Family dinners with young kids are over-rated.
There. I said it.
Think about it. Having almost half a dozen people with competing interests and varied tastes, elbow distance apart and expecting anything less than mayhem and spilt milk, is nothing short of madness.
You know what else I think is over-rated?
Same story. People of vastly different ages (1-40) and interests (Thomas, to Minecraft, to Dexter..) raising their expectations, their ambitions to partake in their particular (incompatible) interests, all at the same time, for one or two short weeks a year, is bound for failure.
At least, for the parents.
We all see the smiley beach pics on Facebook. Don’t let them fool you. No one takes pictures of the woman’s face who abused you after your toddler kicked her seat all the way to Fiji.
You might think by now that I am bitter. Jilted. Unappreciative.
But actually, I am just a Mother Of Boys.
Those of you with multiple boys know what I mean. Without the balance of a girl in the mix, they are loud. Sticky. Boisterous (actually, make that violent).
They are also robust, independent and fun.
So you can’t have it all. I am not ungrateful. I cherish the little monkeys, they are the best (and worst) part of every day, but, let’s be honest, all kids have their challenges.
I know girls have their own quirks. Whinging seems to be up there on the list, along with a touch of manipulation and diva-attitude (and not just in the teen years). So yes, I know we can all do it tough, some more than others.
I’ll admit it. I could probably count on one-hand the days that my children all ate both a fruit and a vegetable (excluding potatoes and popcorn), had a proper bath (no, swims don’t count), cleaned their teeth (more than once, and for more than four seconds), and did their homework.
And if you add those luxuries like getting them to make their own bed, or even change their sheets more than every coupla weeks without a major (pee) incident forcing your hand, I would come up with squat.
This, I tell the president of the P&C, is why I cannot become an office bearer at the school committee. When I can get all of the essentials done on the same day, with all three kids, for one week straight, I will take on further responsibilities.
I have a cool sense of relief that she will be left waiting indefinitely.
Whilst we’re on the subject of confessions, I shout at my kids. Bellow. Scream. Yell.
I try not to. I know it’s wrong. I do talk to them nicely too occasionally (and I am always surprised when they actually listen), but when you’re outnumbered and they push your buttons – you’re only human after all. We’re genetically programmed to give emotional responses.
Whilst I don’t advocate bellowing as a technique (yes I know it’s just like throwing petrol on a campfire), I like to justify it as building resilience. My kids live with rough and tumble play, messy floors, sinks full of dishes, raised voices, sticky tables. And they survive. What’s more, even on the bad days, I think they still know they’re loved. They can weather the storms, the argy-bargy in the playground, the mean teacher in PE, the kid who pushes to the front. They might live off white food (only) for days, and rarely see a comb, but they’re not shrinking violets.
I’m not perfect. Far from it.
I thought I met a perfect mum once, until I popped in unannounced one day and saw her place looking a tad like mine (ie, like it has just been burgled). She is just like the rest of us. Doing the essentials, getting to the rest.
So why do we continue with the facade that we are invincible?
Quickly vacuuming before a play-date (just to have popcorn spread over the place before they leave)? Making the beds (as if that ever happens when visitors aren’t planned)? Personally, as long as there aren’t rats running around, I would feel more comfortable in a slightly sticky, cluttered lounge, with the odd toy stuffed in the cushion, and Lego-mine concealed in the carpet.
Then I would feel right at home. Like I am normal. Coping in the chaos, managing in the mayhem.
I once confided in a full-time working mum that I struggled to leave my kid at day-care (even one day a week). She confidently attested how great it was for socialisation, how well their child was doing developmentally, how she enjoyed having her own life.
I discovered later (in a rare moment of honesty after a few wines), that the same daughter she spoke of needed to take suppositories to poo, after being too anxious to do the deed each day at childcare. I felt sorry for the poor kid (and poor mum), but why the need for the precipitation of such a perfect image? An image of coping without any cracks in the facade.
We’re all mums. We all have strengths and weaknesses, just like our kids. And we’re all doing the best we can.
Let’s start supporting each other, as mums, as women, as fellow humans.
Let’s start by being honest with each other about the trials of parenthood. It’s a great gig. Kids enriches my soul and I’m lucky to have them, but crikey they can drive you crazy. Test the most patient, try the best marriage, and turn the most loving mum wild.
Honesty may ruffle feathers, even offend. But I believe my lack of denial over the difficulties of presiding over a sticky brood of boys (one with high-needs) has paved the way to actually explore solutions.
Despite the difficulties that arise with multiple siblings – the hand-me-downs, the rivalry – the companionship seems to make up for it in spades.
Yet whilst there are family moments I will savour forever, most of the jewels are from one-on-one time. I have been blessed with a hands-on-husband, and fabulous parents that can allow me to spend time with my beautiful kids individually. This is a great solution for those lucky enough to have someone to share the load, even if only occasionally.
Let’s be honest. We all need a break from the mob.
So next time a fellow parent asks us “how was your break?” after the school holidays (those long sentences that some of us barely survive, where we are satisfied just to have avoided killing our offspring, and also prevented them killing each other), perhaps we should say it like it is…
“Break, what break? Mostly it sucked, but I survived. How was yours?”
“A gender-equal society would be one where the word ‘gender’ does not exist: where everyone can be themselves.”*
I’ve always been aware of gender conditioning and actively tried to combat any lingering prejudices or stereotypes in my own parenting, even down to encouraging dolls with my boys when they were little. It’s great to read people writing about gender issues they’re experiencing with their kids. For too long these subjects have been discouraged or silenced. I’d love to publish some more creative writing on this topic, especially if you are struggling with a child who actively tries to move away from gender normative preferences. A society where everyone can be themselves – thanks Gloria for those aspirational words.
* Gloria Steinem