Tag Archives: Angry Mummy

Angry mummy: Try again. Fail again. Fail better.

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Tim is away for a fortnight. It’s the longest he’s ever been gone. The night before he went, I admitted I was nervous.

‘It’s not that I can’t handle it’, I told him. ‘I can. We will be fine. It’s just I’ve never done solo parenting for so long with two children AND a pregnancy. I have never been more short-tempered than I am now, and they have never been less inclined to listen to me. So I don’t know how it’s going to go’.

It’s true that if you’re looking for something that will poke holes through your parenting self-esteem, pregnancy will do the job nicely. They are watching much more TV than I would normally allow – hours of it, while I shuffle through glacially-paced housework or just sit next to them, exhausted – and I am snappy. Irritable. I am not willfully unkind (we still read, talk, laugh at each other’s jokes), but there is so much less give in me. I can feel it, bleeding through the edges of my self-restraint: a brittleness that means I raise my voice the second time, not the tenth; that means I want things done now, immediately, in exactly the way I’ve asked.

None of this has been my finest hour. I feel it. I think they feel it too.

I have been in a couple of parenting discussions lately where we’ve talked about the importance of being authentic in front of your children. I read a lot of articles where the language of motherhood is expressed in endless, self-immolating sacrifice. Cherish every moment. Sleep next to them, and wake up whenever they wake up. Carry them constantly. Play imaginatively at the park. When they push back, draw them in with extra love. Be present. Be present. Be present.

Now I should say here (before the Emails come) that there’s nothing wrong and an awful lot right with all of these philosophies: if they work for you and your child and make you both happy, go for it. I use many of them myself, and try to do better in the many areas I fall short. But my issue is that they all seem to combine without leaving room for human error, for normal human limitation. I don’t see a lot of acknowledgement that you are a person too, a person with a long history of her own that existed long before you became a mother, with loves and hates and boundless complexities, plenty of which have little to do with your beloved children.

I don’t know anyone who wouldn’t automatically put their children’s needs before their own, and I’m not advocating the opposite here. But is their emotional health well-served by watching us give and give without any space for ourselves, without any visible screw-ups and apologies? I don’t want my children to aim for perfection, swallow their own flaws and beat themselves up when they inevitably get it wrong – but they’ll try, if that’s what they see me do. I want them to make mistakes, learn from them, and empathise with other people’s. I want them to feel the value of a heartfelt, meaningful apology. I want them to know that the substance of life is in the repair, not the plain sailing.

I want them to know that everyone has their own stuff, their own boundaries, their own imperfect histories. And they will too. And they should. To be this way is not a failure. Or, rather: failure is not a failure. It’s part of being a human in the world.

So sometimes they play and I read. Or they watch TV and I scroll through Twitter, only half-listening. Everyone in our family functions better if we get a good night’s sleep, so everyone is supposed to sleep in their own damn bed. I will happily read them three-inch piles of stories under a blanket for as long as they want, but I need them to make up their own games at the park. Sometimes they push me too far or ignore me for too long, and I shout. Sometimes I want to sit in a chair by myself for five minutes, until I’m ready to leap back in. I have an unusually small tolerance for baby voices (LITERALLY ZERO), but if they want to dance, I will always dance. And I place a great deal of value on treating books and people well, not littering, and apologising properly when you’ve messed things up.

If they had a different mother they’d have different stuff, but there’d always be plenty of stuff.

I want them to know that I will always try, always love them, always make it my highest priority to be their safe space, always make mistakes, always have my own way of being their mother, always, always apologise and mean it.

And they will make do with me, as children do. We will make room for each other, and they will tell laughing stories about my failures around the dinner table, in the time-honoured way children have always mocked their parents. That’s fine. I think, finally, I’m in a place where I don’t want them to only see my good side. It’s more important to me that we learn and keep learning – together, messily, and over and over again – how to be a human in the world.

Gloves on backwards, as per. Good HEAVENS I love that child.

Gloves on backwards, as per. Good HEAVENS I love that child.

This business of working out how to be a more patient parent is, um, an ongoing series. You can find the other posts here

Angry mummy: everything’s not lost

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This is the third post I’ve written about trying not to be a short-fuse parent. Here are numbers one and two. It’s, um, an ongoing series. 

