For those of us in the UK this was the name of a documentary that aired on Channel 4 on Wednesday night (right after One Born Every Minute). Well I say documentary, it was more of an amusing look at 6 diverse families by actress/writer/comedian Sharon Horgan, and of course the were people with pretty extreme views or ways of doing thing, because if they’d been anything like approaching the middle ground it just wouldn’t have been that interesting.
Ten minutes in and I was already feeling like a terrible parent watching the ridiculously slim and flat stomached woman who had home birthed six kids, extended breast-fed them all, pregnant with her seventh and was now home schooling (and was younger than me). I looked at the tv with a growing sense of guilt as frequently IT entertains the children while I’m doing dishes or cooking dinner or *ahem* writing this blog. I then thought about what a bad tempered oul witch I’ve been for the last few months and how the little uns I’m afraid to say have a borne a certain amount of that, especially yesterday when the Squishy one was stuck on a two minute temper tantrum cycle and by 3 o’clock I had lost not only all my patience but the will to live too. I get scared sometimes, really scared, at the thought of throwing another baby into this mix. How on earth will I cope with it all? Will activities with the toddlers suffer even more because I’ll be occupied with the little one?
There is something I have noticed though, my kids’ behaviour is directly proportional to the amount of attention I am paying to them. If they have my focus they are (mostly) a dream, if I am distracted or trying to get something else done they are (mostly) a nightmare. I am far from having worked out what it takes to be a good mother but I know a big chunk of that is keeping your sanity intact and here’s a few lessons I have learned that help you to do just that –
1. Accept that the minute you hand children play-doh, plasticine, moon sand, paint etc they will immediately smush all the colours into one revolting shade of brown. I spent so much time with my eldest stressing about how she wasn’t “doing it right” or “ruining” the play-doh. I have given up on such ridiculous adult notions, the kids don’t care how it looks, if you just let them get on with it you may get up to 45 MINUTES of unbridled peace as they have an important learning experience AND lots of fun.
2. Equally don’t be a control freak in the kitchen (within reason, obviously don’t let them play with the oven). When it comes to baking don’t sweat them making a mess, sticking their hands in the dough etc. I wouldn’t advocate letting them make the chocolate souffle for your fancy dinner party, but as much as possible let them be hands on with the baking. One tip I did get from that How To Be A Good Mother show is sticking a craft mat on the floor and letting them do all the mixing and measuring there, so simple but so genius. I made cranberry and white chocolate cookies with the kids on Thursday and I was 90% less of a control freak than usual, okay I still measured out the ingredients but I let them tip everything into the bowls, they held the electrical mixer and then the wooden spoons etc. I only took over at the end to give everything a proper good mix. Another lesson is don’t be offended if other people do not want to eat your children’s creations. I wash my son’s hands frequently but in between times he usually has one finger up his nose and the other hand in his butt crack (come back nappies, all is forgiven), so I wouldn’t be surprised if someone looked at them, then at the cookies and said “errr, no thanks.”
3. They will value the activities that you value. When the kids are painting, or drawing or colouring, it helps to sit down beside them and doodle a bit yourself. It’s a fabulous stress reliever and it helps them to see that it’s an important activity, it must be because mammy is doing it too. Also never try to direct your children into drawing particular objects or people, free drawing is just as important as impressing your friends with their portrait of “Daddy”. They have years of schooling ahead of them where teachers are going to try and shape their art, just let them explore.
4. Make tidying up a game. There is actually a very limited window where children WANT to help you around the house, when it has a big novelty factor for them and makes them seem oh so grown up. EXPLOIT THIS. No they are not always going to be cooperative but it’s worth a try, start as you mean to go and all that. It’s far better to get them used to putting their stuff away at the end of the day than you collapsing on the sofa after finally getting them to bed and then dissolving into tears at the unholy state of your living room.
5. Remember to enjoy them. The time when they are small is so fleeting. Even the newborn, sleep deprived, give me coffee or kill me stage is over all too fast. There is such a limited amount of time when they will lie curled up on your shoulder, there is such a limited time when you are their world and all they want is to be close to you. The stage of their life where they are pushing for independence or being independent is many, many times longer. Keeping your sense of humour is vital too.
6. Love them and show it.