The ‘I Will Never’ Game

The 'I Will Never Game' Blog Post - Dylan and Santa

Childhood Distress

I swore that I would never ever wet a handkerchief and use it to scrub something off my child’s face. This was something that happened many times throughout my childhood and I absolutely loathed it. Yes, my mother was one of those mothers. She would even do it to other people’s children.

Yet, unbelievably, the other day, I caught myself licking my finger to wipe some pen marks off Dylan’s face. I just lost again at the ‘I Will Never’ Game.

 

The Game

I have called it the ‘I Will Never’ game, although you probably didn’t think it was a game at the time. It may have started when you were very young. Most probably when your parents did something gross or embarrassing to you in public.

Or you may have added to your ‘I Will Never’ list in your head as you got older and saw some example of parenting that you disagreed with. In my twenties I remember seeing a harassed looking mother yelling at her child in the middle of the supermarket, and thought, ‘I will never do that’.

Then when we found out we were expecting Dylan we added to our growing ‘I Will Never’ list. I decided I would never force food into my child’s mouth, I wouldn’t use food as a reward and my child would never go without at least some vegetables on his dinner plate. And that is just the food list!

I am sure you have done it too. Said to yourself: I will never use a dummy, overspend on birthdays or say clichéd things about money to my kids (“it doesn’t grow on trees”).

I read up on all the scary dangers of too much screen time for tots and decided I would never let my son watch more than half an hour of TV a day, and definitely not have any screen time until he was over two. (All the reasons to decide this seemed very compelling at the time but I couldn’t tell you what they are now).

This ‘I Will Never’ list is usually only in your head but if you took the time to write it out and put it in front of any parent, they would fall about laughing like they all do at that end of every ‘Peppa Pig’ episode. I know this because it is Dylan’s favourite TV program.   Well it’s a tie between that and ‘Thomas’.

 

The Santa Claus Myth

Take another example. In the glow of my first pregnancy I started questioning whether I wanted to perpetuate the culturally acceptable lies that accompany the legion of Santa Claus. In a flush of pre-natal philosophy, I did a simple equation: Santa is a lie – lying is bad – thus there shall be no Santa myth in our household.

Of course this lasted to Dylan’s first Christmas when he was only eight months old and wouldn’t have understood Santa as different from the nose on his face. Partly what changed was that I was worn down by society’s expectations. The path of least resistance is much easier to tread. And I really didn’t want to be the mum of that child – the one that screeches in the middle of daycare that “THERE IS NO SANTA”.

But really when it comes down to it, I lie to Dylan a LOT. Probably every day. “No you can’t have another lolly as there are none left.”, “Peppa Pig is not on TV now – go outside and play.”, “We can’t go to your friend’s house – they are sleeping/ not at home.”

So really, the Santa thing – well that is one of the good lies.

 

Values versus Reality

So why do we play this game? Why do we think our situation will be different? Why do we set ourselves up to fail? I guess it is because ideals such as being honest are very important and we want to teach our children to value them.

So what do we do? How do we reconcile the ideals and values that underlie our ‘I Will Never’ lists with the reality of parenting a living, breathing separate human being? In other words, how do I turn around at a later date and point out that lying is bad even though that is exactly what I have been doing to Dylan for his whole life?

I guess it all comes down to teaching our children to aspire to our highest values (the truth, being healthy, something about less TV), but also that the world is complicated and messy and not all situations will slot easily into rules and lists. Walking the fine line between these two opposing things is what being a parent is all about.

And it also means that you will always lose at the ‘I Will Never’ game.

However, if that means that I get to see Dylan’s eyes sparkle when the Christmas tree lights turn on, or he surprises me with a verse of ‘Jingle Bells’, or he bursts out with a “Merry Christmas Everyone” in the middle of the mall, then I am absolutely fine with losing at this particular game.

Festive Greetings to you all. Love Julie, Andrew and Dylan.

