads who voluntarily entered by uploading themselves. Mocking a struggling parent who was smartphoned screaming in the street is how you advertise it’s okay for Spider-Man to knock you into dogshit while chasing a more dangerous villain. You don’t know what that family is going through. Help if it’s possible and safe. Imagine what you’d do in their situation if not. And now that you’ve happily fantasized about being perfect, imagine what could make you act like them. Then start being useful by imagining how you’d deal with that instead.

We’re only looking at people who wanted to show off how perfectly they parent. And we will do exactly that.


Russell Brand, The Undearing Asshole

Pseudosemantics: Losing a battle of wits with someone who hasn’t learned any

Arguing with a baby should be ludicrous hyperbole used to show that something is a stupid waste of time because nobody would actually do it. But we’ve all seen parents do it. Sometimes in the mirror. I’ve seen parents waste half an hour debating a mud-smeared girl who just wanted to stay playing in a puddle. They whined and wheedled and offered all kinds of intelligent reasoning. She tried every word in her vocabulary to see which would get them to stop. Everyone involved was playing an old text adventure called “Parent Quest IV” and getting annoyed that none of their words seemed to work. But she was winning, because she was keeping what she wanted with way less effort.

The problem is pseudosemantics, a false feeling of meaning.

Just because something can use words doesn’t mean they understand their implications. I can train a parrot to squawk “quantum mechanics” by giving it food. that doesn’t mean it’ll invent a teleporter when it gets hungry. It just means I’ve Pavloved a pet to annoy Albert Einstein. Kids use words as tools the same way you can technically use a smartphone as a hammer: you’ll get loud short-term results, but don’t expect more complicated communications to work unless you take the time to teach better ways to use them.

Children are still learning how to speak, think, and argue, which means they can’t really do any of those things yet. They don’t get passive aggression. If you tell a kid “FINE, just SIT there and ruin your clothes as long as you want!” they think “YAY!” and wonder why you’re still upset after agreeing with them. They’re not refusing to get out of the mud because they’ve considered and rejected your counter-suggestions in committee, they’re refusing to get out of the mud because they don’t want to and sometimes you need to accept that and/or lift them. 

Just because someone is speaking doesn’t mean they’re thinking. Forget children, you can learn this from most adults. But unlike newspapers and social media, children aren’t screaming keywords to piss you off on  purpose. Children are still learning from you every day, whether they want to or not. They’re not arguing in bad faith. They’re not arguing at all. They’re organic ELIZA programs repeating back words you’ve taught them because it seems to work. Their brain literally isn’t finished yet. That’s why they have parents instead of housemates.

When you plug a cheap USB gadget into your desktop computer and things go wrong it’s not the little gadget which needs to be restarted, reinstalled, and upgraded with new drivers. The little box is fine. Not its problem if the “smarter” system couldn’t handle a bit of direct voltage. Likewise it’s your job as a carer to construct ways of working with the kid. You don’t try to use a new computer you’re building. You watch its inputs and outputs as you add parts and check they’re working right. You don’t argue with it.

Remember that extra scene from Terminator 2 where they flick the switch in its head so it’s able to learn new behaviours? Your kid has that switch on all the time and is even more relentless. In fact Skynet’s a great model. Pretend you’re teaching a cute little AI in a small computer in a lab at the start of the movie. You probably don’t want to teach it angry shouting, because soon it’ll be in control of every speaker in the world and talking ominously through all of them while webcams swivel in your direction.

Which is effectively true, because in twenty years your kid will either be the only one who understands how to program the holophonic neuraltron, or the only one strong enough to fight the barbarian raiders for the wind up music box. Either way you’d better hope their solution strategy isn’t “angrily shout at the person who doesn’t have enough brain to think things through at their current age.”

CyberParent: Bone Conduction Headphones

Most parenting technology works like fruit machines: promising desperate people that it’ll suddenly solve their problems but all they get for their money is flashing lights and even more noise.

Which can distract kids temporarily but causes more problems is the long term.

But two technologies I was promised as a child actually work now: virtual reality and bone conduction headphones. Unfortunately virtual reality is incompatible with children. Wearing a computer helmet to punch aliens with a kid in your house is easy mode for Skynet.

“You’ve been so well-behaved since I kicked that football out the windowl.”

Bone conduction is better. And I mean better for all of life, especially parenting. It’s actual factual cyborg technology because it gives the human head an extra audio channel. The headband work by vibrating the bones beside your ear instead of inserting earbuds into it. So you can still hear everything around you! The exact opposite of what every other earbud wants to do, and an amazing upgrade for parents.

Now you can listen to music, podcasts, or talk to friends while still listening out for your kid and correctly responding to questions. You can catch up on whole series while they excitedly move the same stone back and forth four thousand times, all without ever summoning an Offended Infant Who Knows You’re Distracted by pulling out the smartphone screen. You seem like you’re still paying attention because you are, you’re doing everything you need to, and now you’re able to enjoy even more things as well. Because that’s what technology is meant to do for us.

You’ll still need to stop the music to follow a full conversation, but now that’s a quick press of a button, not holding up your hand to juggle everything you’re holding, extract earbuds, then pretend to be even older by repeating “EAH?” and demanding everyone else start again.

They also work with glasses, cloth masks, and even a gigantic head at the same time if you have one like mine.

Despite all that storage space it recently ran out of ink

Glasses sit perfectly fine across the ear hooks, though they are slightly more likely to slide off if you invert yourself seventy degrees while pitching and also yawing to twist your head like a ferret escaping a pipe maze. Something most people don’t have to worry about, but parents do daily while extracting the Red Car from a previously unknown gap between the couch, bookcase, and interdimensional abyss of LEGO.

I can’t compare different headsets because I only bought one, and as far as I’m concerned they’re now a permanent part of my body. RoboCop didn’t gain as much happiness from his extra equipment. I tried the Aftershokz Aeropex and absolutely recommend them to everyone, and also to any genetic engineers looking for something to bio-install into the first generation of Homo Neo to keep them too entertained to destroy us.