Life

'Instadad' Simon Hooper on keeping the dinner table a 'screen-free' zone

He may be an Instagram star but Simon Hooper isn't about to let his kids use phones at the dinner table – as Lisa Salmon finds out

'Instadad' Simon Hooper with his daughters Anya Rose, Marnie, and twins Ottilie and Delilah

EVER had a family argument at the dinner table? It would be unusual if you hadn't. New research suggests 95 per cent of families have disagreements at mealtimes – including Simon Hooper, AKA Instagram's 'Father of Daughters'.

The popular 'Instadad' has a million followers on the social media platform, where he posts about his sometimes chaotic life as a dad to four girls (aged 12, eight and three-year-old twins).

He says: "Manners, politics, music, films, the colour of the sky – you name it and we somehow manage to turn polite conversation into a lively discussion at the dinner table. I'm not even sure how that happens.

"Perhaps it's because my older girls are at that age when they argue black is white and vice-versa just for the sake of it. But it's nice to know we're not alone – nine in 10 families have disagreements over things like money, video games and the children's day at school, which makes us feel more normal!"

Hooper (36), whose wife Clemmie, a midwife, is the equally popular Instagram influencer 'Mother of Daughters', is working with McCain to launch the Nation's Conversations – a new report looking into what families are talking about at mealtimes.

Their survey found that while money is the most contentious issue at the dinner table, a fifth of families have dinner table disagreements about their child's social-media use, yet many parents now permit mobile phone use at dinner as a compromise.

Here, Hooper reveals what mealtimes are like in his house, and the effect being an 'Instadad' has had on family life.

:: What's it like being the only male in a family of six?

Being the only man in the house isn't all that bad, as I've created a team of daddy's girls. My objective is to set the benchmark of how a man should treat people and act so high that no future partners will ever match up.

Most of my 'free time' is spent chasing the girls around, clearing up and cooking, which, according to the Nations Conversations research, is becoming more common.

I do still crave my alone time though, especially when they're all shouting at each other. I guess that's why toilets have locks and why I've taken a keen interest in DIY projects and cycling lately!

As they get older, I fear the volume is only going to get turned up, so expect a lot of trips to the basement for more woodworking projects that never produce a finished article.

:: What are family mealtimes like in your house?

Hectic. Silence died a long time ago in this house and it's more likely that I'll be hit by lightning twice while buying the winning lottery ticket, and then get randomly selected to be an astronaut on the way home, than it is to get all six bums on seats at the same time during mealtimes.

However, I guess this is the norm for us now, so we just roll with it. At least we try to make time to be together at the table, but according to the report, two-thirds of families miss out on that daily occasion to be a family, so I guess we're lucky. Living in a household with two working parents, I can see how busy schedules can get in the way, but that just makes it all the more worthwhile to get around the dinner table – whether it's hectic or not.

:: Do you always sit at the table?

Yes, we try to. In reality, there are a only few moments in the day when we're all together in one place, so we try to make the most of it. Dinner time is a great time to find out how our days have gone (but usually getting a response other than "fine" is like getting blood from a stone from the eldest), but we also get to chat about stuff that people have learnt and plan the week ahead.

:: Do you allow tech at the table?

No, there's time enough for screens away from the table. Apparently, 40 per cent of parents now allow mobile devices at the dinner table, but we want our girls to focus on the value of normal human interaction. Real life is more important than the virtual one, although I'm sure they would beg to differ – and I'm sure this will be discussed over the table at some point in the very near future.

:: Do you do any cooking?

Yes, Clemmie and I share the responsibilities. We both work, so invariably one of us isn't around to make dinner. That means the other person needs to pick up the slack – teamwork at its finest. Thankfully, the kids muck in now and again but end up making more mess than actual edible food.

Although lots of families operate in this way, balancing and juggling, sharing roles – it does surprise me that almost two-thirds of parents admit mums still prepare the meals. Although men are taking more of a role in the household, there's still some way to go, and I guess this is where flexible working and changes in legislation will really make a difference in the future.

:: How has your life changed since you and Clemmie became 'Instaparents'?

It hasn't really, and we want it that way. Of course, we get recognised now and again, but I still have my job and Clemmie is still a midwife. We still have a mortgage to pay every month and we still argue over everything.

We do occasionally get invited to events, but I rarely go to them as I'm at work. That said, we do get to do some great things – providing experiences for the kids that will hopefully stay in their memories for a lifetime, like going to film premieres.

:: Do you still have enough privacy?

We choose what we share and therefore still have a degree of control over our privacy. That's the way we like it. Talking openly about parenting was our choice, and in many ways I get back what I put out there. To me, Instagram is a kind of open source therapy that can be really positive, as it helps me share my challenges and I get crowd-sourced solutions from over a million people!

:: Follow Simon at @father_of_daughters

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