Tag Archives: Failure

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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This one goes out to all the breastfeeding losers

breastfeeding losers

Do you know, the day my body gave up its milk, four days after deciding to stop breastfeeding Teddy, I felt cleansed.

I didn’t say that to anyone, except Tim. I was ashamed of it. It’s not how you’re supposed to feel. But I did.

Without my inadequate little supply of milk, I was free. Free from the guilt that he needed food I couldn’t give him.

Free from the two-hourly feeling that my body was a failure.

Free from the excruciating pain of his constant latching-on, and the frustration of both of us when he wasn’t satisfied.

Free from the nagging sadness that I wasn’t good enough for this baby I’d grown and given birth to. Our bodies were supposed to be compatible. I was supposed to feed him. I’d had his latch checked, eaten all the right things, gathered him to me every ninety minutes, night and day, for weeks. It didn’t work. I didn’t work. I sat on the sofa, getting angry with everything, Henry climbing up the walls, Teddy arching his back and screeching, stuff everywhere. It was awful.

So I let it go. I started topping him up with formula at four weeks, and it took another three months after that to accept that the little breastmilk he was getting was doing me more harm than good. Me, and therefore him. It was a huge mental leap, accepting that sometimes, the thing you believe in wholeheartedly just isn’t the right thing for you. With Henry, he chose to stop breastfeeding and I just went along with it. With Teddy, I made that decision for both of us, and it was so much harder.

Once he fed from a bottle, everything changed. I was giddy with the freedom of it. I had more energy, more optimism, more peace of mind. I stopped worrying about his weight and his milestones, and started pulling us all into a routine where we enjoyed each other’s company. He is the happiest, chubbiest, healthiest baby you can imagine. He sleeps well, eats well, and is a huge mama’s boy (unlike Henry, who subscribes more to the school of thought where sunshine beams out of Daddy’s every orifice). I’ve never regretted making that decision, even if I’ve regretted the fact that things weren’t different in the first place.

I still feel sad when I read articles about the joys of breastfeeding. I still believe that breastfeeding is the best possible thing for your baby. But I can’t get away from the truth of it, for me, which is: once I stopped breastfeeding Teds, I was free to be his mother.

Sometimes that’s just the way it works out.

 

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