Parenting: Not a piece of cake, but you’re hardly down a mine either

There’s a lot crap swirling around the media regarding the challenges around parenting (actually, it’s around mothering). In the USA, there’s been the so-called “Mommy Wars” and here in the UK, the always helpful Daily Mail featured an article on women who can’t deal with the pressures of work so decide to take a year off and have a baby. Cue Liz Jones appearing on This Morning gnashing her teeth and railing against maternity leave. (This is the one and only time I will mention Liz Jones. If you are unsure of  who she is, Google her. Make sure you have a large tumbler of gin by your side.)

Politicians, especially in an election cycle, will bore on endlessly about “hard-working families” (last time I checked, my husband and I are the only working family members. The kids and the cats do fuck all,) and how a mother’s job is both the  hardest and most important job ever. This statement always makes me laugh bitterly, seeing as so many women are quitting their jobs because the cost of childcare is pricing them out of work. For full-time working mothers like me, balancing work, childcare commitments, school and activities is about as easy as the Cirque Du Soleil performing their repertoire on ice. Blindfolded. If  a mother’s job was so important, then there would be ample provisions for affordable childcare. I’m also sick of dads being left out of this, seeing as the vast majority of dads love and work just as hard as mothers do. Many men would take on the job on a full-time basis if they could afford it.

Yes, parenting is hard. It’s hard mentally, financially, physically and emotionally.  It gets easier physically, financially and mentally, but it’s always emotionally hard. I said earlier that you make an immense emotional investment in someone who may or may not pay off. You will not ever have a relationship this intense and one-sided. This may sound harsh, but your kids don’t have to love you or even care for you. You on the other hand, have to love and care for them  in order for them to survive. Let that rattle around in your head for a while.

It isn’t that hard though. (For the sake of argument, I am not talking about parents of disabled children, disabled parents, children with serious illnesses, single parents, children and parents with learning challenges, bereaved parents or other serious issues than can make the family dynamic extremely difficult.) Once you strip out all of the things that are beyond your control, parenting is as hard as you make it. I’m probably going to be kicked out of the parenting club for saying this, but I’ve had harder jobs that I was actually paid for. I pay out to be a parent and still happily take all of the shit that comes with it.

I listen to some people (not my friends, mind. They are amongst the most chilled out parents I know) and all of the bullshit and running around they do and I can’t help but wonder why they are doing it. Again, I’m not talking about your usual work/school/childcare routine that makes up most of your parenting duties. I’m talking about stuff like one woman I know who had her child in 5 or 6 activities a week on top of just normal school. She’d spend a good half hour on the phone arranging who was going to ferry the kid from this place to that one. Then she would complain when the kid didn’t want to do one of the activities. Could you blame the poor mite?  That kid had a harder schedule at 9 years old than I had at 30.

It’s easy to get caught up in thinking you have to do so much shit when in all honesty, you don’t and your kids won’t go to seed because you didn’t take them to African Spiritual Mask Making every Saturday at 10 a.m. I remember (back when I had just one kid,) a childfree friend of mine asking me if I did baby sign language with my baby. “Leslie, it’s amazing! Your baby can tell you what he wants without crying!” I told her no. She reiterated the whole “no crying” thing. I told her crying didn’t really bother me enough to go to a class and learn to sign. Besides, I said, he’ll learn to talk soon enough and kids don’t shut the fuck up once they start speaking. I’m enjoying the silence.

You can easily fall into a pattern of believing that you have to spend all of your time and your child’s spare time doing something “productive.” Never mind that if you have small children, everything they do is productive. They spend their time figuring out how the world works and how they fit into it.  Sadly for you, their voyages of discovery means increased cleaning bills or replacement of electrical or pricey items.  My aunt told me that my older cousin discovered how gravity worked when he dropped her expensive gold watch from their 14th storey window.

