Dear Stupid Parents,
My next door neighbour is a pretty cool chick. ‘Chick’ isn’t normally a word I would use to describe a woman but for her, it fits. She’s laid back, good craic, loves a drink – the epitome of a cool chick. The other, almost incongruous thing that makes her so cool, is the fact that she wears crocs. Yea, the shoes. I’m not saying that crocs are suddenly cool, (my husband has a pair, it makes me weep) but my neighbour makes them work – when she wears them gardening, they work. When she wears them with her yoga gear, they work. When she wears them with her actual clothes – yep, you guessed it, they work.
I could never figure out how the hell she manages to pull of crocs when so many others can’t, and then recently, she told me herself. She was round at ours for a barbecue, crocs in tow, and I began my customary piss-taking (because when you buy crocs, it’s to be expected.) She’s never ever phased by me pointing and laughing at her feet and she always has an arsenal of pretty zingy come-backs. On this particular day after the onslaught had begun, she said to me, “the thing is Steph, I don’t wear crocs ironically, I love them, I make the choice and I own it.”
Shit, I thought. That’s it, she makes them work because she wears them unashamedly, she’s not embarrassed, she makes that choice and she owns it; it’s that simple.
I’ve thought about her response a lot since then and I’ve come to the conclusion that if we all just owned our choices a bit more and didn’t feel the need to justify them, we’d be a lot happier. Or at least a lot more content. As a parent, I’m more judged and more scrutinised than ever before; everyone is an expert on how to parent whether they have children or not and that leaves all the choices I make up for extreme critiquing by every Tom, Dick and Harry.
Sometimes, I admit, I feel the need to justify my decisions – like I should explain why my son owns a pink water bottle (because it was the only one on the shelf not because I’m trying to make a point about gender stereotypes.) Or I should let people know why he has an unusual name (because he was named after the poet who made me love poetry, not because I want him to get bullied.) Or I need to justify why he goes to nursery even though I’m on maternity leave (because he has friends and a routine and people who can focus on him properly, not because I want to hang out with my pals undisturbed, drinking innumerable lattes everyday. Although….)
The thing with parenting, is that there are SO MANY choices to be made day in, day out, that it’s impossible for anyone else to agree with all of them or for any one parent to make the exact same combination of choices as another. With that in mind, I’ve decided to do parenting like my neighbour wears crocs – loud and proud and with a big ol’ dollop of who gives a shit?
So here we go, confession time – these are some examples of how I’ve survived the nonsense of parenthood so far:
1 -When we go to a cafe, the digital nanny comes out in full force. Sometimes, YouTube is firing up even before the toddler has given any sign that he might kick off – I just mitigate against that shit. In that moment, as he watches back to back episodes of whatever, while I have a conversation and/or eat with both hands, it might look like he’s neglected and under-stimulated. In that moment, there are no clues about the many books we read, the songs we sing, the jigsaws we complete and the endless, endless block building and block-knocking-down we do. But that’s ok because the digital nanny allows me to talk/eat/stare into space undistracted, and sneak bits of food into his mouth. The digital nanny is a fail-safe way to save lunch time and I’m owning it.
2 -When Toddler Boy was 4 months old, we came to a mutual agreement that our breast feeding journey was over; he’d been getting a bottle of formula before bed each night from he was about a week old and at 4 months, he apparently decided he preferred that and refused to feed from me. I was beyond relieved. Despite really hating breastfeeding for a number of reasons, I was hoping to make it to 6 months but when it became clear that he’d rather go hungry than take the boob, I happily stocked up on tubs of formula. When telling another first time mum about this, her response was “well, at least you made it to 4 months,” as though I should have been upset. I wasn’t upset and I told her so – I owned it.
3 – Second time round, funny enough, I’m really enjoying feeding Baby Boy. He’s almost 7 months and we’re still going strong. Interestingly, I’ve now started getting the other breastfeeding question(s); ‘why are you still feeding him?’ And, ‘when are you planning on stopping.’ My answer? ‘Because I like it, it’s handy, it’s free’ and ‘no idea.’ Maybe in a month, maybe when I go back to work, maybe when he turns 1. Whatever, not fussed, and I’m owning that decision. Or more accurately, that indecision.
4 – And while we’re on feeding, let’s go back to Toddler Boy – the boy who doesn’t eat, who used to take up to 4 hours to finish a bottle, who survives on more or less snacks and snacks alone. A popular school of thought is to give a ‘fussy eater’ one option and one option only at meal times because if they’re hungry enough, they’ll eat. Well, if that works on your child, trust me, you and I do not have the same problem. He’s a classic example of someone who eats only to survive and has been known to go to bed with a rumbling tummy and still refuse food. I’m not going to lie, weaning him and coming to terms with his teeny tiny appetite has been so stressful, I’ve torn my hair out and cried in frustration trying to figure out how to get food into the boy but in the last few months, I’ve decided to stop that madness. If he doesn’t want to eat, I’m not going to force him. I’ve realised that if he has half a slice of toast at breakfast, he’s had enough. If he has two spoonfuls of dinner, he’s had enough. I’ve no intention of pinning him down and force-feeding him peas until I decide – based on nothing at all – that he’s eaten an adequate amount. I also, don’t intend on refusing him a biscuit or icecream after dinner just because he hasn’t eaten what I randomly consider to be the right number of spoonfuls. This is a contentious issue and I’m sure lots of people would like to tell me how wrong I’m doing it, how every child needs to eat X amount, how I’m the parent and need to assert my authority. I hear ya, I do but I know my son; he’s chubby in all the right places and has a seemingly endless supply of energy. He’s doing fine, I’m not losing my mind 3 times a day – win/win. #OwningIt.
