When it comes to our preoccupation with screens, us parents are hypocrites. Perhaps it’s our earned prerogative, or simply a rebellion via the back door. We pop off to bed early to read our book, only to find that an hour later we are still scrolling through the dregs of Facebook. Just one more person’s news, just one more click and then we’re surprised (every night) that it’s suddenly the witching hour and we’re absolutely knackered and can’t sleep because something we’ve read has pointlessly wound us up. And so we lie in our bed worrying, (because every little worry creeps around at night), and one of those little worries is that we forgot to take the kids’ mobiles off them an hour before bed (again).
We’re nothing but bloody hypocrites. But it’s ok, because we are the parents and so we are allowed to take photos of of our food, our cappuccino, our glass of wine and put them on Instagram without fear of reprisal. Being an adult gives us this right. We can wake up in the morning and grab at our phone and glasses and check our e mails and the news, because we have to know what’s been going on (obsessively).
‘Screens are a drug’, we tell our kids, as we feed it to them when it suits. When we want that moment’s peace. Like the chocolate bar, the trip to MacDonald’s – just a treat. The treat that leaves them wanting more. That leaves all of us wanting more. The treat that becomes addictive. On their birthdays and at Christmas we are their dealers. Dealers with a conscience and a sense of responsibility to those who score. A responsibility that we aren’t quite savvy enough to handle.
‘You are always attached to your phones’ I tell my teens and I don’t think they can be bothered to reply the obvious. They notice, but they think it so normal that I am attached to mine. That I check every buzz, every ‘like’, every tweet. Just like them.
I think we need to stop kidding ourselves that any of this is going to change. If we can’t change, they can’t change. This addiction is assimilated in all our lives. We can read articles about its dangers and nod and agree, but at some point we have to put our hands up and say: this is life and not just our kids’ lives, but our lives too. We are hypocrites and when we admit it, then we will accept it. And you know what? We will adapt to it (we already have). We are feeding it. What’s important is that we understand it.
We’re human, we think, we judge. Yet I’m still surprised at how judgmental some people are. How self-righteousness. I am surprised how one person’s choice gives another the feeling that they have a right to feel superior. That they have a goddamn right to judge. That they feel able to say whatever they like to someone and to others around them about that person, without having walked in their shoes, but because they think they know.
We all judge. I often find myself saying to partner: “between you and me and I would never say this to anyone else…” He is my sounding board. My safe place to voice a potentially judgemental thought. I know that my thought will go no further and at the same time I know that he will tell me if he disagrees, or validate my judgement by agreeing.
I play it safe. I have no right to judge. But people are so quick to blast their judgments openly and cruelly on social media. Unthinkingly, it seems. Yet I think that some people do think. I think that some people think it’s ok to openly judge another because what the other has done is just so wrong (or different).
But is it? Is it what it seems? Do we know?
Are you the one who feels able to judge
The one who presumes
The one who knows
Are you the one who feels in a position of power
The one who looks down
Are you the one
Who goes beyond just thinking it
The one who has to comment
Can’t help yourself
But do you really know
Do you really have a right to judge?
Because you know
You never really know
I was chatting to my sister about disciplining teens and the old chestnut came up about giving them barriers to kick against. “Yes” my sister said, “but what if those barriers don’t work?”
It came to me that there are different types of barriers and then this analogy popped into my head. Imagine your teen in a cardboard box. Firstly, imagine that they are screwed up into a ball. They have no leg space to unravel themselves and they are struggling for air. It’s uncomfortable and oppressive and they can’t talk because their face is pushed downwards onto their chest, with their knees digging into it. They are getting hotter and more frustrated as they literally cannot move. It’s dark in there. Their parents are sitting on the box, preventing them from opening the flaps.
Now imagine the scenario of the same teenager, but they are in a bigger box. There is room in there for them to stretch out their legs. They can breathe freely and when they want to talk to someone, they can open the flap. Their parents are standing just outside the box. When the teen stretches out their legs, their feet touch the sides. They feel secure in their box, as the cardboard walls make them feel safe.