There’s a good chance that you will hate all of this shit that you are “supposed” to do. I hate cooking with children. (The activity, not baking them into pies.) I have children’s cookbooks. I have a “proper” mini baking set complete with a little rolling-pin, tins and such that are the same as my full-sized one. I have more sugar strands, edible glitter and other fun baking stuff than the law allows. I don’t let my kids near it. You see, instead of a smiling, well-coiffed mother in a Cath Kidston apron surrounded by adorable tots with  dots of flour on their noses, I am shouting at The Toddler to stop pouring chocolate syrup on the cat and telling The Eldest for the millionth time that I know he doesn’t like cheese and I am not going to put cheese in anything he will eat. He has never, ever let me forget the time I put cheese in mashed potatoes.  Gardening is another thing that should be fun but in reality isn’t. The mini gardening tools I got from Tesco are cute as a button. What isn’t cute is seeing your toddler eat mini-spade after mini-spade of dirt– especially when you have two cats that leave bird parts strewn around the garden.

Despite all of that, I don’t find parenting hard. There so much fun stuff to do with kids whether it is having an indoor picnic, watching terrible kung-fu films with them, or just deviating from the norm. Blow your kids’ minds by being slightly subversive — eat desserts for dinner or jump up and down in your own bed.  Have a well-earned break from parenting. Sometimes you have to be a Fraggle instead of a Doozer.


Parenting-why being the bigger person sometimes blows.

There are lots of things I hate about parenting. Most of them include the unholy “S” trifecta of shit, sick and snot, with the odd bloody bit thrown in. I hate Thomas the Tank Engine with a fucking passion.  I hate all of those Disney “tween” shows starring a plethora of pubescent, precocious pissants.  I hate that I have to wait until both of my sons are asleep so I can watch something other than Thomas the Tank Engine or those Disney twats.  There are two televisions in my house and chances are I won’t be able to watch either of them.

I hate potty training a toddler. Oh my god do I hate it. I’d honestly rather go to jail.  The Toddler needed to pee  while we were in the park the other day*. I get him to the bathroom and he announced he couldn’t use it because the toilet was dirty (in fairness, it was gross). Cue me running home carrying a squirming 3-year-old like a rugby ball and screaming “JUST HOLD THE PEE IN YOUR DINKLE, WE’RE ALMOST HOME!”  After he complimented me on our washroom hygiene (“our toilet is nice and clean Mummy. Not like that dirty toilet with poo in it,) he decided he didn’t need the toilet after all. He then went on for about 15 minutes about the dirty park toilet. This from a person who would happily pee through his through his trousers because he was too caught up in an episode of TTTE.

Watching crap television, dealing with various bodily fluids and resisting the urge to teach your child to use a litter box in favour of potty training blows, but they are over fairly quickly.  You find little coping mechanisms too. For instance, The Toddler often asks me to play with him, but he does not allow me to touch any of his toys. He gives me one building block to play with. I have to sit on his bed holding this block and as sure as night follows day, he will need said block and take it from me. I use this “playtime” to catch a nap. Result!

Your parenting mettle will be certainly tested when your child starts school.  Throughout the baby years and the toddler years, you are pretty much in control. Your child is in the loving care of you, relatives, a childminder or a nursery that is staffed primarily with young women full of energy, sing-songy voices and bouncing ponytails.

Your child will be mixing with Other Children and it scares the shit out of you. Not only are the Other Children mainly unfamiliar to you, there will be Older Children as well. Older children mean the possibility of bullying raises its ugly, festering head.
Your fears are likely assuaged in the first few years of formal education. There are loads of teachers around, the older ones are kept apart from the younger ones in most larger schools, and the older kids generally ignore the infant school aged children. More than likely, a group of clucky older girls will fuss over a kid they think is cute and watch over them. When the Eldest was in Year 1, (aged 5-6) a group of 11-year-old Year 6 girls shrieked to me how cute he was. They would tell me every time they saw me on the playground, in the supermarket, in the park. Why they couldn’t tell me in a tone of voice that would not attract every dog in East London is beyond me.

It gets a lot scarier when your child enters the middle part of schooling. Your kids are less protected by teachers and mean kids are much  more sneaky with their shit. Your kid, like my eldest, may be small for his age, awkward, unworldly. They are unlikely to want to run to the teacher for every insult, slight or worse every push, shove or slap. I experienced horrible bullying throughout school, as did my husband, and we are both hyper-vigilant about it. (I really hope some of the people who did bully me somehow read this. You suck as human beings. )

My son did get picked on at the last school he attended by some older and bigger boys. To his credit, he held his own verbally and told the teacher every time those boys bothered him. It was fairly low-level name calling, but there was one kid who was physically aggressive and domineering. He was truly a menace, so much so when I spoke to the teacher about this kid, the teacher said he was a deeply unpleasant child.

