Before my first child was born, I had lots of worries about parenting. How would I cope with the lack of sleep? The over-whelming responsibility? The loss of freedom? Obviously I have had issues with all these things, but generally the things which really get me down and have me furtively stuffing chunks of Dairy Milk in my mouth in the downstairs loo so that the children don’t see and be set a bad example (I mean, steal it), are the little niggles which add up and occasionally threaten to subsume me.
1) The relentlessness of meals
Three meals a day, seven days a week. Plus snacks. All of which need to be healthy, economical, tasty, nutritionally balanced and provided on time. There is no possibility of skipping breakfast and grabbing a muffin mid-morning if you’re hungry. Or waking up too late to make a packed lunch so popping out to M&S for a sandwich. Or feeling far too knackered to cook and ordering a takeaway. My saviour had always been toast and houmous. Anna would eat that for all three meals a day given half a chance, the ingredients can be bought in our local Tesco express, it takes a couple of minutes to prepare, and with a few cherry tomatoes or slices of cucumber on the side it’s pretty well balanced. Unfortunately, Sophia doesn’t like it. She’s not a big fan of toast at all. Or houmous. And definitely not houmous on toast. Anyone got any ideas what I’m going to feed her for the next decade, or two please?
2) Always having to get up
You know how it is. You have a streaming cold. Or you’re doubled up with period pains. Or shattered because you’ve been surviving on five hours a night broken sleep for the last fortnight. So you plot ways to sit down for twenty minutes. Get a selection of toys out and arrange them on floor. Move all breakable objects out of reach. Grant permission for some TV viewing. Provide drinks and snacks. Then sink down with a sigh of relief and put your feet up. Instantly all hell breaks loose. Drinks get spilt. Nappies get filled. Toys mysteriously bury themselves in totally inaccessible places. The remote control goes AWOL. And, inevitably, you have to bloody get up!
3) People I haven’t given birth to calling me ‘Mum’
Health visitors (the worst culprits), shop assistants, teachers, doctors, nurses, bus drivers, playgroup leaders. I know it’s hard. I know you meet hundreds of parents each week. I know you can’t be expected to remember everyone’s name. I know that in the modern world it isn’t safe to assume that the parent will share a surname with their child. I do feel your pain. But it is lazy and patronising to call me “Mum”, it irritates the hell out of me, and when it happens day after day for seven years it gradually erodes my feeling of being a person in my own right.
4) Bright blue children’s toothpaste
Colgate hate me. I assume. Why else do they make their children’s toothpaste a) the stickiest substance known to humankind and b) bright blue? However many times a day I wipe the sink down, there is always bright blue residue in the basin, on the taps, on the tiles around the sink, on the toothbrush holder and IT DRIVES ME BONKERS.
5) ‘Don’t worry about the dirt, just enjoy the kids while they’re little’.
How many times have you heard that advice from a well-meaning friend or relative, or seen similar sentiments expressed on postcards or gift magnets. The only conclusion I can come to is that these people have either never lived with small children or had cleaners. I am about as far from being a neat freak as you can get. I am not spending precious time when I could be snuggled up reading, or running through wild flower meadows with my precious offspring engaged in daily scrubbing of the front doorstep, or colour-coding my store-cupboards or even hoovering under the bed. I don’t even iron. No, what I spend several hours a day doing is ensuring that we have clean dishes to eat off, clean clothes to wear, and that the floors, kitchen work surfaces and bathroom are hygienic enough to avoid attracting vermin or giving us all E coli. And the house still looks a total tip 90% of the time.
6) All the STUFF
Paintings. Colourings. Collages. Models of space-ships. Lists. Interesting pebbles or leaves collected in the playground and brought home. Letters from school. Felt-tips without tops. Stickers. Free gifts from a magazine bought three years ago. All of which are liberally scattered around the house on a permanent basis, largely ignored, but apparently far too precious to be thrown away. On the odd occasion I do get ruthless, inevitably the next day we have near hysteria because one of the discarded items isn’t to be found.
7) Party Bags
When I found the National Union of Parents the first item on my agenda will be the abolition of party bags. Surely one of the biggest causes of misery in any modern family. Seriously, who wins? The parent bestowing the bag has to spend eye-watering sums of money on plastic tat, and then precious time stuffing it into the bags, and worrying that there will somehow be extra, unaccounted for guests who don’t have a bag. This worry results in buying more bags, and more plastic tat.
Then the parent of the child receiving the bag has to accommodate yet more STUFF (see above) into their already overcrowded house. We already have more spinning tops, crayons which don’t work properly and little yellow rubber men than you can shake a stick at. Even the child doesn’t really win, because inevitably the most favoured toy is broken within the hour, which coincides with the sugar comedown after the party and leads to frustrated tears and all round grumpiness.
If you really want to bestow a parting gift, may I suggest wrapping a piece of birthday cake in a piece of kitchen roll? Or perhaps a small bag of chocolate buttons. Both of which have the advantage that if I’m quick off the mark I can scoff them myself. In the downstairs loo, of course.
8) The inverse proportion of time spent planning an activity to time it keeps child amused
When I have browsed Pinterest, chosen a craft activity, purchased the necessary supplies and planned a fun yet educational afternoon it is a near certainty that child will engage long enough to create total chaos, spreading glitter across every surface in the house and covering their new cardi which they’re not even wearing at the time in paint, before declaring that they’re bored and wondering what’s on telly now. On the other hand, Sophia was happily engaged for 20 minutes yesterday afternoon carefully peeling the sticky address label off a parcel I’d taken in for a neighbour. Every time I declare no more planned activities, but somehow I’m always drawn back in again.
9) The assumption I possess skills I blatantly don’t
I can write. I can write, if called upon, academic essays, business plans, board reports, discussion papers, blog posts and novels. Back in the day I was also pretty good at running a department and managing a team of staff. I can’t sew, or knit, or crochet. I can’t paint or draw. I can’t make fancy dress costumes or scale models of the Eiffel Tower from toilet rolls. I do my best to decorate cakes which look like Mr Men or fairy toadstools, but I’m not very good at it. Before I was a parent, no-one expected me to do these things. Lots of people can do them, and enjoy doing them, and that’s great, but no problem at all if it’s not your bag. Yet there’s an expectation that the act of giving birth, much as it enables your body to produce milk to feed your child, also mysteriously conveys the ability to spend the next decade crafting with the best of them. Except it doesn’t.
10) The constant stream of guilt
Am I doing it right? Could I be doing it better? Is it my fault? How do I improve? Why can’t I? Why can’t they? Pressure from mainstream media, social media, friends, family and, most of all, my own insecurities mean that I am always wondering whether I am doing enough to be the mother that these perfect little scraps of humanity I somehow created clearly deserve.