The 'I Will Never Game' Blog Post - Christmas Bucket List

Embrace the Chaos

Embrace the Chaos Blog Post - Order and Chaos

Prenatal Worries

My friend Jen is about to have her first baby and is somewhat anxious about what going into labour and giving birth will be like. This is of course a very natural and normal thing to worry about.

One reason we spend a lot of time thinking about labour and birth is that it is a complete unknown. Even if you have done it before, even if you have been present at someone else’s birth, the birth of this child will be different. Like snowflakes, no two births are the same (who really has actually decided that fact about snowflakes?).

The stories and advice you get from other mothers can actually add to the stress: “Oh I was in labour for 27 hours, it was awful….but I am sure you will be fine”.

Therefore, I find myself saying to Jen and other mum-to-be statements along the lines of ‘you have the advantage of being born in modern times in a first world country so even if the unlikely event it all goes wrong, you can get the help you need’.   I sound like an airplane’s safety announcement.

 

The Perfect Introduction to Parenting

So I have made a decision to approach this in a completely different way. Labour and birth are the equivalent of being thrown, screeching, by an arm and a leg, into the deep end of the pool. There is no option to dip your toe in the shallow part.

Having a child is in fact the perfect introduction to what being a parent is all about. It is completely out of your comfort zone, fill of things you cannot control and often leaves you physically and emotionally vulnerable. This precisely describes how I feel about being a mum.

Unfortunately this is also not that helpful to Jen, who would still like to be able to have some semblance of control and order. I can completely understand – I am the organisation queen of the world. Here are two examples of how I have tried to put structure around both the labour process and child-rearing. Compare and contrast:

 

The Birth Plan

First Step: Write out a birth plan. Feel better that you have a plan and it sounds reasonable. Pack it in your hospital bag.

Second Step: Go into labour and forget to look at plan. When you are fumbling around the bag for that squeezy stress ball that you threw in you find the birth plan piece of paper. You read the first couple of lines, get another contraction and rip it up in a huff of annoyance.

Third Step: Way down the track, when your infant is quiet for a moment, get another copy of the birth plan and have a good chuckle at how ridiculous it was and that it didn’t even come close to how you imagined your baby coming into the world would be.

Conclusion: Realise that the ONLY guarantee with labour and birth is that it will not follow your birth plan.

 

The Bedtime Routine

First Step: Decide on a bedtime routine for your older baby/ toddler that includes a basic structure and a set bedtime.

Second Step: On a typical weeknight watch your structure and bedtime fall into an abyss as you get home from work late and watch your toddler eat so slowly that glaciers have formed in the interim. He then has a massive splashy tantrum in the bath because the ‘Thomas’ towel is in the wash and insists on reading the same book four times. Result is eventual slumbering by 8.30pm (me not my child – who knows when he fell asleep).

Third Step: Decide that the bedtime routine is a merely a loose framework and that a win is defined as getting some semblance of dinner into toddler (even half a banana) and being asleep before me.

Conclusion: Realise that the ONLY guarantee with the bedtime routine is that it should be viewed as a lofty goal, not a structure set in stone.

 

The Helpful Bit

I realise that the above scenarios do not really help the worried mum-to-be, except perhaps to add a little amusement to her day. So I have three things to add. Firstly, organisation, routine and structure are still things to aspire to as a parent if you like that sort of thing. I am not telling you to give up on them completely. When, on the rare occasions, Dylan is actually in bed by 7pm, I feel like a rock star.

More importantly, we need to remind ourselves that the only things that we control in this little place called Earth, are our own feelings and reactions. You do not have to feel miserable that the bedtime routine was in complete disarray for the third night in a row. Or you can choose to feel a bit annoyed and then let that emotion pass. Either way, be kind to yourself, you are only human, just one imperfect parent, and you always will be.

Parenting is filled with real stress, regrets and worries. But having a child is one helluva wacky, wonderful and surprising journey. You cannot control where the rollercoaster takes you, but you can choose to enjoy the ride. And the best way to do that is remember that at the core of it all is love. And love doesn’t conform to lists or rules. It often doesn’t make much sense at all. So embrace love and embrace the chaos.

