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.
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.