The rational parent in me felt sorry for this kid. He had a shitty home life. A few of the kids that annoyed my son had crap lives. I totally understood why these children acted out and picked on the my son and his friends.

The maniac parent in me wanted to tear that kid’s throat out as if I were a rabid hyena. The irrational side of me wanted to write a glossary filled with insults and creative swearing that I would teach to the Eldest on a nightly basis. Of course, I did neither. I was the Bigger Person and told my son to either ignore the bullies; or tell the teacher if one of them used their fists.

Like every other parent who was socialized properly, I shake my head and tut at parents that fight other parents, confront children on the playground and get into fistfights as pee wee soccer games. We all have a rational, maniacal and irrational side– we tend to keep that shit under wraps so we stay out of jail. It’s hard to be a decent parent if you are locked up. Most of us also don’t lose our shit when we are dealing with difficult situations and we have to ensure that we exercise self-control in front of our children.

It’s just that being the bigger person sucks a lot of the time. We tell our children nonsense like “bullies never prosper.” This is complete and utter bullshit. We all know, work with, have dated a festering asshole who seems to sail through life; merrily spreading their venom along the way. We know sweet people who never seem to be able to catch a break. Yet we lie to our kids about what life is really like. Not me. When The Eldest complained about his tormentor for the billionth time, I looked him straight in the eye and said “son, some people are assholes, some people are angels. You’ll never make an asshole into an angel.” (This works best if like me, you have a semi-drawling Midwestern accent.) It probably wasn’t the most eloquent way of getting my point across, but I was so frustrated at some kid making my kid’s school life a misery. It prevented me from going all hyena on that kid.

The Eldest is no shrinking violet when it comes to sarcasm and verbal sparring. When some kid teased my son for not knowing about football fact, The Eldest did a slow clap and said “oh, well done you.” When another kid teased him about his Pokemon watch, my son retorted, “it’s too bad that  you’re just too poor to have one.” Because I am the Bigger Person, I told The Eldest that it wasn’t nice to say such a horrible thing to that boy. Secretly, I was pleased. Yes, it’s hypocritical, but the best parents are hypocrites.

*This blog post was started in August last year. The Toddler is now potty trained and has graduated to the “big toilet.” Applause all around!

Keep your friends close and your child-free friends closer.

Jeez, I’ve been away for a while. I had this wonderful idea that I would be able to go back to work and blog like a demon. Wrong, wrong wrong.  Oh well, shit happens.

Friendships are strange things when you become a parent. You have friends that you have known before you had kids and friends that you make afterwards. Within those groups you have subsets– friends of yours that knew you before you had kids and they too have had kids; friends in that group who never had kids; and child-free friends that only know you as a parent; and other parent friends.

There are people you would never have dreamt of befriending, but because your kids are in the same class/scout troop/cult, you end up somehow becoming their friend. Sure their tastes are so diametrically different from yours it’s a wonder you don’t break out into a rash, but your kids like each other and you can forgive them serving you cherry Lambrini. Wine is wine, right?

There are people who are so goddamned awesome that you are happy you logged onto that forum, attended that childbirth class, or went to baby yoga because you wouldn’t have met them otherwise. You start thinking, “wow, we have so much fun even though we are settled with kids, could you imagine what we would have been like if we met before kids?”  (Actually, had you met before you had kids to calm your crazy, it’s likely your stories would have involved a police chase, a really bad tattoo or a dodgy guy called Vincent*)

Friendships become weird when you become a parent. You are pretty restricted in what you can do for a long time and that restriction isn’t always down to the age of your children. Time poverty is the biggest restriction. When you have kids, you don’t have time to do anything. Yeah, I know there are millions of books on how to manage your time as a parent. However, when you realise it’s been a month since you picked up a book that wasn’t Goodnight Moon, those books are pretty useless. Last November,  my husband and I realised, much to the horror of my friend the Gorgeous A, that we hadn’t been out alone in two years. We don’t have parents or any close relatives near us that can take the kids and we don’t have friends with children. We also have no time and no energy.