One thing I’ve learnt over the past few years, is how important it is to parent outside that big box, rather than sitting on it. Teenagers want to know you are there, but not too close. They need to feel trusted, but they also need to know what the parameters are. They need rules so that they can argue against them, whilst knowing you care and have certain expectations of them. In short, they need a box, but they need space in that box to move. If we don’t give our teens space to explore, to make mistakes then they will never learn what to do when they fuck up. If we are always on them, rescuing them when they fail, they will never learn resilience. If we don’t give them the space to be able to kick the sides of the box, they will most probably eventually explode out of it, catapulting us far away and abusing their new found freedom, because, like a kid in a toy shop, they want all the toys they were never allowed.
So back to my sister’s point: what if those barriers don’t work? Well, if the big box isn’t strong enough, and this could be for a multitude of reasons: poor friendships, incident-induced anxiety, perhaps some nature and a little nurture, then we will watch them fuck up. That’s ok. We did and we survived. But we will be there, standing right outside that box, to help them get back on track.
When was the last time you stopped to think? Perhaps it was in the bath? Or maybe in the early hours when you couldn’t sleep? I often bemoan the fact that I don’t have time to reflect on where I am in life. To think about what I have achieved and to plan what goals to aim for. I get frustrated that I am so busy that I can’t just stop and think.
When I do have time to relax, I fill it with friends and family. With weekend papers and wine. With dog walks and pub lunches, so I still don’t have time to think. When I go on my summer holiday, I devour books and sleep in the sun. I walk to cafés, drink coffee and explore new places and I still don’t have time to think.
Here’s a thought, perhaps time to think is overrated. When I schedule my bath (a week in advance due to having 4 daughters), I imagine that I will wallow in its comforting warmth and indulge myself in reflections on life and what the universe holds for me. Yet the reality is that I lie there and think about all the things that I should have done that day. I try to write them in my phone, which then gets wet and I worry that I will drop it in the bath. Why is it that as soon as my desperate body slides into those delicious bubbles, I feel the overwhelming urge to write a list? Not the inspirational list I had hoped my thoughts would take me to whilst lying in my bath. No. A list of must do’s and forgot to do’s and shit there was something else, but I can’t quite remember what it is to do’s.
Then there’s the tossing and turning at 3am, when I’m wide awake for no apparent reason. Unexpected thinking time that I can immerse myself in without fear of interruption. I can turn this negative awake time around and imagine what I want for my future and what I have achieved in my past. But these useful thoughts seem to escape me and in their place I am gripped by anxiety. Anxious thoughts that I didn’t give a toss about yesterday and by the morning I don’t give a toss again.
In the past when I worried about something I would dwell on it, turn it over and over in my mind. I allowed myself too much time to think: what could happen? What might happen? The more thinking fertilizer I fed the worry, the more the worry grew. Now I try and stubbornly refuse to give my worries airspace. Rather than stopping to think, I get my head down and hurry right on by.
When was the last time you got to stop and think? But more importantly, when was the last time you were able to use your precious thinking time well? Perhaps we shouldn’t seek time to reflect, but simply to enjoy the moment.
The following letter was inspired by a post on my local mums’ Facebook page. It is about no-one in particular, but some may relate to it. If you have a husband who is nothing like this one, then be eternally thankful (but don’t feel that you still can’t play the PMT card, when you’re just having a really shitty day).
