Good news this week, if by some horrendous contraceptive mistake I accidentally fall pregnant I feel confident that I can leave my two-year-old Isabella to bring up the baby while I abscond to St Tropez for a year.
Her parenting skills came to my attention when she was at the crèche at the local leisure centre, or as I prefer to refer to is as so I can get her through the door without a fight, "A kid’s party without the cake and balloons". When I returned to the ‘party’ in my sweaty state I walked into the room to find Isabella comforting a crying little girl, rocking her in her pushchair and reassuring her she was ok. My heart melted. She’d make a good older sister if I was prepared to increase my current record of six years without sleep, which I’m NOT!
That night when I put her to bed and lay down next to her (sorry Jo Frost aka Super Nanny but that’s how the sleep routine goes down in this house) she started to sing the ‘Donkey, Donkey don’t you stop’ song to me like a lullaby stroking my head. “Close your eyes”she said “Go to sleep mummy”. I opened one eye to see if she had hers closed. In response to my disobedience I got a quick slap across the cheek “CLOSE YOUR EYES MUMMY!” Hmm, perhaps her mothering skills aren’t quite up to scratch just yet, but I’m sure her ruthless parenting practices will have her baby sleeping through in no time.
On obedience, I read a brilliant article about rebellious children in The Guardian. Before I had kids I imagined, rather smugly (what an idiot I was) that if you watched all the programmes, read all of the books and the magazine articles on how to get your children to do exactly what you want them to do i.e. sleep at the set routine times, then they will. But there are a lot of things that you don’t account for in this imagined pre-baby utopia. You try to follow ‘the book’ nonetheless, because ‘the book’ is the bible and you create a world for yourself where letting the baby sleep anywhere but the cot is a parenting manual sin, punishable by stoning with McDonald’s chicken nuggets (also a parenting sin), you start to go slightly mad with all the worry of the right way of doing things. Scenarios like this, begin to happen:
Friend: “Hi Beth, fancy coming to a play date with all us mums tomorrow morning at mine?”
Me: “I would have loved to, but Teddy’s nap is at 10am.”
Friend: “Can you come for a little bit?”
Me: “No, ‘the book’ says it’s best that they stay in their own cot, in a dark room, with no disturbances and nap at 10am and 2pm. So I’m just going to stay at home, get on with chores in total silence and feel utterly depressed that I hardly ever see my friends or leave the house for more than a couple of hours at a time.”
NEXT DAY - 10.30am.
Me: “FFS! Why aren’t you tired yet? Are you overtired…still hungry? Bugger I let you sleep until 8.30am this morning because I was so bloody knackered. I should have woken you up at 7am like ‘the book’ says. I’m doing everything wrong. You should be sleeping now."
Me: “Oh shit, now you’re crying. Are you crying because you’re tired? Hungry? I fed you when ‘the book’ told me to, but did you have enough. It says I shouldn’t feed you to sleep either. Argh what should I do. Are you hangry? (cross between hungry and angry)”
11.10am (Crying for 15 minutes)
Me: “Screw it, I’m just going to feed you.”
Me: “Thank god he’s asleep. Hmm, ‘the book’ says I should put him down in his own bed. But this is so nice cuddling him. No I should put him down. Don’t let them get used to enjoying cuddles from their mummy. That’s what ‘the book’ says.”
11.30am (Teddy is in his own cot, asleep)
Me: “God I feel miserable. I wish I was cuddling up with Teddy. I wonder what the mums are talking about? I wonder if someone made cake? I wonder if Emily is having sex with her husband yet after the last time when her boobs leaked all over him. Hmm, maybe next time I’ll go. Feel like I’m going out of my mind being here every bloody day!”
And the next time comes and you go and you have fun, but your baby kicks off because they’re overtired, because you were enjoying gruesome, rude girl chat over three coffees and two slices of cake. You were busy, selfishly having a laugh. Spending three hours at your friend’s house is not in ‘the book’.
Your child threw a tantrum, he also threw cake across the room and kicked you. This massive tantrum makes you worry you are doing something else wrong, or that there is something wrong with their behaviour. They aren’t being obedient or doing what ‘the book’, the programmes, the magazine articles, the blogs, the vlogs, the superior parents, the grandparents and everyone else expects. They are misbehaving! And now all of your friends have seen them misbehave and you worry that they have seen the perfect parenting fraud that you are and they’re judging your mum fail.
But, is your child misbehaving, or is it just that what a small child wants is totally at odds with want you want and think others expect from them? Is their tantrum a sign that they’re going to turn out to be a horrible little shit that you have no control over? Or is it that they are a small child reacting in the only way they know how in a situation they have no control over, and they’re not actually “naughty” at all.
I sometimes wonder what it would be like to have off-the-shelf, obedient children. If when I said: “No more iPad now darling.” my son would put it away without so much a moan from him or an empty threat from me “For the last time, put it down or I will put it in the bin!”. Or that my two-year-old would sit nicely in a cafe (Phah!) so I could enjoy a coffee and chat with friends. But as much as I hate the reality of all those scenarios, I also love that my children are spirited, that they have a voice and aren’t petrified to speak up.
My two-year-old is often called “naughty” by family because she is a very strong willed child, but are toddlers meant to be compliant? Wouldn’t it be slightly disturbing if your child just sat there and robotically did everything you asked.
My son shared with me a new game he plays with his friends at school. Our conversation went like this:
Teddy: “Mummy, do you want to play a fun game with me? Me and Josh like to play it at lunch time.”
Me: “Ok darling, what is it?”
Teddy: “Swear swap.”
Me: “Urm…swear swap?!”
Teddy: “Yes, so I whisper the B word to Josh and Josh swaps it and whispers the 'Sh' word to me.”
I didn’t shout him down. I quite liked his innocent, yet funny way of exploring the new naughty world that he knows he’s not supposed to be a part of yet. I like that I’m starting to see this cheeky sense of humour coming through.
He’s pushing boundaries, but I don’t believe he’s being “naughty”. It’s not an ideal game for a six-year-old to suggest, but I’m not going to pick up a parenting manual and check the index on what to do when your son kind of drops the swear bomb. No! I firmly turned my back on the parenting manuals that filled me with self-loathing, confusion and a feeling of failure.
I’ve decided after a few years as a parent to finally trust my gut and do what I think is right for me. To be less critical on myself about the obedience of my children. It’s taken practice, but it certainly reduced my worries and anxieties.