The P Word

Muddling my way through parenting

Archive for the tag “pressure”

Getting back in the game

Under the cosh. Swimming against the tide. Run ragged. These and many other clichés are over-used in sports journalism (a career I once aspired towards), and as I’ve suggested before many of them also crop up in relation to parenting.

Feeling a bit deflated?

Feeling a bit deflated?

And that’s how I’ve been feeling recently. Perhaps that’s the reason for my all-too-lengthy blog silence. But the clouds are beginning to clear and (quite literally) the sun is starting to shine again.

This week a couple of things which I’ve shared on the blog’s Facebook page have helped me feel like I’m getting back in the game. This post reminded me that I’m not alone, and the motherhood rap made me giggle.

Getting back in the parenting game

Sometimes it all feels like a bit too much. I’ve been grumpy dad, tired dad and various other kinds of dad which I don’t like seeing in the mirror in recent weeks. Mealtimes seem to have become the battleground that I thought we’d seen the back of after (just) surviving the toddler years. But hope springs eternal, as the saying goes. Although I certainly don’t feel completely out of the woods, there are some chinks of light if I look hard enough. A bit of a holiday certainly helped.

Getting back in the blogging game

I think I’ve always been certain that I’d return to this blog at some stage, although the three-month gap might have suggested otherwise. Time has appeared in short supply. Motivation has been lacking. The thoughts about potential posts have been there, but all too often they’ve dispersed without being put into action. With Father’s Day looming, a flurry of traffic to my contribution from last year has also helped re-awaken my interest.

Getting back in the training game

‘Facilitator’ is perhaps the least elegant word in the English language. However, to help people on parenting courses it’s a label which I gladly wear from time to time. And over the past few weeks I’ve had the opportunity to be back involved in a Time Out course for a group of parents of under-5s (if you want, see if there’s one taking place near you). The mums and dads I’ve had the pleasure of sharing the past few Wednesday evenings with have both challenged and inspired me. I am hugely grateful to them, and I can’t wait to do more of the same later this year.

So … if you’re feeling like a bit of a spectator – or maybe sidelined by injury, or just exhausted and need to be substituted by somebody with a bit more energy – I hope that you find some way of getting back in the game before too long.

Parenting influences: trauma

Earlier today I heard a colleague discussing impending parenthood with a pregnant workmate. His point was basically that, however much you plan, nothing can ever really prepare you for what’s about to happen. It was all said  in a very well-meaning way, and whether that’s what she wanted to hear or not, you can’t argue with his honesty.

Because we can never really be prepared, whatever ante-natal classes we attend or whatever tomes of advice books we read. When we become Mum or Dad, all that we’re actually doing is signing up for loving a little person, who we hope, will become a big person who’s ready for all that will face him/her in future life. We certainly don’t sign up for an easy, trouble-free future with decades of serene, chilled-out family life ahead of us. Mostly, that just means being busy/tired/manic/shattered, but sadly sometimes things can become a lot more troubling.

This post (the first in a mini-series of some key ‘influences’ on how we parent) is going to tackle those really difficult, stop-you-in-your-tracks moments, and most notably the consequences (or emotional fall-out) that can impact us for years to come.

I’ve held off writing this for at least a few months because of parents I know who are going through really testing times at the moment. But I’ve realised that there will probably rarely be a time when some parent I know isn’t facing a massive challenge. That’s probably the same with you. I guess that for the vast majority of us there is a friend or family member who is currently going through a truly traumatic period as a parent. So, hoping that this isn’t too painful to read for anybody with raw emotions from a recent/current parenting trauma, here we go …

I’m not trying to get sympathy by sharing my own sob-story, but I’ve known pain too. I know that trauma has consequences. Even though it’s before my long-term memory kicked in, my family suffered bereavement when my twin sister died of cancer aged just 3 years. As a parent myself, our child #1 had major surgery on his skull aged 19 months (gladly he is now a very happy and healthy boy). Memories of both those episodes still cause tears and sadness today.

