Are you the same as me? Do you sit on the sofa of an evening, replaying every moment of your day, going over and over the times you think you did something wrong, or lost your temper, or wished parenting was just like any other job you could go on holiday from??
Well, I do. I regularly wish for things to be better, for me to be better as a parent. For my patience to be never-ending with both my 3 year old and my 15 month old. Even when I give myself a bit of a break and say ‘but who is always patient with a toddler??’, I still give myself a hard time for being impatient with my younger boy. Just because he is exactly that – younger. How can I get annoyed with a baby who can’t understand everything I say yet?? I mean, how horrid can you get, and how much guilt can one parent feel for being such a bad mummy???
So, today, whilst lying next to Teddy Bear’s bed, silently willing him to copy me and lie down, only 2 hours after he should have started his nap, I began to think about what it would look like it life were perfect. If I were impossibly calm and patient, and if my children always did as I said.
Well. First of all, there would be the brilliant bits – they would sleep when I told them, without screaming or needing me to be with them, stroking, patting, shushing, pretending to sleep, etc. etc. etc. They would eat all their food without me having to spoon-feed them (the 3 year old included!), and would never demand sweets before their breakfast at 6.30am. In fact, they would stay in their bed, in their rooms, until I went to get them in the morning. There would be no rude wakeups in the wee hours, or calls of ‘mummy!’ an hour before Daddy Bear’s work alarm goes off. No fighting over toys. No dragging toddlers along the pavement as they cry over not being allowed to chase after the pigeon that’s just wandered into the busy road. No toddlers dragging babies around the house, or practising their WWE moves on their smaller siblings. No wrestling a child into a buggy/carseat/highchair, and no more lonely evenings tidying up all the toys once the kids are asleep, because they’d put all their toys away, neatly and carefully, when they’d finished playing with them.
And that’s just if they were perfect. What about me??? If I were the perfect parent I wouldn’t sit checking Facebook and Pinterest while my kids were off who knows where, playing with who knows what. I would be interacting with them, playing educational games with them and praising them for every throw and catch of a ball, and they wouldn’t even know what the big black box in the corner of the lounge was. But I’d also have all their meals cooked for them on time, each containing the perfect amount of protein, cards, veg and good fats. The house would be clean, their little fingers wouldn’t find dust to draw in under the radiators, and they definitely wouldn’t find remnants of the last 2 meals stuck at the back of their highchairs. They’d never get shouted at, never bribed with TV or sweets or Fruit Shoots, never ignored, never left to cry, never felt unloved or like life is just SO UNFAIR!!
Well. It’s a nice thought anyway.
Besides all that being physically impossible, would they have their own opinions, their own personality quirks? Would they ever learn to negotiate, or to make decisions for themselves? When I really got to thinking about it, you know, as I lay, squished on a toddler bed, willing Teddy Bear to go – to – sleep, I’m not sure if they would ever learn how to stifle that desire to do the wrong thing, to disobey, to do just what they want to. Which, if you think about it, is quite an important lesson, no matter how hard it is to learn (and for us parents to teach!). It’s that lesson that makes sure we are good, hard-working employees when we’re older, who manage to sit down and arrange their gas, electricity and water to be connected and paid on time, even for the first time at University. Who diligently sit every night and do their homework, who revise for exams, who practise their piano, and who learn to love seeing the progress they make under their own steam. Who know right from wrong, and can make the decision to do the right thing in any situation and not just the ones you have been with them in. Who looks at the lonely kid in the playground looking sad and scared, and doesn’t tease them with the others but goes over and offers the hand of friendship. Who is kind and empathetic, generous with their time and possessions, who will one day be ready to bring up their own kids. I know, I know. It’s a long way from defiant toddler to all those things, but it has to start somewhere right?
So, where do I go from here? I know that life won’t get any easier. It can’t be perfect. I can’t be the perfect parent, can’t split myself in three and be in the kitchen cooking, in the lounge playing, and in the bathroom cleaning all simultaneously. I will get angry and lose my temper again and again, will give in when I have said I won’t, will be wholly inconsistent and mess up over and over and over. But my kids will do that too. I’m supposed to be their teacher, their guide, and golly, that is terrifying!! But isn’t grace an important lesson to learn too? To learn to forgive when someone wrongs you? To learn how to swallow your pride and say sorry when you’ve done wrong. And I don’t think that’s something we ever stop learning. I won’t see smiling, happy faces every time I look at my kids, I won’t always take every opportunity to sit on the floor and play with them. They will be fed beans and toast or chocolate brioche for many consecutive meals, and watch far too much TV. But there will be some absolutely gorgeous times, when we will play, run around together, giggle, share in-jokes, and get through a whole day without watching Paw Patrol or shouting at each other. And they will be even more precious because they’re not commonplace.
Archie Bear and Teddy Bear are growing into their own people. They are learning who they are, and how they instinctively behave in different situations, when they feel all different emotions and are in all different moods and tempers. They will face situations as they grow up, and I won’t be there to guide them, to pull them back onto the right track. They will need to decide their own path, and without choosing the wrong path now, without seeing what will happen if they do the wrong thing, they will never learn how to do right. And without seeing me fail, get it wrong again and again, face up to it, slink back to them to say sorry and make up, they will never know that it’s totally normal, that no one is perfect, and how wonderful it feels to have a hug and know that everything is ok again.
And without being defiant, annoying, disobedient, downright mean, they will never receive forgiveness and grace from me. They will never know grace, and will never know how it feels to be completely loved no matter what. And I wouldn’t have them miss out on that lesson for anything.
Now I just need to remember that every day. What am I saying – every minute, every hour.