You haven’t lost if you start to laugh halfway through the telling-off. (‘Lost’? Setting boundaries isn’t a wrestling match between you and your toddler, self.) This is what I say to myself, particularly after T has grinned his way through a reprimand, like he’s the gleeful and deliberate loser of a stare-out competition. I have only seen him be serious once, after I caught him drawing on every inch of bedroom wall he could reach with an orange crayon.

I went full-on pantomime villain for that, but you can’t bring out the panto every time.

This is an Angry Mummy post about catastrophic thinking, and how I apply it to lots of areas in life – I am nothing if not an equal opportunities catastrophist – but most especially to parenting. Catastrophic thinking is the habit that makes me obsess over imaginary road accidents and undiscovered tumours, when Tim is driving home late. It’s the tendency to jump immediately to the worst-case scenario, no matter how irrational, and (this is the crucial bit) it starts to affect how you behave afterwards. So in the imaginary-road-accident scenario, I am worrying instead of sleeping. I can’t get the sleep back, even when he gets home safe.

When it comes to parenting, it goes something like this: ‘oh no, I’ve come over all Wicked Witch of the West in Tesco. I’ve ruined this afternoon for them now. I might’s well carry on being snappy’. Like once I’ve raised my voice, or said something with a harsher edge than planned, I’ve used up my parenting credit for the day and no amount of apologising will bring it back. I am Wile E. Coyote, plummeting inevitably and forever off Good Mother Cliff, and once I’m off, I’m off.

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Like all catastrophic thinking, this is a load of rubbish. Bad moments only have to be a moment. Hello, have I ever met my children? You can offer them a moderately-sized piece of cheese and they’ll get over any trauma in a second. They scrap and accidentally wang each other with blocks and not-so-accidentally trip each other up on the stairs, and three minutes later they’re sat in the bath, pretending to be twin shopkeepers in an ice cream parlour and offering each other cups of bubbly water (urgh). They don’t hold grudges. They think in moments, and I can too.

This is what I’m trying to remember. If I can get back my equilibrium – after, say, five minutes, some deep breaths and some medicinal Cadbury’s Whole Nut – and then I can come back and patch things up. If I’m trying to teach them that their sincere apologies mean something, then I have to believe that mine mean something too. Be jolly, and show them that I love them. Do some affection play (I liked the idea of this very much, even if ‘affection play’ sounds weird in a way I can’t work out). Then the love will act as an emotional counterweight to the witchiness.

Love enough, and that will be their prevailing memory.

Love enough, and they’ll understand how superficial and temporary the witch-in-Tesco thing is.

You know the thing about Wile E. Coyote? No matter how big the cloud of dust at his landing, he springs up and sprints his way back to the top of the cliff. You think the Road Runner is the winner in that story – ever cheerful, escaping traps with no more effort than a swerve and a blithe honk-honk. He’s not. It’s Wile E. Coyote, failing hard but refusing to be beaten, trying new theories and inventions with enthusiasm, falling off cliffs and under anvils and always coming back, and back, and back again for more.

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Angry mummy: hills to die on

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This is the second post I’ve written about trying not to be a short-fuse parent. The first one is here. Let’s face it, there will probably be more. 

We will be glad about the two-year age gap between our boys when they’re older and the best of friends. This is what I weep into my pillow at night. ONLY JK.

Actually, from Peak Insanity of newborn and two-year-old, it’s getting lots better. H can now be trusted to run little errands without calamity. There are spells when they amuse each other and where they play together without someone screeching. I never thought we’d get here, and it’s a testimony to me of the triumph of Grimly Hanging On and Using Chocolate Biscuits As Emotional Salve.

But. But but but. The age gap does mean that they’re now covering all the stress bases between them. If you want someone to be mindlessly destructive, you’ve got T, and H is there for the explosive emotional breakdowns. T will scream the house down when you brush his teeth, but H is ready to bring out the threenager boundary-pushing. I mean, just in case you were missing anything from the last two years, they like to keep it all fresh.

So it’s possible, if you wanted, to spend every minute of the day telling them off. And oh, how achingly dull that is. We are scratchy and irritable on a day where my sentences beginning ‘will you STOP-‘ outnumber all the others put together. Emotionally it’s exhausting too: maintaining that level of irritation uses an awful lot of energy that could be used for better things.

