Monthly Archives: November 2012

Good Cop, Bad Cop

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After my recent half term headache and following on from conversations with my harassed mummy friends who all seem to be trying to work out the same thing, I’ve been wondering what constitutes bad parenting? Good question huh! But as with most good questions, there doesn’t seem to be a clear cut answer so perhaps it’s easier to define good parenting and work back from there…

Teaching your children to walk, talk and socialise = good parenting. (Inadvertently teaching your children to smack, swear and argue = bad parenting?)

Giving your children a healthy diet, plenty of exercise and educational stimuli = good parenting. (Giving your children copious amounts of pizza, hours in front of the TV and unrestricted access to the iPad = bad parenting?)

Teaching your children right from wrong and how to empathise = good parenting. (Teaching your children tit for tat and how to criticise = bad parenting?)

*Sigh!* I’m not scoring well thus far…

My efforts are wholehearted, if not always successful, and my methods are considered, if not always orthodox. But being a “good” mum to four different people with very different personalities, priorities and needs is a tricky task. And my kids are a canny lot! They know both how to push my buttons and stay in my good books. If one is being a complete pain in the arse, another will be as sweet and angelic as possible. If one loves my home-cooked lasagne, another will stubbornly pick out every onion and drag dinner time out into a feature length fiasco. If one wants to scoot to the park, another will refuse to leave the house unless we drive. And when a car journey is absolutely necessary (usually because we’re running late for school/Cubs/a party/the dentist etc), there will invariably be an argument about who gets to sit in the front, the boot or beside the baby (whichever seat is most sought after that day) that culminates in me having to manhandle at least one child into the car while the neighbours stare agog from across the street.

In the face of problematic parenting, Dave and I often resort to a round of Good Cop, Bad Cop. One of us issues warnings and punishments in a bid to achieve a desired outcome (bad cop) and when that fails, the other adopts a softly softly approach armed with tissues for tears (good cop). This is a surprisingly effective tactic that can really help when we’re trying to convince the kids to do their homework, eat their vegetables or simply wear wellies instead of crocs when it rains.

I also make valiant attempts at good parenting by reading books with the boys, praising good behaviour and ignoring bad, arranging educational day trips and serving broccoli at regular and optimistic intervals. But I still have sleepless nights worrying about the fact that Seb doesn’t belong to a football team, Reece’s favourite hobbies are plugging things in and locking things up, Leo only ever reads the Argos catalogue and Niamh’s first words are likely to be “aw, crap!” And as my Facebook fast continues, I have no barometer on which to measure my parenting skills. Without an opportunity to showcase the times I take the kids to interesting places or post photos of the baked goods we’ve made together, I’m missing those much needed metaphoric pats on the back from my mummy friends.

But as chaotic and makeshift as my parenting style might be, I try my best to do my best. I adore each of my children immensely and remind them of this daily. I can’t go to sleep at night without first checking that they are all breathing in their beds and I try to make time for them individually as often as possible. I buy them sweets on Fridays, I make their Halloween costumes and we take them to see Father Christmas every year. Do these things make me a good mum?

I recently saw a mother chastising her little girl in the school playground for refusing her breakfast – it was a chocolate bar that she was angrily waving in her face. The little girl looked upset but resigned as she uncomfortably tried to quickly munch her way through a Milky Bar; the whole scene left me feeling very sad. But who am I to judge, particularly when I have so many anxieties about my own parenting practises and are by no means the model parent?

Whether we’re good cops or bad cops, earth mothers or Gina Ford types, patient saints or stress ridden hotheads, it seems that guilt and self doubt are part and parcel of parenting. And every news report, talk show and new piece of research simply serves to perpetuate our insecurities and inadequacies. As Dave and I mused recently over dinner (as the baby bounced happily on my knee) maybe all we can ever do is our best. A moment later, Niamh pitched headfirst onto the dinner table, narrowly avoiding a plate of spaghetti as she fell….

