If I’m honest, shopping is pretty down my list of fun things to do – particularly clothes shopping. I tend to go about twice a year – a summer clothes/winter clothes type arrangement. Karen will often buy me bits on-line to keep my wardrobe topped up too (although I will reject some stuff after I cast my eye over it!). Now I am just over half way through my shared parental leave, whether it was the tiredness that struck, impending madness, or just a desire to get out of the house, I’ve just started writing this piece having just returned from a shopping trip with Tessa and Toby (I’m writing whilst Toby naps and Tessa is busy drawing different hairstyles?!). It made me look back on other such shopping trips with all three children in tow and to reflect on the realities of shopping as a Dad with kids. Here’s my assessment.
Go prepared …
You’ll see from a lot of my posts to date on this blog that the thing that has really hit home since I started my shared parental leave is that preparation is key. The same applies before launching yourself into the potentially harrowing experience of a shopping trip. Here’s my top few planning tips:
Children cannot be trusted to choose well
Whilst I am all for encouraging children to be independent and to form their own views, there needs to be some limit on how much freedom you offer them when it comes to shopping. My girls take after their Mum and have expensive taste – that’s one reason. Another is because children are fickle and prone to fads. Like something one minute, hate it the next. Here’s an example from my recent trip. Tess recently found an ice pack in the shape of a pineapple which she is currently using at home as a ‘spy-phone’ (don’t ask). She drew round its shape yesterday and coloured in a lovely picture (see below). On our shopping trip she found a summer dress and a pair of shorts, both with pineapples on … not a good look to have everything the same combo (unless you’re filming a 1980s pop video) and likely to be cast aside with the ‘spy-phone’ pineapple after only a short period of time. Daddy had to decline these purchases, although I did quite like the summer dress (not for me I may add).
Expect the unexpected
Shopping trips will invariably not go as planned. Take today as a case study. I had done the necessary preparation as outlined above and 10 minutes (yes you read that correctly – ten minutes) in our first shop, Tessa announced she needed the toilet. “I told you to go before we left Tessa!” says I, exasperated. “I did Daddy, but I need a poo now!”. Un-bloody-believable. Cue me asking in Next if they have a toilet. They don’t. How annoying. We traipsed out and headed across to a Costa Coffee. It is also worth noting at this point that Tessa has been told she cannot have her snack – a chocolate mini-roll – until we return to the car on account of her asking five times in the six minute car journey to the shops following dropping Tilly at nursery when she can eat it. Now I’m also terribly British about just going in somewhere and using their toilet. Signs are up saying they are for paying customers only and a strange guilt always comes over me and I end up being a stickler for the rules. So in we went and up to the counter. A bottle of flavoured water and a chocolate brownie purchase later, we’re almost ready to use the loo! I have set myself back almost £4 and Tessa, who was not supposed to be having her snack until after we’ve finished shopping, has bagged herself half a chocolate brownie before we’d barely begun! How does that work!? Once she had done the necessaries in the Costa toilet, off we went and re-started the trip.
A further issue to be wary of is what to do with the kids when you’re trying on clothes. I was able to duck into a larger changing room which enabled Toby, in his pram, and Tess to come in so I didn’t have to worry about chasing after them in my pants at the first sound of trouble. That being said, every time Tessa heard a noise behind the curtain she would open it, revealing my Dad-bod in all its glory. Thankfully it was early and quiet and nobody saw, but you cannot legislate for these things – she is the eldest too! As it happened I managed to try on a pair of jeans and a shirt and make the purchase in record time. Just the way I like it.
Another thing to be wary of is what types of snacks you are taking with you and how this may escalate into squabbles between kids, or even full blown wrestling. The biggest player in this situation I have come across to date is the simple Cheesestring. Clearly not even remotely healthy, the kids enjoy them, they are easy to transport around and once or twice a week they will do as a go-to snack for some peace and quiet. Oh no. Not when they have to choose which picture they each have. This is something that sends the girls into meltdown overdrive. They either both want the smiley one, or the one with sunglasses or hearts, or the confused one…. I have to split them up and pick similar looking ones to try and avoid this and then plant seeds into their heads to hope they choose the other one – subliminal messaging by Jedi mind-tricks. Ridiculous!
Give Mummy a veto
If, like me, you rarely get chance to shop for clothes for the kids, there is a danger you can be sucked in to all the cute items that are on offer (often at crazy prices for something they will grow out of in a matter of months, if not weeks). For this reason, it’s worth considering checking in with the wife. My mantra lives on – ‘Happy wife, happy life’ and I’d rather give Karen some kind of say before launching in to multiple purchases that we’ll argue over whether they should be returned. What’s App and the like gives easy access to sending a few pictures and getting input. That being said, I fancy buying a few bits here and there and might chance my arm a bit whilst I’m off. Particularly if I can find any matching clothes for me and Toby! As I say, if you truly decide to fly solo without any wifely (or other partner) input, the risk is there are a lot of good outfits out there:
This tactic will also save you a few quid as invariably your partner will rein in any excessive spending. If they’re not that way inclined and are likely to encourage you to buy more – avoid all contact! My only other tip is – buy bigger! They need time to grow into these things.
Just as it’s said not to work with children and animals, the same can apply to shopping (most shops will not allow animals inside, but that’s by the by, it’s the children bit I am focussing on here). If you can avoid taking the kids with you, do so! That being said, I had quite a nice time this morning. I managed to keep Tessa reasonably distracted by letting her push the pram, helping me choose some clothes items (subliminal messaging Jedi mind-tricks again), and feeding her snacks she didn’t necessarily deserve. We had some laughs, some fun and it was all fine – probably because we were done in about an hour. In fact, having looked over the list of tips I included at the start of this piece, I’d say the same can apply to husbands as well as children. So Karen, when you read this, please take note and apply the preparation list to me next time you decide to take me to Cheshire Oaks or the Trafford Centre – plentiful snacks, lots of opportunity for a toilet break, and as many fun distractions as you can muster. Oh, and keep it short and sweet and I’ll resist throwing myself on the floor and you having to drag me round the shops by one shoe. Thanks!
See you all soon.
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