But in my recent musings about these periods of pain, I’ve been struck by a series of attitudes, feelings and emotions that can cause more long-term pain and damage if we let them take hold. These are some examples of dangerously misguided ideas that, if allowed to take root, can have a massively negative influence on how we parent, as well as what we think of ourselves, our children and other parents:

1. ‘I’m due a bit of good luck now’

If only. Admittedly this does happen sometimes, as some families can enjoy a good run without much anguish following a significantly difficult episode. After all, life is full of different seasons of varying lengths which encompass all shades of light and dark. But as with most parenting-related things, there are no guarantees.

If we somehow persuade ourselves that we ‘deserve’ some good luck, I think that it can lull us into a dangerous sense of false security. Because what happens the next time? Will we fall into an even deeper pit because ‘this wasn’t meant to happen again’? We can easily feel robbed if we assume that we’ve had our ‘bad time’ and trauma should be a thing of the past.

After my family’s trauma when my sister died, did we receive some kind of pain-free guarantee for the rest of our lives? No. Have we enjoyed genuine happiness as a family? Of course. I’m not trying to be pessimistic, just realistic.

2. Guilt for losing perspective

‘What doesn’t kill you makes you stronger’, as the saying goes. Well yes, sometimes it does. And I guess as a parent going through trauma can give us a determination to be more family-focused, and take a ‘healthier’ outlook to parenting in the future. However, if only that were that were the case all the time in all situations.

Despite repeatedly hearing the advice to ‘pick your battles’, I know that all too often I get dragged into the most menial of debates/arguments with the kids. In the aftermath of such incidents, I can be hit by a real sense of guilt for forgetting what’s important. So what if child #2 didn’t eat that last piece of pasta for lunch? I’ve got a wife, house, job and two inspirational little people in my life.

3. Other parents should ‘get a grip’

Another manifestation of similar feelings to those I’ve just mentioned is a tendency to judge other parents. We’ve all done it, as I’ve admitted before. You see a parent on the High Street telling his/her offspring off for something that appears really petty. Or maybe you just hear another parent incessantly whinging about a worry or situation that you think isn’t even worth a moment’s thought.

Perhaps your response is to either look on them with demeaning pity, or despair at their lack of parenting skills. Even worse, we can translate our own parenting challenges onto their lives and judge them because we think they don’t know how bad things can really be.

Whatever emotions or experiences may lead us to think that way, let’s give them a chance. Can we get a complete understanding of what could be a really challenging family situation at a moment’s glance? No. Let’s try not judge others, especially when we don’t even know half the story.

So, if you have known pain as a parent and ever thought any of these things in the following months/years, give yourself (and others) a break.

Try to leave those painful, destructive attitudes behind you and embrace all that the adventure of parenting has in store, whatever that may be.

There may be some bad times ahead, but I’m sure there will be a lot of good in there too.

Growing up fast (and other clichés)

This blog post has changed during its formation. Just a few days ago I was in a bit of a parenting ‘low’. To set the tone for what’s to follow – be prepared for a few clichés! – I was (almost literally) pulling my hair out.

The draft title for this post was ‘Growing pains’ as I was pondering the pressures related to a few significant changes that both children have gone through in recent weeks.

To cut a long story short, here is a brief summary of my recent issues:

New school. In the mad world of UK pre-school childcare, child #2 has started at the pre-prep department of a local private school. Unbelievably, over 12 months this is the cheapest option available to us which involves my wife keeping her job (and who wants to voluntarily surrender employment while a few million others are also seeking work). Anyway … within a few days of starting at this new school she has become (here comes another …) 3 going on 13. The teenage years have come way too early: tantrums are now accompanied by bucket-loads of ‘attitude’, and her stubborn streak has developed a vice-like quality that will refuse to concede any ground. Feel free to judge me for it, but even bribery doesn’t work any more.

Homework. I had a horrible first experience of helping child #1 with ‘proper’ homework. Perhaps not helped by attempting it half-asleep on a lazy Sunday afternoon after some lunchtime wine, I had given up even before he did. My own school report would surely include the phrase ‘must do better’.

Sleep. The nightmare of bedtime has returned. Child #2 is back at her worst, refusing to settle down at bedtime. There are a few things which could have contributed to this, but the fact of the matter is we just don’t know why. And so we are left completely helpless and solution-less, which is hugely frustrating. I just hope we get back to normality before too long. After five years of broken/disturbed evenings and nights, I’m quite enjoying have a bit of life and a bit of sanity back.

