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So far, this week has been a solid 4/10.
If it hadn’t been for a lovely Sunday spent at the Harry Potter Studio Experience and a yummy Mothers’ Day meal pulling up the average, the mark would have been a LOT lower.
This week’s highlights have included setting the grill on fire whilst cooking pork chops, dropping the same pork chops on the floor, a poorly child being off school (NOTHING to do with the pork chops), discovering that the orange warning symbol in the car that looks like a cauldron being stirred with an exclamation mark indicates a punctured tyre, and paying overdue library book fines totalling £4.20.
£4.20… I could have parked in Cheltenham for 2 whole hours for that kind of money.
These are all first world problems, I know. The thing I found hardest about this week was actually my daughter’s behaviour.
I realise that, being a girl, hormones are going to kick in early, but I’m not convinced that our recent run of shouty, tearful, stampy, glowering interludes are anything to do with the onset of adolescence.
Here’s the thing… Along with 101 other things I find to be guilty about, one of the most insistent is the furtive suspicion that I don’t treat my children equally.
Half of me – the sensible half – tells me to get a grip. Reminds me that my children ARE DIFFERENT PEOPLE, so why would I treat them the same? Assures me that constantly trying to assess, balance, and compare my level and quality of interaction with my kids is unhelpful and a massive waste of energy.
The other half pokes me – gives me little jabs. “Ooh!” it says. “You smiled when your son said that, but then FROWNED when your daughter repeated it!” It shakes its head sorrowfully every time I say goodnight to my daughter after spending only 5 minutes in her room, followed by a 15 minute chat with my son in HIS room before lights out. It sighs judgementally when my son goes to his room without prompting and does his homework, while WW3 goes on downstairs because Dear Daughter doesn’t want to learn her spellings.
But I’m paranoid about it now. Even down to the most ridiculous things…
Finding ourselves ensnared in the Harry Potter shop on Sunday, I told the kids they could each choose a memento, costing up to £10. It took a long time to find anything for that amount, but eventually Son chose a pygmy puff keyring in his house colours, and Daughter chose a time turner keyring. But the pygmy puff was £6.95, and the time turner was £8.95!
The stupid fusspot in my head started dithering and looking for a way to make it even. Should I buy a packet of peppermint toads for us to share? To make it ‘fair’? But Daughter doesn’t like chocolate, so that would be a bit mean. I’d have to buy some Bertie Bott’s Every Flavour Beans too… and that would bring HER total up too much, thereby defeating the object.
Then I gave myself a figurative slap. Seriously?? Who gives a crap if one souvenir is £2 more expensive than the other? They certainly won’t, unless I mention it. They appreciated the trip and were delighted to be allowed to choose a gift. Why have I made it into an issue?
Guilt makes me illogical and irrational. And having more than one child is just a huge, muddy, gloriously disgusting wallowfest of guilt.
It started on the very day we brought our baby daughter home, and our 2 year old son realised he was not the only one in the centre of our universe any more.
I spent the first few months of my daughter’s life feeling as if I’d done something incalculably cruel to our son, and cried all the time – every time he wanted to play but I was breast-feeding, every time he wanted to make noise but she was having a nap, every time he wanted my attention but she was crying and needed a nappy change.
And then I felt doubly guilty because my daughter was being short-changed. She didn’t get to do ANYTHING with my full attention. Her brother had spent two blissful, peaceful years with our undivided attention; she didn’t even get two minutes. She was seen as the newcomer – the one who had, through no fault of her own, turned a fragile equilibrium upside down.
I still think she doesn’t get enough attention. Her brother gets to do everything first. He’s the first one to take a music exam, the first to do his SATs, the first to go to secondary school, the first to buy a new uniform. It’s all exciting and fresh when he does it. It’s old hat by the time my daughter does it, even though it’s new for her.
Since September, since our son started a new school and entered an exhilarating, nerve-wracking new phase in his life, we have been avid to learn his routine; to hear about his new teachers and his new friends; to try to visualise his school day.
Our daughter is at the same school she always has been, with the same friends and the same routines. Maybe we don’t show enough interest in her life. Maybe she sits and watches us, and compares the expressions on our faces when we talk to her and when we talk to him. Maybe our lack of engagement is the very thing causing her insecurity and frustration.
Children rarely act up for no reason at all. And while they are this young, the true cause can almost always be traced to home – as we, her parents, are still the biggest influence in her life right now.
I think it’s time for a huge shake-up and reassessment of my performance as a parent.
Yes, it’s VERY difficult to keep my temper when she knows how to push each and every single one of my buttons – sometimes with just a well-timed pout or eye-roll. Yes, she can be abrasive, challenging and rude; slamming doors with unnecessary force, and reciting a list of imagined things we apparently hate about her with self-flagellating melodrama…
But I’m going to have to dig deep, and find a core of loving patience and kindness, because underneath the bluster, I think there is a hurt, disappointed girl who doesn’t have the vocabulary to articulate the ways we are failing her as parents.
And I for one, am fiercely glad that she still has the fire left to shout and stand up for herself, and indirectly call for the help I think she needs.