If you want a decent night out, you end up paying someone £60 just to leave your house.We always fed, washed and put the kids to bed before we left so we essentially paid someone £60 to watch satellite TV, eat biscuits (my husband has this thing about providing an array of biscuits for the sitter. We usually only have Rich Tea)  and use the laptop.  If you have friends with kids, at least you can split babysitting costs. So due to economics, you tend to stay in a lot. You convince yourself there is nothing better than watching reruns of Father Ted with a Marks and Spencer’s  “Dine in for £1o” deal for two (“we get WINE!” my husband enthused). You tell yourself that you are too old for going out anyway and that the town centre is too full of “young people” and music is shit. What’s better than cranking up the Spotify and listening to a playlist of songs from the 80s and 90s?  There’s nothing wrong with that, but it is if you do it all the time. You can lose touch with reality a bit if your social life takes a nosedive.

This is where your child-free friends come in. They come to provide that welcome dose of reality your sorry parent ass sorely needs. Harping on about youth today? Your child-free friend will happily remind you of one of your “antics” from your past. Your parent friends won’t do this even if there is video evidence of you acting a goddamned fool because if you both knew each other before you had kids, chances are they were right along with you.

My friend Lisa, though she’s ever only known me as a parent, regularly gives me a kick in the ass when I’ve gone a bit too “mom” at times. She can tell me when I am being too overprotective and over-thinking shit too much. For example, my husband let our  10-year-old son take the bus two stops to school.  By. Himself. I was absolutely horrified. In my mind, my sweet, innocent son climbed aboard a bus full of paedophiles wielding needles and pit bulls. The driver would be a junkie that was cooking meth while drinking and driving. No responsible parent would allow this! Lisa brought me swiftly down to Earth by reminding me I live in the suburbs and the boy was going two stops. She also threw in the fact I used to take the El on the south side of Chicago by myself when I was his age.

That’s the other thing about child-free friends that’s great– they don’t tend to judge you and they certainly don’t compete with you in the parenting stakes. Remember, I write this blog from the perspective that the parents who read it are not absolute morons; your child-free friends should have nothing judge. They don’t care that  your kid is 3 when he was finally  potty-trained. In fact, my friend Karen was shocked that you actually have to train a kid to use the toilet. “You actually have to teach them to use the toilet?Don’t they just go by themselves?,” she asked in all seriousness. If you don’t have kids or are not around them in any capacity, you won’t know this kind of thing.

Your child-free friend provide you with a welcome boost of self-esteem that is sorely needed when you are up to your eyebrows in snot from all of your kids being sick at once, or when your eardrums have been shredded from your baby’s nonstop wailing. They let you know it’s not your fault the kids are sick and that the baby won’t stop screaming. They say great stuff like “You manage to keep three people alive and healthy. I couldn’t do that shit!,” or “Fuck that, I can barely get myself ready in the morning, but you get three kids ready, yourself ready, and you get to work on time!” Child-free pals, from the bottom of my raggedy heart, you don’t know how good that feels. Seriously, it’s a real morale booster because as a parent,  you tend to feel like you are constantly making mistakes.

There is a downside to child-free friends though. They buy your kids better and more expensive toys and clothes than you ever will. They take them to nicer places. They do really cool shit with your kids that you can’t possibly do because as a parent, you are not cool. Child-free friends actually buy shit from the concessions stand at the cinema instead of sneaking in shitty candy and fizzy drinks from Poundland or DollarWorld. They would never, ever bring fruit to eat during the movies. You continue to listen to our kids ramble on when us parents have ceased to hear words; just a high-pitched hum.

Child-free friends of mine, I will never tell you to have kids if you have chosen not to. Your lives are full and complete. I will personally scalp any parent who would dare tell you differently. I’m way too selfish to give you guys up.

*My friends and I had a discussion about the name Vincent and it turns out all the Vincents we knew turned out to be totally skeevy. Including Van Gogh.