But I have moaned for too long.

As suggested at the top, I am now refusing to dwell on these negatives which dragged me into the parenting doldrums. I will choose – in the immortal words of Monty Python – to look on the bright side of life.

I’ll put all of the points above down to ‘growing pains’. But rather than point a finger at the changes in my kids, perhaps I should examine my own role in it all. Perhaps I had just settled into a bit of a routine, and wasn’t prepared to face the next step in the never-ending adjustment of parenthood. Now I’ve acknowledged that, I feel ‘back in the game’ again.

As that most over-used of clichés says, they do indeed grow up fast – and sometimes I just need a bit of time to catch up.

So …

Surviving the summer?

Are you still hanging in there? Have you ever been more exhausted? Summer holidays, eh …

As the huge chasm of time that has passed since my last blog post may suggest, it’s been a challenge on many fronts.

As child #1 is about to move from Reception into Year 1, this is the first ‘proper’ summer holiday I’ve had as a parent. And blimey, what a strange experience it’s been. As with every new phase of parenting, there’s an almost mind-boggling amount of stuff to learn and adapt to – but the past few weeks have been quite a shock to the system.

As some indication of what’s been flying through my little mind over the past few weeks, here are a few random reflections on the wide-ranging thoughts which punctuated this most un-summery summertime:

Why on earth did I do this?

Firstly, the maths doesn’t work. We’re both working parents (my wife part-time) and our employers are more generous than most with holiday allowances. But still we’re scrabbling around for ways to sort childcare during school holidays. This summer, we’ve managed to arrange almost two solid weeks with the whole family being together, with the odd extra day when one or other of us will be with the children. That means that for roughly two-thirds of their holidays we’re relying on the fact that we are fortunate to have four recently retired, healthy and active grandparents willing to assist, all within reasonable driving distance. Haven’t got a first clue what we’d do otherwise.

Despite this limited time together, as always with parenting there have been times of immense testing. Admittedly the most significant challenge was child #1’s inability to listen to what we were asking him to do … only to discover after a few weeks that he’s actually partially deaf thanks to an ear infection. Oops! (We’ve tried to be easier on him since.)

But you know what I mean. The mealtime struggles, the complaints when it’s bed or bath time, the persistent pleas to be carried everywhere, the bickering between siblings over what to watch on TV / what to play with / where to sit …

I could go on, but you’ll have your own gripes to recollect. So before this all gets too depressing, let’s move on to something more positive.

Oh, that’s why I did it …

From time to time, the little people who turn our lives upside-down remind us why we ever considered doing this parenting stuff. It’s often the little things that melt our hearts.

Football

Football (and artistic) genius!

I’ve been fortunate enough to have several such moments over the past fortnight, but the one that stands out is child #1 learning to carry child #2 (gladly there wasn’t too much trial and error involved). Forget the Olympics, the look or satisfaction when he manages to carry his sister for a dozen or so steps is pure gold.

Added to that, I’ve had the opportunity to myself launch into a fully-fledged second childhood. A trip to Legoland was the undoubted highlight, but we’ve also enjoyed a day with friends at Bristol Zoo and many other more cost-effective adventures (including a successful first foray into ten pin bowling!) which have all added up to me – plus the spouse and the kids – making great memories which I hope will live with us all for a really long time.

Confession time – I’m a judgemental parent

We’ve all done it. I’m probably worst than most, to be brutally honest. But sometimes the actions, attitudes or examples set by other parents leave a lot to be desired, don’t they?

Of course, if other parents saw us at our worst they’d completely understand that we don’t normally act/speak in that way. Or maybe we should just give other people a bit more of a chance. Food for thought, certainly.

Do you know what time it is?!

I should know by now that kids just don’t get the concept of a lie-in. They especially don’t seem to understand that holidays are a good time to get some rest. But after a few weeks of early rising children this summer, they’ve finally started to get it! I know that we’re much more fortunate than many other parents with the usual time of our human alarm clocks (rarely before 7am) but so far this week we’ve even been allowed to doze beyond 8am, occasionally even later – heavenly!