Embrace the Chaos Blog Post - Birth Plan

The Parenting Paradox

Paradox Blog Post - Parenting Paradox Cartoon

Like

A few weeks ago, a friend of mine posted this as her status update on Facebook:

“Equal parts love and horror today. I have the two most beautiful, frustrating, wonderful, annoying, brave, wussy and amazing children.”

I had a little giggle and pressed on ‘Like’. But why did I like it? We all know that parenting is hard work, but this little quote perfectly encapsulated why it is so hard.

Parenting is not hard work only due to there being an overwhelming responsibility for another life. And it is not difficult purely because of the breathtaking array of things that we want children to discover and learn for themselves. It is hard because between these two concepts – protecting our child and also letting them be free – there is an inherent incongruity.

This paradox, this jumbled mess of contradictions, is a tightrope that somehow we as parents have to find a balance on.

 

The Simple Part

Having a baby can be terrifying and extremely difficult at times. I am not saying it is easy, but at its core, parenting a little baby is quite simple. Think about it in terms of a mathematical equation.  Food + Sleep = Good. Any thing else = Bad.

I have decided that they start out as babies with basic biological needs so that we are eased into parenting slowly and do not get overwhelmed with what is ahead. We are not hit with the inherent contradictory nature of parenting first off.

Dylan is now almost two and I have only just started to get a glimpse of this minefield of mess and contradictions that sits at the core of parenting.

 

The Hard Part

I went to a parenting course and the tutor asked us what we wanted for our children. The usual answers got uttered: to be “happy”, “healthy”, “rich”. But these seemed so ill defined and trite. Then one smart daddy said, “ I would be happy if my kid didn’t end up in jail”. There was a gentle sprinkling of laughter from that corner of the room.

Later, I thought what a brilliant example of the parenting paradox. What do we wish for our children? We cannot even define it. It is easier to state what we don’t want.

 

The Contradictory List

So what do I want for Dylan? Here is a little sample…

Want him to strive to be the very best he can be in any situation But do not want to push him too hard at the expense of other things
Want him to not take for granted the status quo, be curious and question everything But when I tell him to do something, I do not want him to question me
Want him to hold onto a central core of self-love, develop self-confidence and stand up for himself But not in an arrogant, narcissistic or weird way (like certain high profile celebrities)
Want him to face his fears head on and embrace the many challenges life will throw at him But do not like the idea of him letting off fireworks, riding a motorcycle or taking up base-jumping as a hobby
Want him to identify and challenge when rules are inappropriate or unfair But he should follow the rules in our house, they are there for a reason
Want him to embrace diversity and accept different cultures But some cultures purposely hurt animals or discriminate against women and I personally do not find those things acceptable
Want him to dream big, reach for the stars, have big, hairy, audacious goals and make every effort to achieve them But he should also have his feet on the ground and understand that life doesn’t always give you want you want every time
Want him to not be defined by his gender But if he wanted to wear hair clips to school, I am not sure I would be too supportive
Want him to be careful with money and learn the value of saving and preparing for the future But he should learn to spend without feeling guilty and embrace being generous to others
Want him to be polite But not be a pushover

 

K.I.S.S

How do I hop through this minefield? The only way I can think of to handle the parenting paradox is to look for and embrace the moments when parenting becomes very simple again.

When Dylan was a baby I could spend ages gazing at his face and cuddling him. It seemed so much simpler back then. Now with a toddler who is always on the go, the moments may be more fleeting, but when they do occur it is important to stop and realise how wonderfully simple it all can be.

The other night when Dylan was in his highchair eating dinner, he started laughing and saying “sun sun”. He couldn’t see the actual sun from where he was sitting but what he was looking at was the sunlight dappled on the dining room wall making sparkling waves of shadows. He was delighted with this shimmering display. It was a moment of pure simple joy.

