A dog barks. “Mummy, what was that noise?” asks Littlest H.
“What do you think it was?” I reply. “A dog. Barking, woof woof.”
“Why do you think he was barking?” “He wants to fly, Mummy.”
“Wow, a dog who can fly. How do you know he’s flying, Littlest H?” “Because, because, Mummy, he wants to find an apron.”
“Tom, how many times have I asked you not to do that? LH, LH, are you listening? Where are your listening ears, LH? LH, I’ll count to three and if you haven’t stopped doing that, I’ll be really sad, LH, and if you keep going, I’m afraid you’ll be on the step. What a shame.”
Is the first conversation worth the latter, repeated ad infinitum, day after day?
Take today. It started with Littlest H hitting his sister, followed by suddenly sweeping his full glass of milk onto the floor, walls and back door, both for no apparent reason. It ended with more hitting and hair pulling, wee on the carpet and numerous other small, niggly misdemeanours. Really, is this what my life is for? Does parenting have to be so wearing so much of the time? Am I actually better for my children than a very capable, fun, warm nanny who doesn’t shout nearly as much?
I came across a couple of articles recently about a new book by a psychologist about ‘difficult mothers’ and the life-long impact they can have. The cases are extreme, but the ‘angry’ and ‘controlling’ sections did pull me up a little short. Am I the mother I want to be, and does being at home with them all the time help me be that person or not?
I think it does, at least, more than working as I have been the past couple of years. But it’s a tough one. Especially if I add in the feminist twist of whether or not I am showing my daughter that women can be good mothers/ wives/ friends / people and have a fulfilling career while they are at it.
I think I’m ok on most of the areas picked up by the book, just the angry fishwife bit I think could do with some work. My proudest moment was determinedly trying to apply super-nanny tactics to get Littlest H to stay on the ‘time out’ step at home. After I had replaced him on the step about 50 times (no exaggeration), I could think of no other way to express my outrage than to get his reward chart and rip it to pieces in front of him… Thankfully he stayed on the step as lord knows where I would have gone from there.
I quite often offer up thanks that we have a detached house so that our neighbours don’t have to have social services on speed dial. And even in this less than balmy summer, I have found myself noticing whether the room I’m berating my child in has an open window. But so far, so good. No flashing lights or restraints. Apart from the odd reward chart-ripping catastrophe, I think I manage to contain myself enough of the time not to be unhinging my children. And I hope that by apologising when I do lose it, I show them that I’m fallible, but it’s not good and I don’t like it.
It’s actually another one where friends matter. It’s hard, if not impossible, to really lose it when you are in company. Which is good for everyone really, isn’t it. And we are in company a lot. Which keeps me sane. The old adage of a burden shared is a burden halved is one I fully endorse where parenting is concerned. Even 30 seconds of sharing the morning’s disasters at school drop off can rescue the day from blackness in a way that leaving the problems behind to get on the train to work never really did.
For all this new life’s many downs, I do feel I am now trying to tackle them rather than leaving them to someone else. Which gives me a perverse sense of satisfaction and fulfilment. But then, I am someone who applies that same logic to things like running, walking or camping in mud and rain. Really, I must give this role modelling thing a bit more thought…