Footnotes:
A dear friend (and partner in parenting crime) directed me to this very funny and reassuring You Tube video: http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=dFZtyPgFT7I&sns=em

We are not alone!

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My Half Term Headache

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Phew! My half term headache is beginning to abate, leaving only a nagging sense of guilt and defeat behind.

The week started well. The big ones were booked on to a two day multi-sports course that they were particularly keen to attend as the promotional leaflet promised each participating child a trophy. With the three year old indulging in messy play aplenty at nursery, I enjoyed a gentle start to the week with just a small baby and a backlog of TOWIE to keep me busy.

Wednesday morning heralded the start of an over-hyped Halloween, and in a bid to achieve top mummy marks I had four pumpkins ready to be carved and loot bags ready to decorate. Suffice to say, I was feeling smug. By lunchtime however, my nerves were frazzled. It turns out that you really can’t give a 5 year old his own knife and a license to be creative! So it was down to me to cut out each of my children’s intricate designs whilst they watched, instructed and generally grew bored from the safety of the sidelines. Their interest waned further when the smell of pumpkin was deemed “too stinky”. So by early-afternoon I was picking pumpkin seeds out of my hair, jigging a baby on my knee and attempting reconstructive facial surgery on a pumpkin with eyebrows that had merged and a nose that was severly sagging. Meanwhile the boys practised Kung fu and emptied the toy chest. Fun!

My ingenious spooky supper of worms with eyeballs (spaghetti with meatballs) got a lukewarm reception (“I-(sob)-don’t-(sob)-like-(sob)-eyeballs! I only-(sob)-want the-(sob)-meatball ones”) and frustratingly, Leo’s pre-bought Halloween themed costume was unceremoniously rejected in favour of the faded spiderman suit we’ve had for years. But thems the breaks when you’re dealing with a 3 year old artiste. If only I’d put as much thought into the logistics of trick or treating with an over-excited witch, a self-conscious Harry Potter, a disgruntled 6 month old and spiderman on a sugar rush….sigh!

By Thursday morning I was ready for a holiday…some place far, far away. But there was house work to do, a Tesco delivery to wait in for and (apparently) a lot more mess to make and arguments to have. By lunchtime, the house looked like we’d been burgled, the afternoon’s cinema trip had been revoked and my oven was minus its door owing to my meltdown moment. I appreciate how socially, ethically and morally incorrect it is to clobber one’s own children so my Beko took the brunt of my temper tantrum instead.

Maybe an injection of culture would help tame my unruly brood and stem their boredom-born bickering, I thought. But then I remembered the last time we braved a simple trip to the library; they spent 20 minutes arguing over which DS game to borrow despite my protests that we were there for the books. In fact, the very concept of a library is lost on the little ones who constantly ask “Can we buy this one?” and rarely make it past the DVD section.

We don’t fare much better at museums either, where the main attractions are the over-sized cookies in the cafe or the over-priced crap in the gift shop. And on those rare occasions when they are interested in the exhibits, it’s usually to use them as make shift climbing frames.

Realistically there are very few places where it is convenient, affordable and acceptable to take four children during the school holidays. I’m too outnumbered to take them swimming, too sane to take them to soft play and too terrified to take them into London. We do however usually frequent each of Enfield’s parks on a rotational basis. My personal favourite is the Town Park where I can buy a cup of tea to thaw my fingers as the boys run the wrong way up the slide and spin themselves senseless on the roundabout.

By Friday I’d caved and plonked them all in front of the telly; their bags of Halloween sweets gave me an excellent bargaining tool to negotiate good behaviour.

Should half term really be this hard? What are all the other mums doing with their kids to while the week away? (I’m still not on Facebook so I have no idea!) And should I really be counting down the days until school starts again when I could instead make effort to be patient, calm and carefree in the face of chaos and enjoy my time with the children?

With just seven short weeks until the Christmas holidays, I’ve decided I’m in training for my next ‘mummy marathon’. It’s all in the preparation… organised activities, pre-arranged playdates and a good stash of sedatives (for me that is, not them of course…ho ho ho!)

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