5 – I’m a lot of months (too many, can’t cope) into my second maternity leave and Baby Boy hasn’t been to a single baby class, not one. No Rhyme Time, no Baby Massage, no Sing and Sign – nada, zero, zilch. With Toddler Boy, we went to everything – a different thing every day of the week and paid anything up to a tenner for the pleasure. It was exactly what I wanted and needed on my fist mat leave; it gave me opportunities to meet people, make friends and socialise but what I want this time, is different. Having been through it once, I’m all too aware that it is only on mat leave that I’ll ever, ever have the opportunity to say no to schedules, to have nowhere to be and nothing to do, to focus just on me (and a bit on the baby) so I can read, nap, exercise to my heart’s content. Or at least until 4.30pm when I pick up the big one. Making weekly commitments or signing up for 6 week course of something is a fool’s game and I ain’t playing. Nope, I’m not worried about this inhibiting his speech/physical development/willingness to make friends/ability to sing in tune. He’ll figure all that out later, for now, he’ll be hanging in the park with me, getting snacks thrown at him while I write ranty blog posts.
6 – Neither of the boys are having a birthday party until I’m absolutely forced to throw one. Ok, I know that might seem a bit mean-spirited, particularly when lots of parents love to go all out for their childrens’ first birthdays at least, but if I’m 100% honest, I can’t be bothered. Organising parties and providing food, entertainment and a venue for all the people that love your little one takes so much pre-planning and I’m just not into it. My husband and I both work in (totally different) jobs that require intense levels of strategic organisation and it’s exhausting. Admittedly, I haven’t been at work for a while but I’ve been a teacher for 7 years now and I think it’s scarred me for life. Outside of work, neither of us want to plan a thing. We book flights last minute, commit to plans then forget all about them and rely on friends to remind us where we have to be and when. I’m not saying I’ll never allow the boys to celebrate their birthdays, I’m not cruel! I’m just anticipating a time when they’ll want a huge party with everyone in their class invited and a theme etc. etc. And of course, if that’s what they want, I’d like to give it to them but until that time, I’m just going to take it easy and do family days out that only require us to decide where to go and to order a cake. Although, saying that, when Toddler Boy turned two last week, I only remembered to pick up the cake half an hour before closing time and on the way to the zoo where we met with friends to celebrate, I had to text them and ask them to bring candles – honestly, sometimes I think I shouldn’t be allowed to adult. But whatever, I’m owning it.
7 – Sometimes I hide the most annoying toys. I’m not one of those parents who believes that all toys should be pastel coloured and look pretty, nor do I refuse to let my boys play with the ones that make noises and sing songs but sometimes, not very often to be honest, just sometimes, I hide the creepy ball that rolls around the floor by itself asking me ‘can you find the lion?’ even though Toddler Boy loves it. Let’s be clear – he enjoys it so I haven’t gotten rid of it completely but it does my head in so every now and then I allow myself to be selfish and tuck it away in the back of a cupboard for an afternoon. Don’t even feel guilty, my hands are up, I’m owning it.
8 – I don’t explicitly teach my toddler how to count or the names of colours and shapes. For many parents, this knowledge is a marker for how well their child is developing and I get that. Actually, I agree with that. But in 2 and a half short years, Toddler Boy will be donning a school uniform and embarking upon a 14 year school career within an education system that puts more pressure on students than in any other time before. Now I’m aware that teaching a little one colours and numbers won’t necessarily result in a huge amount of stress (unless it’s being done very, very wrong) but I kind of like that right now, his learning experience – which isn’t insignificant – is mostly implicit; he’s picking up so much stuff by osmosis and quite often surprises me with new knowledge. Of course we talk about these things – like naming the colours of crayons as he colours in or counting how many toy cars he’s playing with. I correct him when he gets it wrong (everything is yellow at the moment, I’ve started just pointing to yellow stuff) but I don’t panic about why he doesn’t know it nor set a timeframe for when I’d like him to know it. I have enough faith in his nursery teachers, future school teachers, his ability to learn and my values as a parent to know that he’ll be ok- if he doesn’t know how many sides a hexagon has by the time he starts school, he almost certainly will by the end of the first half term and that’s alright with me – we’re owning it.
9 – Sometimes, I co-sleep with my baby. If you’ve read this blog before (or have known me for more than 1.3 seconds,) you’ll know aaaalll about my sleep woes, or rather, ‘lack of sleep’ woes. My almost 7 month old son still doesn’t sleep through the night – nowhere near it, in fact. Continuous broken nights coupled with incredibly early starts courtesy of the toddler, have left me aging very, very badly and edging towards madness. As a result, I will do pretty much anything for a minute’s sleep – including climbing off my big, fat, smug high horse that I sat on when Toddler Boy was a baby. The high horse that delighted in his sleeping through the night at 16 weeks and that refused to understand why anyone might choose not to persevere with sleep training when it so clearly worked. Oh what a know-it-all twat I was. Needless to say, Baby Boy is in with us at some stage most nights because he likes being next to me and if he’s next to me while I’m lying down then I can close my eyes and if I close my eyes, there’s a tincy wincy chance I’ll get to sleep for a millisecond more. I’m owning it. Oh so reluctantly but owning it nonetheless.
So there, that’s it. Next time you see me dig into a red velvet cake and ignore my TV addict toddler as he makes snorting noises instead of saying actual words, while the baby struggles with his hand/eye coordination, criticise my parenting if you like, but you’d be better off quietly congratulating me for not giving even the smallest of fucks. Or better yet, pull up a chair, grab a fork, and let’s get stuck into some wonderfully mediocre parenting together.