I’ve said before that my inner parent is all Sergeant Major: I am always trying to train myself to be less strict. But someone on this blog once made a comment I think about a lot (thanks! This is why you’re all so brilliant). She said: ‘choose your hills to die on. You can’t pick up on everything, so choose what’s really important to you and go from there’.

I think this is pretty wise. It’s not a case of starting to let things go, but of reacting to things on a scale, from a mild ‘hey, don’t, that’s gross!’ to the intense, theatrical ‘I do not want to see you do that again’. And is there anything I’m getting cross at that I could laugh at instead? I think there probably is.

So I had a good think, and here are my hills to die on, the things I absolutely cannot shift from under any circumstances:

1. Bedtime is bedtime. I don’t mind what they do in their room once we’ve gone – that’s often when they have the best interaction with each other, in fact – but once the light is off, they’re done for the day. The only thing standing precariously between us and insanity is a decent night’s sleep.

2. Kindness to peers. I think you’ll never lose out being a little kinder than people expect. It’s a way of acknowledging everyone’s innate worth and drawing in people left on the margins. I am never happier than when I see spontaneous kindness in my boys, and never more horrified than when they do the opposite.

3. Respect to adults. In the last few months we’ve had to introduce the new idea that there are things you might hear said in the playground, but these are not things you can say to your mother; also, that people can be hurt by the words you use. And I guess this was something we all had to learn for the first time at some point. It’s FUN.

4. Manners. I know ‘please’, ‘thank you’, ‘sorry’ and ‘excuse me’ don’t seem like huge deal-breakers, but I think they help teach them something deeper: respect, appreciation, remorse…a recognition of other people’s dignity.

I also came up with a list of things that are way higher up on my hills than they should be, and need taking down a notch (or seven):

1. Not being bothered to go to the toilet on time. Urrrrrrgh. I look forward with hope and gladness to a time when I don’t have close and personal dealings with faeces. But H is a last-minute toilet-goer; there it is; he needs reminders but I don’t need to be furious about it.

2. Brotherly scraps. I intervene when they’re hitting, or T is at a disadvantage because of his size, or one of them is at absolute meltdown point. But I’m trying to remind myself that, you know, brothers gon’ brother. And they’re learning, by very small degrees, how not to provoke people to wrestling point. Useful life skills.

3. Stupid voices. This is a weird personal idiosyncrasy, but if you can TALK with REAL WORDS then USE REAL WORDS THAT’S WHY WORDS EXIST TO HELP YOU COMMUNICATE WITH PRECISION. I really need to tamp this irritation down, because I remember using silly voices well into teenage years, and my sister spent a good year in her childhood inexplicably pretending to be a dog. This is what kids do.

4. Not leaping to do what I ask the first time I ask it. This is a sign of how inexperienced I am as a parent. I asked my mother recently, ‘So…when we were kids, did we, um, just ignore you lots of times until you got stressed about it?’ And she laughed and laughed and laughed. Apparently kids do this too. They shouldn’t, and they need reminding, but I’m going to push myself into an early grave getting cross about it.

The great thing about parenting is that we’re all so individual, such a unique mixture of personality and environment and how we ourselves were parented, that your hills and non-hills will be different from mine. But I think I’ll be happier when I’m not slogging up to the summit for every little thing.

So, tell me: what are your absolute must-haves, and what things do you get annoyed about that need to come down a bit?

Angry mummy

It was 5pm. Of course it was.

5pm is when their tiny resources are shot to pieces, when I’m desperately trying to tidy up and get dinner ready, because half of their bad temper is down to the fact that it’s been a long time since lunch. I am busy because they need me to do things, but they also need me to be not busy. In an ideal world I would sit cross-legged on the floor and read to them like they want me to, while Mary Poppins cleaned and cooked. As it is, at 5pm I switch on the TV.

This 5pm I walked back and forth across the kitchen, taking things out of cupboards, picking up crayons, scrubbing the porridge-gritted table so we could eat. T maintained a tight grip on my kneecap and a droning wail, so my walking was more like hobbling and my teeth were already on edge. I could have picked him up, but he was wailing because he was hungry, and I can’t cook with him gaily splashing his hands in hot pans. Dinner, then. Just be quick. Keep hobbling.