Now we’ve go something else to learn: how to re-adjust their waking times so they’re ready for school days when we’re trying to get two sleepy children out of the door with that golden combination – correctly dressed and on time!

So, to survive? Or maybe …

Whatever your parenting experience has been so far this summer, I hope that during the remainder of the ‘holiday’ you’re able to do more than just survive – and maybe even thrive.

Is this ‘just a phase’?

Perhaps starting this blog was madness. Waxing lyrical about how great parenting is – hopefully seasoned with a dose of realism throughout – was always going to make life a bit tricky.

You know what I mean: that kind of self-fulfilling prophesy – or perhaps self-inflicted expectation – that in providing something which aims to support other parents, it was fairly likely to coincide with a bit of a crisis of confidence in my own parenting style.

You see, I reckon the past few weeks have been some of my hardest as a parent. No, I haven’t lost all perspective: those who know me well will be familiar with the fact that child #1 underwent major surgery on his head aged 19 months, that I struggled through several months of my wife’s second dose of severe morning sickness while juggling work/childcare/husband duties, not to mention the hidden (and flatly denied) strain of living through a wife with post-natal depression. More of that to come in a future post …

man pulling hair out

This isn’t me – although I know how he feels!

But nonetheless, these past few weeks have been tricky. Child #2 is testing the boundaries on all fronts. Child #1 appears to find it all very amusing, and is contributing the mini-rebellion with increasing gusto. My own tiredness, stress levels, and (perhaps) other non-work commitments have contributed to a lack of patience with both kids.

So, in times of frustration/pressure, where do I turn? Firstly, I look to the support networks around me, my family, friends (although usually not unless prompted) and faith (even though this morning’s church sermon reminded me how I all-too-often sideline this option until the circumstances become more extreme).

Perhaps this is also a good time to reflect on a couple of ‘lightbulb moments’ that I’ve had in my parenting journey so far:

1. I don’t have all the answers

This is perhaps an obvious one, and it’s hard to pin down to a precise moment. It might have come when I first struggled to put a nappy on, but it was definitely within those first 24-48 hours of dadhood. Quite simply, I’m nearly always out of my depth, I make mistakes on a daily basis, and I just hope that I’m muddling through well enough to not mess things up too badly for my kids. I guess most parents can relate to some of that.

2. Getting to know who my kids really are

Being trained by Care for the Family to run their ‘Time Out …’ courses was primarily to equip me to facilitate courses for other parents. But those few short days also taught me so much more about my own role as a father and has helped strengthen relationships with my children.

The ‘lightbulb moment’ that I keep coming back to was about children’s personality types. While acknowledging that children cannot be pigeon-holed into one narrow category (and most will reflect many contradicting characteristics as they grow and develop), the three most basic categories (which are formed as a combination of nine different personality traits, if you’re being more scientific about it) were divided into: easy, hard and ‘slow to warn up’ . The latter option doesn’t exactly have a catchy title, but it’s so true for many children.

I have to admit, before that day I had often mistaken child #1 as ‘difficult’, when he actually demonstrated all the hallmarks of a child who is slow to warm up. Basically, he is more prone to do as requested or respond in a positive manner when things aren’t just thrown at him (not literally, of course!). I had often mistaken his energy, passion and adventurous spirit as a child who could be ‘difficult’ just because it can be physically exhausting to keep up with  him!

If we want him to go to the table/bed/bath/school, if he’s given a five-minute warning we’re far more likely to have an easy transition to whatever’s coming up as the next phase of the day. Of course it’s not always that simple, but realising that he often needs a bit (OK, a lot) of thinking time to adjust to what’s about to happen has made life easier (for both me and him) on many occasions since then. It’s almost like as a toddler he kept on having these un-articulated thoughts of ‘Hey, Dad, just give me a chance!’

There’s a lot more to being ‘slow to warm up’, but it’s getting late and I don’t want to make this another lengthy post. Perhaps I’ll touch on other elements on this ‘type’ of child in the future.

So, this week I’m determined to be a bit easier on myself, I’ll re-commit myself to being more understanding of my children’s differing points of view – and hopefully enjoy some more chilled out, fun family times as a result.

But I’m intrigued: what have been some of your most helpful ‘lightbulb moments’?

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