Hello and welcome to my confessional booth. Before I begin, let me establish my credentials.
The first ten years of parenting we spent down in Kent. (Almost exactly – Eldest’s tenth birthday is still talked about as the worst ever – it days after we moved house over 200 miles.) For the first five years both The Wife and I held down regular office jobs. Obviously there was maternity leave, actually about a year or so for Eldest and less for Middlest. And I had a period of being made redundant and failing to run a small business. Throughout this whole time, we had a lovely child-minder who looked after first one then both of our children. In 2006 I started a job with a six month probation period, which I failed at the beginning of August and it seemed my career as an IT professional had come to an end. Actually career is a good description as it careered from one job to another without rhyme or reason 🙂
With no job, I threw myself whole-heartedly into being a full time parent, while The Wife stayed on in full time work. We went through some tough times financially before her career took an up-turn. During this period I picked up a job working in a pre-school (alongside delivering the local paper and being an Avon “lady”) to top-up our family income. And in 2011 we moved here, to South Wales I was elected Chairman (unopposed!) of the Youngest’s pre-school committee.
All this potted history means that I’ve had a huge range of experience. I’ve been that harassed parent who drops children off to the child-minder before school even starts and then rushes back to pick them up before six after a day’s work. And, working in a pre-school, I’ve had to look after other people’s children in a professional, paid for setting. (If Youngest hadn’t come along, I’d have taken some NVQs too.) Finally, I’ve also been a full-time stay-at-home parent. So I’ve seen all sides of the equation.
Confess – you’ll feel better!
One thing I’ve learnt from all of this is that parenting can be incredibly competitive. As with women’s magazines and the beauty industry, I think most of this is done for the approval, or one-upmanship over other parents. But I have realised that its all a front. I honestly don’t think many people are coping, certainly not as much as you think they are. The Wife and I came into the whole parenting thing without experience. She’s an only child and I only have a brother who’s two years older than me and childless. So, unlike some who had much younger siblings, or nieces or nephews or jigsaw families, we had no experience of child-rearing until we came home from the hospital with our little bundle of joy! Fast forward four and a bit years and it is intimidating to be in the playground, waving him off to school, surrounded by other mothers (and fathers) who appear to “get it”. Of course, as the years went on, I learnt that we’re all muddling along and doing the best we can.
So, here we go. Yes, you can use wet-wipes and Febreeze instead of putting things through the wash, especially if a child has told you that they *must* have that item of clothing in school that day at about 8 in the morning. Having worked in a pre-school I can confirm that even the most well groomed parents with the best presented children sometimes wipe off the yoghurt and send the child out in the same top the next day!
Sometimes breakfast, or other meals, can be creative. If it takes chocolate, crisps and Fruit Shoots to get them out the door, then that’s what you do. Remember that you can always let them eat an apple in the car to feel better about your parenting skills.
And if it takes driving round the block to get a child to sleep, then that’s what you do! Or leave the light on, or let them fall asleep in your arms, or watching their favourite film on TV or whatever works! I know that Gina Ford et al will be frothing at the mouth about how you’re establishing bad patterns and they won’t learn to sleep properly and all that. Sometimes though, just once in a while, however much you love them, you just need a night off. You need baby (whatever age they are) to be asleep so you can open a bottle of wine and slob on the sofa to rubbish TV and junk food. We’re parents, it’s what we do!
Fighting against society
This image of parenting isn’t one you’ll ever see promoted positively. There is a big market in making parents feel guilty. Once they feel guilty, you can sell them stuff they don’t need. Further, it seems that having a kid suddenly makes you a fair target for everyone’s opinions. Newspapers, fuelled by spurious surveys, can’t help but tell us how to raise our children. Kirsty Alsopp thinks her imaginary daughter should skip university and have a family. Whatever your opinion, there’s an article to back it up, whether it’s that working mothers sell their kids short, or that you’re wasting your life being a full time parent or that single mothers are somehow wrong, just for being who they are.
And, once you’ve waded through that level of condemnation, the government steps in. Always with an opinion, that twists and turns depending on which way the political wind is blowing. The trouble here is that they can change tax and benefit law to punish and reward parents who may or may not be following their diktats.
Aside from the truth that to be a parent is to be wrong and made to feel guilty, there are two big things that I’ve learnt over the last nearly-13 years.
Firstly, that everyone has different priorities. Just because one person is bothered by how tidy their house is and whether their car is this year’s latest model, doesn’t make them better or worse than me, just different. For the record, our house has never been showroom tidy and our cars have always been interesting if not particularly new or shiny. But that’s fine. Differences are what make life interesting. As long as we don’t judge people based on the choices they make.
And the other thing is that not all children are created equal. I know this will be contentious but some children are brighter than others and some have more willpower than others. Actually this point is worth bearing in mind, because parental pride in a child’s achievements eclipses all other forms of Competitive Parenting. But just because one child excels in one area, it doesn’t mean they’re better than your children.
In my efforts to understand our children and bring some harmony to our house I came across a book about “Spirited Children”. It was a complete eye-opener, and I started quietly observing other children. Some children are actually biddable, do what they’re told and accept things without endless questioning.
I’ll write a whole blog-post about Spirited Children later, but understanding that some children are naturally quieter and easier to parent enabled me to step out sideways from the whole Competitive Parenting and not compete.
What about you out there? Anonymous comments obviously welcome!