Parenting. How's that going for you?
Please indulge me while I conduct an imaginary interview with myself.
Sooo.... since we last chatted, you've had some kids. Four of them, to be exact. How's that working out for you?
When my fifteen year old was about one, I got talking to a professional woman in her late forties. The conversation went a bit like this:
Her: "So, a little girl, then?" Tries to smile warmly.
Me: "Oh yes." Makes melty face. "She's really cute." [Relays latest gorgeous-baby anecdote.] "And, of course, I'd like to have more."
Her: Suddenly going pale, with aghast look on face. "More? Why?"
For years I didn't get it. Now I get it. Shoot me if you want. This parenting gig is tough stuff. Fun, yes. Rewarding, often. Inspiring, occasionally. Tough, pretty much the entire time.
Everyone else seems to do it without complaining. Have you got worse kids than everyone else? Are you just a bit of a wimp? Or (*gasp*) perhaps an ineffectual parent?
Funny. That's the exact same question I ask myself sometimes. You must be really tuned in to the way I think.
Answer, um, I don't know. To all of those questions. Yes, on one level I have more challenging children than other people. Add one kid with autism into the mix and it makes for a lot more excitement in the day. (Remember: the technical meaning of excitement is not necessarily positive.)
Am I a whingey wimp? Maybe. Some days it's easier to be stoic and/or joyful than others. Most of the time I try to keep calm and positive. But it doesn't make it any less challenging.
Am I (*gasp*) ineffectual? Realistically I'd put myself pretty squarely in the middle of the scale of parenthood, which ranges from *complete and utter dunderhead* to *emotionally intelligent, organised, perpetually calm, child-focused-yet-with-own-clear-sense-of-self genius*. I'm neither terrible nor brilliant; neither incompetent nor super-mother-with-out-of-this-world-parenting-abilities.
Average-ish, if you like.
And you know what else? I'm allowed to say it's challenging. And I'll bet you all the money in my bank account (which isn't that much, sorry - it's the 'stay at home mum' thing) that 95% of all other parents in the universe say bringing up children is a tough job.
Where do you get your help from?
Sorry, what? There's help out there? Nobody told me THAT!! No, seriously, it's okay. There is. I know there is.
I like some parenting books, mostly the ones that advise me to get my own life and emotions in order so that I can lead and guide in ways that are proven to be neurologically healthy. I hate others, mostly the ones that tell me how to physically force my children to do things they don't care about.
Blogs can be good. But as kids grow up, you'll notice that there are fewer and fewer blogs which tell stories about parenting preteens and teenagers. As the writer of a blog which sometimes attempts to issue forth parenting wisdom and such, it's frustrating. Some of my best blog material would come from my tales of parenting my older daughter... if she'd let me publish it. I've got a great piece sitting waiting to go, all about how we chatted together to find a great solution to something, but SHE WON'T LET ME! I can't imagine why she's so embarrassed, being fifteen and all...
I quite like this verse in Ephesians in the Bible: "Parents, don't exasperate your children." Apparently I used to be a bit exasperating. Talked too much. Tried to give sermons all the time. (I wouldn't have guessed it. You?) Anyway, the sermons are gone and I now talk in sound bites.
"No, definitely not."
"Because I said so."
Actually, that's a fib. I put those there to be funny. (Laughing yet?) I try to do a lot of combined problem solving and get the kids to come up with workable solutions.
I also do bribery when that doesn't work**.
What's the most useful piece of advice you can give to parents of primary schoolers?
Go to the shop. Buy yourself a kitchen timer. Yes, you heard me. A Kitchen Timer. It solves 20 arguments a day. You cannot live without it. Also, puppies and a trampoline are excellent for getting out that excess energy. Although let me stress that the two items should not be combined. You will incur expenses.
To parents of preschoolers?
Persist with the vegetables. 'Didn't eat your vegies for dinner? What a shame. No, there's nothing else until the broccoli gets eaten.' SAY IT TWENTY FIVE TIMES IF YOU HAVE TO.
To parents of teenagers?
Pick your battles. Be the adult (ie. treat them the way you'd like them to treat you.) Listen to everything they want to tell you, even the small things. It's a test to see if you'll listen to the big things. Breathe a lot. And don't take *anything* personally, especially not being called 'cute'.
Do you wish people wouldn't say 'oh, but they grow up so fast'?
That's not quite the answer I was looking for. Let me be more specific. Don't you think you're going to regret it later if you don't enjoy every single minute of every single day with them?
Darn it. Could you ask less probing questions?
I find it hard to balance it all. The chores of every day life, the knowledge that your kid will only be exactly like this right now, my own personal need to not be talked to ALL DAY, the gloriousness of childhood, the fact that I just want to learn to play the cello or watch my DVD or write my book. It all whirls around too fast. There's too much of it and I don't know what's most important at which point in time.
I've already, just by being a stay at home parent, given up many things to prioritize my children and I continue to prioritize them. But that doesn't mean I have to go to every single sports carnival, does it? Or sit and play with barbies for more than 15 minutes at a time?
I think I'm going to regret a lot of things later. Don't we all, if we're honest? But the truth is, we can't know what will happen in the future. I could pour my energy into everything to do with my children, but then they might grow up and say, "Hey, I wish my mum had shown me you can have kids but still do other things." You just don't know. And in the meantime I have to make decisions about what I'm going to do today. Getting the balance right is one of the hardest things for me.
Do you like your kids?
Like? I'd throw myself under a bus for them. What more can I say? At their best, they are the people I most want to hang out with. At their worst, I still want the best for them, and I'll hang myself out to dry to get that best.
So what's the problem then?
Sometimes I get tired and uncomfortable when I've been under the bus wheels or out on the clothesline for a long time.
Would you do it all again?
Yes. Yes, okay? Now, please. Go away. My kids are all out and I'm extremely busy fitting all the things I want to do alone and by myself into my child-free time.
*Mum, if you're reading this, it's not really bribery. It's targeted incentivisation. And I never threaten what I won't carry out. Just so you know.