Quite a while ago a (childless, naturally!) friend of mine posted on Facebook that there were two things she'd never do. I can't remember what the first was, but the second was "Put my child on a leash!" (She's American - I assumed she meant reins). And I thought, "Yeah, try saying that when you're trying to get two toddlers in the car in a busy car park on your own and one's a runner and the other one is unsteady on their feet. When you experience that, using reins will seem vastly preferable to a visit to A&E!"
I was reminded of this recently when talking to another friend who is about to adopt three siblings, the oldest of whom is just three! We had a long chat about the practicalities of managing three very young children, and the dearly-cherished principles that might just go out of the window when faced with the realities of life.
In nearly 40 years of childlessness, with a child-centred career and plenty of friends and family with children, I had plenty of time to watch different parents at work and form opinions about the things I would do, and the things I would NEVER do. Amazing how the reality has eroded some of those principles to the point of non-existence (not so amazing really, say all my parent friends knowingly!), and really sorted out the difference between what actually is very important and what can easily be let go with virtually no consequence.
Here are just a few pre-parenting resolutions that have got the better of me in the last three years of fostering and parenting:
1. We will not watch TV at mealtimesI know, I know, turning the TV off at mealtimes is beneficial to the whole family for so many reasons. TV stifles conversation and makes you eat without thinking so that you don't notice how much you're having. I know all of that, and I still think that it's probably better not to have it on while eating, but we have the TV on every teatime. Yes, every day!
Honestly? I know that the dinner table can be an important venue for the family to get together and talk about the day or whatever. This is fine if some of you have been out at work or school all day and this is the first opportunity you've really had to see each other. But, apart from 9 hours a week at Playgroup, I spend every moment of every day with OB. Believe me, we have plenty of chance for 'together time'. By the time teatime comes, I admit, I'm ready for a little rest from the incessant chatter-machine that is OB, and in need of a little distraction from his mealtime awkwardness (which would drive me crazy if I had to focus on it every day!). So, as I serve the tea (at the table - we're not peasants!) the TV goes on and I enjoy Alexander and Richard doing their Pointless thing while OB messes with his food, pushes his plate away repeatedly and says "I don't like it" a hundred times before eventually eating it and peace and calmness reigns!
2. I won't chase a running child up and down the street while they laugh at me mockinglyYes, when you chase after your child, he will think it's all a funny game and carry on running . But when you know from previous experiments that he's not going to stop, that he's going to run out of the building and down the path without stopping and be brought back by a disapproving stranger, and no amount of calling his name or shouting "Stop!" is going to make a difference, then, yes, you abandon your principles and chase him, even if it means falling flat on your backside in the middle of Tesco!
I had also wanted not to become one of those mums that yells their child's name clear across the street/shop/wherever but, yeah, that ship has sailed. Thankfully, as yet, I have managed to avoid the additional bellow of "Ged 'ere NOW!", sometimes flavoured with a sprinkling of expletives that is a favourite expression of many local mums on the primary school run.
3. I won't give my children dismissive answers to their questionsI do, I really do try my hardest to answer informatively and intelligently every single time OB says "Why?" which can amount to at least a billion times each day. I try. But sometimes there just isn't an answer to the question. Sometimes the "Why?" is just a reflex (like vomiting!) and has no logical place in the universe. Sometimes, backed into a corner, I feel I have no choice but to resort to, "Because it just is!" or, even worse, "Because I said so!" Bad Mummy!
4. I won't ever use the TV as a babysitterThis phrase, 'using the TV as a babysitter', was one I heard often during the childless years, usually uttered in the most disapproving tones by people who would have us believe that they only watch TV for 15 minutes each day and even then, purely for educational purposes. It's easy to buy into this idea that parents should spend every minute of every day doing lovely, crafty, educational, nurturing activities with their kids - especially if you've never actually lived with a kid (and you are a teacher!). Except that sometimes you can't do that because you need to make tea, and the toddlers are grumpy because they just got up from their nap and the only chance you have of getting a meal on the table is either if somebody miraculously turns up at the doorstep with one ready-prepared, or if you put the kids in front of Peppa Pig for half an hour. Works a treat!
5. I won't expect different rules for my childrenIt can be a frustration for teachers that virtually every parent will, at some point, want special treatment for their child. Often the reasons for this are completely valid, from a parent's perspective, but the teacher's perspective has to take in the needs of many children, not just one, and balance those needs against each other. It's simply not possible to fully cater for each individual child's individual need, especially if those needs conflict with the differing needs of another child.
As a parent, though, obviously, my son is special and must be catered for according to his individual needs, regardless! He shouldn't have to wear the armbands at swimming because he hates them so much. He shouldn't have to join in the noisy games at the summer club because loud noises bother him. He should be able to move into whatever Sunday School class I choose based on his age, height, ability with felt tips, which friends he sits next to, sock colour or whatever other criteria I'm choosing this week!
I hope that I've kept enough of my teacher's hat on me to be able to keep myself under control, and reasonable in what I expect others to do for my son . . . but I can't really be sure. The urge to protect, promote, and fight for my child is sometimes a bit of a red mist! Who knows what I might do!
6. I won't be glad when the school (Playgroup!) holidays are overYeah, I was naive - what can I say?!
What are the long-cherished parenting principles that have done a freefall into the ditch at the side of your parenting road? I'd love to hear!