Our Super Mum Susan has recently been in Europe with her boys on the “trip of a lifetime”.  This article tracks her trip home to NZ

Thankfully my husband joined us for the last two months otherwise I may just have committed hara-kiri.Happy New Year to all Kiwi Families. For those of you who may have read my last few articles you will know that I have been in Europe with my four sons for the last four months.

We are now on the last leg and enjoying the hot weather in Phuket, and generally relaxing and recovering from a very exciting but somewhat exhausting experience.

So with New Year approaching I am feeling somewhat virtuous and have decided to make some New Years resolutions. No doubt like most other years they will be short-lived, much to my husband’s disgust who is one of those really virtuous people who makes lists and sticks to them.

Firstly, and I know Kerry our Editor will be delighted, I am going to do my utmost to meet deadlines, hence be far more organised. Admittedly the last few months have been quite difficult in foreign countries to make sure the article is ready on time.

Most importantly my biggest resolution is to ensure that our sons know that in the future “No” means “No”. Wow, I hear you sigh. Every parenting manual in the world will endorse that sentiment but as many of you will understand for us mere mortals, commonly descibed as mothers, it is easier said than done.

Previously “No” has meant a number of things and it is no wonder that the boys rarely take me seriously. No could mean maybe… it might be “do this and I will change my mind” or, in the worst case scenario, I might just completely overlook that I even mentioned it.

But amazingly so I have witnessed this practise in real life for the last few months and more importantly seen the results. We have travelled through Europe with another family, whilst we haven’t lived together all the trip we have certainly spent a considerable amount of time in each others’ company and, believe it or not, will return to NZ better friends that when we left, much to the surprise of some of the doubting Thomases.

Our friends have three delightful daughters, I am sure that their exemplary behaviour must have something to do with being the fairer sex, but as I said I have seen the importance of following through on your threats.

A typical example of getting it wrong and making sure that in the heat of the moment that you don’t threaten something you can’t follow through on occurred last week.

After driving for 6 hours we arrived at Orly airport in Paris to drop off the rental car we had driven around Europe for 3 months. We then caught two taxis to our apartment in Paris. Sounds pretty simple, but a combination of tired kids and stressed out parents led to both John and I enduring the worst taxi ride in history. Even though the kids were separated they constantly teased and tormented each other, raising the ire of the driver who was stuck in peak hour traffic. Little did I know that John was experiencing a similar ride whilst simultaneously having kittens as he watched the meter turn over rapidly.

We duly arrived exasperated at our one bedroom apartment and whilst the owner was showing us around the behaviour continued. The owner looked aghast when John locked all four in the bathroom.

Finally after he left, both of us completely lost it and, despite repeatedly asking them to stop with no success, I yelled that the trip to Euro Disney was off, cancelled, not happening, finito. Amazingly enough it stopped them all in their tracks and the mood changed immediately. Suddenly we had four boys absolutely gob smacked and two in floods of tears, at least they believed us.Within seconds I realised that this was probably the right punishment but not practical, the girls who we were meeting in the morning would be devastated, as our boys are as much entertainment as any amusement park, and we had prepaid and 6 tickets to Euro Disney is the equivalent price of a month’s groceries. So, much to my husband’s disgust, I changed my mind and issued another consequence which must have been so lame I can’t even remember.

And so the cycle continues. Strangely I have gotten over feeling embarassed that as an adult I have probably lost control. Don’t get me wrong, I seem to have painted a picture of four monsters, which they certainly aren’t, yet there is room for improvement. I have realised though that a lot is my fault, that they genuinely know that my threats are hollow, and therefore will continue pushing the boundaries especially when they know I am such a push-over.

When my friend says “no” she has an amazing knack of being able to calmly ignore all the protestations and whining that follows. She must have a special filter, whereas I try to reason, rationalise and negotiate to no avail until the situation completely deteriorates and everything turns to custard and everybody is miserable.

She makes practical punishments like no internet for the week and, for our children who have enjoyed catching up with their friends online, this was like chopping their arms off. I would say no internet, then relent because I was so desperate to have an hour’s peace and quiet.

When her girls wanted to buy something, and I can assure you that on a tight budget the treats were limited, she would simply say no and walk away. I would say no and be worn down by the incessant whingeing that followed. Ironically when John arrived much of this behaviour changed because the boys know that John is generally pretty strict on following through.

So my New Year’s resolution is to be tough. More than anything I have realised that you can’t always be popular. As Maggie Thatcher said many years ago, when asked was she worried that she was unpopular with the people, she calmly said it’s not a popularity contest — it’s about respect.

2008 is going to be the year when “No” means “No” regardless of how much they will probably hate me at the time and I will have to steal myself to follow it through.

Like all any other resolutions I hope this one has more success. No doubt I will keep you posted throughout the year.

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Dame Susan Devoy is New Zealand's Race Relations Commissioner, and a World Open champion squash player. She's the former CEO of Sport Bay of Plenty and super-mum to four boys.

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