 

Happy Birthday

Dylan, you are the most sweet, challenging, delightful, exasperating, fun, naughty, cheerful and awesome child. Happy second birthday my gorgeous monster.

Paradox Blog Post - Cupcake with Two Candles

 

The School of Hard Knocks

School of Hard Knocks Blog Post - Knife Block

My Love of School

I look back with fondness to my teenage years because I really enjoyed going to school. But why? Yes I simply enjoyed learning new ideas, but that is only one of the reasons why I liked school so much.

Then a few months ago I was cleaning the kitchen and put the knife block behind one of the baby gates out of reach of my little man. I was feeling pretty good as I was giving the kitchen a thorough clean. I turned from scrubbing the bench top to see Dylan holding the largest carving knife from the block in his hand – by the knife end.

It was on that day that I worked out that there were three things school provided to me that parenting a young child does not.

 

Structure

The first of these is structure. Classes were held at set times, assessments had deadlines and there was a timetable for exams. Each day you knew what lessons you had, you knew when lunchtime was and you knew when the bell would ring for the end of school.

Now I don’t know anything. Believe me, I love structure and know from all the books I have read how important it is for young children. Yet, despite my best efforts each day is a struggle against full-blown chaos. Vegetables may be consumed ferociously one day and studiously ignored the next. Sleep times during the day can range from three minutes to three hours without any warning. “Bedtime routine” is two words strived for but very rarely achieved.

 

Right and Wrong Answers

At school, I liked that there were clearly right and wrong answers. Presenting the right answers gave you good marks. Guessing or making up the wrong answers meant you failed.

You make choices and decisions every day and there is no guarantee that they are correct. Take sleep for example. If your child is crying do you go and comfort him so that he knows you are there to meet his needs or do you let him try to go to sleep on his own as that is a very important skill to learn? Most of the time it is best to let Dylan protest a bit before drifting off to sleep but one time I left Dylan to cry and then eventually went in to find he had bumped into the side of the cot and cut his lip on a new tooth. Knowing that I ignored my bleeding, distressed child brings about the most horrific mother-guilt imaginable.

I have discovered that there is no real right or wrong. You can even do something ‘right’ and end up with a fail. Clean kitchen + baby grabbing hold of large knife by the sharp bit = FAIL.

 

Report Cards

I especially liked the sense of achievement I got from the end of year report card. It showed how much more I had learned during the year. There was some independent feedback that I did a good job. Getting ‘A’s was a particular highlight for the little geek inside me.

Sadly, there will never be a report card for being a mum. I can strive for the ‘A’ but no one is ever going to award me one on a piece of paper. I have to accept that if I want a pat on the back then I will have to awkwardly give myself one.

 

Parenting 101

Becoming a mum takes everything that being through school holds sacred – structure, black and white answers and third-party feedback and throws it out the window. So it is up to me to recreate these ideals in a way that carries on the essence of them but is flexible enough to cope with the imperfections that come with being a mum to a young child.

How exactly? Firstly, by having a structure that is more flexible than my yoga teacher. Knowing that over the course of the week Dylan will get enough sleep and an adequate intake of vegetables. Making sure I don’t worry too much about getting him into bed at exactly the same time each night.

Also, I have to be happy with my decisions. They may not always be ‘right’ but at the very least I can learn from my mistakes. Although it was a shock for both of us that a small baby can stretch his arm through the baby gate to grab hold of a large knife, it was a huge relief that there was no actual injury. I have learnt to put the knife block on the top shelf when cleaning the kitchen.

Plus, even though there is never going to be a written report card for being a mum, I have realised I get valuable feedback every single day. When Dylan chuckles wholeheartedly or mimics the sound of the dog next door or tries to climb up the bookcase, he is showing me that he is learning and he is happy.   What more could I ask for?

I just enjoy being a mum, and that is better than any A on any report card.

School of Hard Knocks Blog Post - Report Card