Dear Darling Husband,
I married you ‘for richer, for poorer. In sickness and in health’. I just want to clarify the terms. ‘In sickness’ does not include man flu. I did not say, “I do” to watching you laying on the sofa with that irritating woeful look on your face, whilst telling anyone who will listen (your mum) that you have googled the symptoms and it could be Malaria. I am aware (because you keep saying it) that absolutely nobody understands how ill you are. I am also aware (because you keep telling me) what a shit nurse I am. You see, the thing is, I am not a shit nurse. When the kids have a temperature of 102 degrees and are covered in a rash, with tonsils the size of the Devil’s Marbles, I show huge concern. I place a flannel on their forehead and give them Calpol. If I indulge you with this much attention, you will miraculously feel better and want sex. No, a cup of tea on my way out the door is currently all my stress levels can manage. Especially as I am still feeling ill from the heavy cold I had at the beginning of the week. The same one that you now have, but you tell me that yours is a more virulent strain. The one you didn’t notice, because everything carried on as normal. Just as it did a few hours after I gave birth to our daughter. You remember – the birth that you fainted at and had to be brought toast and a cup of tea by two midwives, whilst I was screaming, “get this little fucker out!” Perhaps you should go to the doctor – that person who you resolutely refuse to have anything to do with. But don’t worry, while you are so stoically going it alone (whilst constantly fishing for sympathy), I will keep those balls in the air (no Darling Husband not yours, as you are ill, remember?) I will keep the flag flying in this house, until you are well enough to return. I will get my head down and soldier on. Until death we do part. (You are closer than even you can imagine).
Much love, your Darling Wife xxx
I really don’t feel that we’ve got a hope. I use the noun specifically because this entity is, I think, severely lacking right now. We must still cling on fervently to the verb: we must hope, but when I open my eyes and turn on my ears, a hope can be hard to find.
‘Be kind’ we tell our children, whilst silently praying that they will find the right group of friends to see them comfortably through their school years, without loneliness or dread. ‘Be kind’ we tell them, whilst silently praying that they are not a bully. Then I scroll through my Facebook feed, feeds on forums that are only for mums. They are exclusive in this way, partly because we are all of the same ilk; we are going through the same shit on a daily basis and if not the same then very, very similar. This means that we are easily able to empathise and to offer advice…or so you’d think. Yet frequently I read these feeds and I don’t feel we’ve got a hope. Mums judging other mums. So brutally and so publicly you could be mistaken for thinking that they are modern day gladiators: fighting in a very public arena and vying for the moral high ground. We would be disgusted if this were our children, yet this is how people are and this is how our children learn. We haven’t got a hope.
When Donald Trump was elected President of the USA, like many (many, many) I felt that we didn’t have a hope. As a female, all the talk of the way he treats women added to this feeling. Then there’s his first week in office. It’s too depressing to write it out again here, but you know it anyway, because like me you have no doubt read and watched in disbelief. His narcissism must render him deaf, dumb and blind and his advisors, stupid. We haven’t got a hope, I thought over and over again and then I saw the photo of the six men bearing witness to the signature being drawn on an executive order that will affect millions of women’s access to abortion, and another hope was gone.
We haven’t got a hope when our Prime Minister won’t publicly take a stand against him. We haven’t got a hope when all Muslims are treated with suspicion, when walls are being put up, rather than torn down. We haven’t got a hope.
Yet despite all this, now is one of those times in history when we absolutely must not give up hope. Because to do this would surely be giving in – playing right in to the hands of those who call the shots.
Where we haven’t got a hope, we must find one and then we must fight for it and protest and remain open minded and fair. We must do this for our children, or we haven’t got a hope.
A few years ago, I think it was in my 40th year, I was in a coffee shop slurping on a latte, when the chap sitting next to me started engaging me in conversation. During the course of which he said that I looked young: 16 years old, he said. I spat out my latte with a snort of laughter and he continued assuring me that I looked like a teenager.
Now, before you all snort out your own coffee and judge me for being a sad old cow, who takes compliments from elderly men (oh, had I not mentioned that he was old…) and spouts them as gospel – I didn’t. I thought: you joker, but I’ll take from it that I don’t look too old and wrinkly just yet. I did, however, return home and whoop away to partner how someone in Neros had said I look 16 and when he asked how old that person was, I had changed the subject.
Ever since that day, periodically, partner has made a sarcastic comment in passing about me, ‘only looking 16.’ It generally comes up when I remind him that he is nearing 50 and is older than me and so on – it’s his weapon of mass sarcasm.