Then H had a hand on my jumper too. He was asking me something about Captain America (‘Captain OF Amewica, Mummy’) over and over, something I hadn’t quite caught over T’s angry bee hum. He got impatient in the end, and pulled my jumper so hard I almost fell onto his brother. ‘MUMMY. MUMMY. I NEED YOU’.

I got impatienter. And I meant to say ‘Just a minute, love’, or ‘Let me just -‘ or even ‘Scuse me please, darling’. But what actually came out was ‘H. GET OUT OF THE WAY.’

My name is Rachel, and I am an angry mummy.

Impatience has always been my particular failing. When I was younger I was never very good at stopping myself broadcasting it over my face, even if I managed to keep my mouth shut. I’ve learned to keep it under wraps more often, but groundswells of irritation still rise up and catch me off-guard.

Here’s a shocker: when you give birth, your vices don’t just slip right on out of your birth canal along with the baby. You’re the same person you were, only running on much less sleep, and torn in half by love so consuming it stings as well as soothes. I was impatient before and I am impatient now. The small, irrational co-workers I have these days bring two significant differences: they provoke loss of temper more often than the adults used to, and they deserve it far, far less.

I read an utterly wonderful article about the ‘difficult empathy‘ of parenthood last yearthat said:

‘Having a child is a series of tiny successes and failures, all microscopic to the onlooker, all specific to our households alone in ways that cannot quite be explained…Failures are the hardest to explain, and yet those are the very instances when we are most desperate for a little understanding, a little empathy.’

I sobbed into my hands when I read it. I can’t even read it now without tearing up. Not only because it talks – with gorgeous gentleness – about our tendency to show our worst selves to our children, but because it made me realise that my own not-so-microscopic failures can be eased by successes. I decided that my efforts could be two-pronged: bite back the impatience, of course; but also shower them in tiny evidences of love. I can show them – long before they’re able to consciously understand – that while I might lose my rag and raise my voice, I only diminish myself when I do. Never, ever them.

That 5pm, when I yelled ‘H, GET OUT OF THE WAY’ in the direction of my unresisting three-year-old, he crumpled immediately. ‘It’s not kind to say ‘get out of the way”, he whimpered, on the verge of tears. I felt my whole self sag with horror. I got down on the floor beside him, held his hands and looked him full in the face (our family language for ‘I really mean this’).

‘No’, I said. ‘No, it’s not. I’m sorry. I was trying to do something, and I got cross, and I shouldn’t have shouted. It wasn’t kind. Will you forgive me?’

This is one of the things I’ve been trying to embed this year: accept his apologies with instant forgiveness, and apologise readily myself. Also, sitting with him quietly during his time-outs instead of pushing him into isolation, letting him dictate the length of them by how long it takes until he’s ready to talk, naming the emotion he’s feeling and asking whether he needs a hug, and honouring any requests for ‘alone time’ (he does ask. He’s my boy, after all).

Then, prong two: we started doing ‘happy fingers’, where I sit him on my lap facing me, and count out things I love about him on his fingers. Usually we get to five and, beaming all over his face, he requests the other hand. And in our general day-to-day I do try to say ‘yes’ when it’s not important that I say ‘no’. I don’t want to over-praise and I am a huge believer in healthy boundaries, but I think it can be pretty hard to be a three-year-old. Having your mother tell you that you’re valued might make all the difference.

Last week – was it after the Captain of Amewica thing, or before? – we had a little ruckus over biscuits. I ate one he’d made for me at nursery without realising he’d wanted to try it too, and he was so disappointed he cried.  And I thought: I can’t take back the times I’ve hollered up the stairs this week, and becoming a calmer parent will take time. I will keep at it, because this boy deserves my best self, not my worst. But it’s not an easy fix. Biscuits, though? And love, and a morning of one-on-one attention? I can do that. I can love him so warmly that it chips away at my microscopic failures. I can love, and be more than angry mummy.

So we strapped on our aprons. I told him he looked super-snazzy. And we baked.

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You must read this article. It was probably the best thing I read on parenting last year; maybe even the best thing I’ve read on parenting, EVER. Go and read it. No really, GO.

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