At mealtimes we would all be together as a family. No matter how many times I was asked “Why?” I’d always give an answer. There would be more emphasis on birthdays than Christmas.
Nearly all the ideals I cherished before having kids fell by the wayside when reality set in, but there was one thing I struggled to accept when it didn’t go to plan: reading.
From a young age I was surrounded by books. I was reading independently at four, and moved on to “grown-up books” around ten. My love for reading spanned school, and in later years it saw me graduating from university with a degree in English and American Literature – yes, Americans have literature, too… So when my wife and I found out we were expecting, I started a book collection.
It was a pretty sweet collection. It had the Mr Men series. Roald Dahl stories. The Gruffalo. The Hungry Caterpillar. Thomas The Tank Engine. Peppa Pig. The “That’s Not My” series. I was so pleased that I would be able to share my love of reading and storytelling with this new little person.
So the day came and Theo popped into the world, and it wasn’t long before I started reading to him. As he got older and routines became… well, routine… I was really excited that bedtime stories would become the norm. A nice way to round off the day. A special bonding session for both of us.
There was just one problem, though, that I never thought I’d have to consider. Theo. I don’t know what it was, but he hated bedtime stories.
And I mean hated. We’re talking screaming-the-house-down hated if I even tried to read to him. He was about 18 months old, and it didn’t matter what the story was – he was having none of it.
I tried to persevere. I read a variety of different books to him. I tried audiobooks. I tried reading at different times of the day, and in different places. I tried magazines of his favourite TV shows… But nothing worked. I then had to make a choice: did I disrupt his bedtime routine by trying to read to him, or did I give in?
Before I answer this, I just want to take stock for a moment and address something else: how I saw myself as a father. Good parents read to their kids. It stimulates their brains, it helps them process language, and it’s an amazing bonding experience. If that’s true, and I’m not able to do it, am I a bad parent? Would my child be underdeveloped? Was the problem that he just didn’t like me?
I know it sounds stupid, but these were real concerns I had. And who do you talk to about a child not liking bedtime stories? I’ve yet to find a single person who can relate to this. The whole non-reading situation continued for well over a year (although I’d admitted defeat and was only trying to read sporadically to test the waters).
The catalyst that changed Theo’s attitude towards books was school. He’s an August baby so is one of the youngest in his class. When he started school (just turned four), he could write his own name and that was about it. He read a couple of words. But there are two things you need to know about my son. Firstly, he loves rules, order and authority. If a teacher expects him to read a book for homework, he’ll make sure he does it. Secondly, he’s competitive. He wants to be better. He’d want to have more entries in his reading book, which meant he needed to read more.
And he did. Halfway through Reception, he’d caught up with most of his class. By Easter, he was joining the Year 1 class for their reading lessons. He’s doing really well with it all, and I’m super-proud of him.
Looking back on the whole experience, was there anything I would have done differently? I’d like to say “yes”, but I honestly don’t know. I’d like to think that I wouldn’t worry as much, as everything eventually runs its course. There’s so much unnecessary pressure on parents these days to have it all figured out. I also wish I’d spoken up about my worries, particularly with other dads who might have been going through something similar.
So, how are things looking now he’s 6? He LOVES books, and bedtime reading is a nightly staple in our routine. I saw ‘our’ routine: I mean for him and my wife. He’s not keen on me reading the stories, and that’s something I’ve had to learn to accept. But I’m okay with that. Because if there’s a day when that changes, I’ll be ready, book in hand.