This morning on the dog walk we got chatting to a fellow walker and she was asking about the ages of our kids. “You don’t look old enough!” She exclaimed. “You only look 37”. When we’d parted company, I looked at partner and glowed. I grinned like a Cheshire cat and I couldn’t help myself saying to him: aren’t you lucky to have such a young looking partner!
Crikey, he replied. From 16 to 37 in 5 years. You’ve aged 20 years in that short time. Life has been hard on you!
That’ll teach me to gloat.
FAIL!!! Oh, and I’ve just used too many exclamation marks…FAIL!
This did make me laugh. I tried to leave a reply to a lovely comment someone had made on my blog and instead what I got back, clear as day, in black and white was: Please try to say something useful.
Omg! What a put down. I was literally floored. I have 5 tween/teen/21 yr old girls and I know what it feels to be put down. Seriously, I do. If you do not have girls aged 10-21 years then you will not know what I mean. If you do, you will be nodding. They can cut you down with a look. They don’t even need to speak to you. Non-verbals are a teenage girls’ language. They rock those non-verbals like it’s party time!
I comment that they are wearing too much make-up for school. Cue: the look.
I comment that their skirt is too short. Cue: the look.
Oh, I’m sorry that I am unable to say anything useful at this time. But, tbh that’s simply your opinion and, as you felt my comment was too short, I can quite happily bore the crap out of you for the next hour on why I think your opinion sucks…on why you are wearing too much make-up, on why I feel that your skirt is too short.
Actually though, this is pretty much what my girls might say to me. Perhaps I was just being given a taste of my own medicine (eeuuckk!)
You know what, Mum. If you can’t say something useful in relation to me spending the night with my boyfriend when I’m only just 16, then ERROR!
I’m speechless. Floored. I’m where my girls want me most of the time, because that’s when they can walk right over me.
For the past three days, dog 1 has had the shits. I say, ‘days’, but this obviously includes nights and I’m bloody knackered. It’s like having babies all over again. Wtf…the kids are currently in 6 different locations, none of which are here, but still we get no peace to do anything remotely romantic, except pretend to be asleep when he needs letting out again at some ungodly hour. Talking of which, to all mums with young kids: what are your top tips for getting out of the middle of the night/very early morning wake-up call? Do you take it strictly in turns with your other half? Or, do you have a special duvet over the head technique you’d like to share with me? I need more sleep!
The shits cause huge problems on the morning dog walk too. You know the scenario: there are people walking behind you and your dog has a crap. You make a big thing of pulling out a nappy sack (I’d forgotten how awful the fragranced ones smell – every jacket pocket I own smells like a whore’s boudoir) and leaning over as if there’s an Oscar at stake, to pick up aforementioned poo. Tying the sack up with a flourish and a smug look.
The trouble is, when it’s the shits, there’s nothing to pick up. This happened to us twice yesterday. Dog 1 squatted exactly as if a perfectly formed turd was going to descend, but instead it was slop. There was a man walking behind us, so I gestured to partner to pretend to pick it up. He gave me a weird look and his performance wouldn’t have won an award, but he’d gone through the motion for the sake of our fellow dog walker. On straightening up, he looked at me as if to say: what the hell do you want me to do with this empty poo bag, so I diverted everyone’s attention by pointing out that dog 2 was weeing directly on dog 1’s head. With that, the bugger only went and squatted again. Partner shot me a look and handed me the nappy sack. Oh bloody hell. The fellow dog walker had now caught us up and I got a hot flush with the pressure of it all. Divert, divert, I was silently screaming to partner, who was just standing and watching me, arms folded.
Kids, dogs, they’re all the same. Well, dogs are a hell of a lot easier, of course, but they’re all high maintenance. The thing that I have come to value most about the dogs though, is that they can’t answer me back. In a house full of teenagers, this one factor goes a long, long way and for that reason alone, I shall do the midnight shit run with a huge smile on my face and not roll over and hide.
This post is dedicated to my friend’s dog, Monty. Who sadly died suddenly today. RIP Monty.