Tuesday 31 March 2015

Learning to say 'no' without the guilt.

learning to say no, saying no to children, teaching children, parenting small children, parenting blog, motherhood, mother diaries, quality time, spending time with children, exhausted parents, avoiding children
photo: stock up, lettering: www.lisamaltby.com

Mothers always feel guilty, like it's been built into us from day one. I've now got two children to feel guilty about and, surprisingly, it's the eldest child that I feel guilty about the most. This time, though, it's not about the lack of fresh vegetables in his diet or the amount of television he watches; it's not about how I am distracted by jobs or other relationships, or even that I don't play enough games with him or read enough stories. This time it's that I'm trying to avoid him. I'm avoiding him because I don't want to play 'Top Trumps' for the fourth time today, I don't want to play hide and seek, I don't want to do any more spelling and I really don't have the energy to teach him about world flags or how to do his three times tables.

What's even worse than the fact that I am avoiding him is the fact that he is a very well behaved four year old (on the whole) and still I find myself hiding in the bathroom when I see him waving those Top Trumps at me, pretending I'm doing some top trumps of my own. He asks me politely if I'll play with him; he plays by the rules; he even let's me win sometimes, bless him, but I can't help but feel incredibly unenthusiastic. What's even worse is that he is a prize student: he loves to learn. He knows all the countries and most of their capital cities. He knows his ten times table and how to count to at least twenty in French, Spanish, Dutch and German. Literally this moment he has just asked me to find 'Guinea Bissau' on a world map. If he hadn't put it into context I would have thought it was a brand of foreign biscuits. He's every parents' dream of a child, how could I possibly want to avoid him?

The problem is, I could spend all morning tutoring him on the Pythagoras theorem and as soon as I go into the kitchen to make a cup of tea you would think he was an abandoned orphan. It's taken me a long time to accept that he will rarely get bored of one-on-one attention (if any child ever does), but what this looks like for me is that he will not watch television without me sat next to him, nor will he watch it without a running commentary or asking me ridiculous questions, like why Kung Fu Panda doesn't speak in Chinese. He will not let me go upstairs for a pair of socks without following me like a lost sheep to ask what I'm doing. He follows me to the toilet or to the shower, not only to talk about cute things, but to quiz me on biology and geography. Every single day is like a chuffing game of mastermind. He does not shut up; he does not lose energy. All this and child number two allows me a mere four hours sleep on which to exercise my brain power each day.

To make matters even worse, I am someone who needs a lot of space; I can spend hours by myself and not miss anyone. If I don't get time on my own I get twitchy, like when I'm hungry or tired – It's like I just need to be by myself. So, after being quizzed every second by my four year old I am well and truly done in. I have no capacity to chase up other friendships or social activities because I have no capacity for anything. My husband comes home and asks me a simple question, like "how are you?" And I feel like screaming "enough of the goddamn questions already!!" I just want to sit in a chair with my headphones on.

I have come to realise that most of us parent our children how we would like to be parented. I love encouragement, hugs, creativity and building stuff with Lego. For a long while I couldn't work out why these things did not have the same importance for him; I tried to parent how I would have wanted to be parented and it didn't work out. So then I went the other extreme: spending every waking hour pandering to my sons need of constant attention and I was burnt out; exhausted. I tried to parent how I though he wanted to be parented and it didn't work out. He may have been happier but I was not.

The problem is that it's hard enough to say no to our children at the best of times, but when they're asking for good things it becomes impossible. As parents we feel constantly guilty, especially when we can't give our children everything they want from us. But just as you know it's not wise to constantly give your child chocolate, the same applies with other things too. Just because my child values something good, like spending time with people, doesn't mean he can't be greedy with that too. For some reason we feel more guilt about time as though we need to invest every waking moment into our children but all this does is make us feel burnt out, lacking in energy and never really giving any quality time at all. Besides which, our children grow up not valuing time spent in their own company; they lack independence and don't respect others' personal space. We end up raising children that are spoilt with time, expecting everyone to drop everything for them at the drop of a hat, in the same way an overfed child may expect everyone to feed him chocolate. 

So, I've decided to give him structure to the day and tell him what he can expect, giving him my undivided attention for limited periods of time. He needs to understand what's important to me too or our relationship will never be a good one. In the same way, I need to make sure that when I spend time with him my phone is off and out of reach and I am not distracted by the tasks of the day. I am trying to learn to be okay with saying no to him and that's really, really hard when he is hurt by it. Letting him know about activities (or lack of) beforehand, however, is extremely helpful. I can say to him, "Okay, here's the plan for the day..." and I can schedule in maths for an hour, followed by an hour of his favourite programs that he has to watch on his own. If the day is alternated between intense one-on-one activity and time doing our own things then both of us are getting what we need out of the day. That's easier said than done, of course, but in theory it means I get a few scheduled breaks (breaks being, feeding or changing my other child!). 

So, if there are things that you find difficult about your relationship with your child, it may just be that there are things you need to adapt to open up new ways of understanding one another. When our children ask us for things, no matter how well intentioned, we need to make sure that we aren't on autopilot; always saying yes out of guilt, or always saying no out of exasperation. If we try to cultivate more of a two way relationship it will be a stronger one in the future too. So, I had best prepare my son's timetable for tomorrow. Bring on school.

Thursday 26 March 2015

Not just a mum

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Not Just a Mum

You are more than the hands that do multitasking,
You are more than the times you give without the asking.
You are more than all the chores that you haven't done yet,
You are more than all the sleep that you just didn't get.
You are more than all the tears, the joy and the laughter,
Or all those muddy footprints and cleaning thereafter. 
You are more than all the hellos and goodbyes so far;
More than a finder of sticky breadsticks in the car.
You are more than the voice that speaks up in their place,
More than the times you've gone out with crayon on your face.
You are more than a teacher, a carer or a cook,
You are more than the times you have had to read that book.
You are more than the play dates or parties that you host,
You are more than the times you have given up your toast.
You are not just a cutter-outer, sticker-upper,
You are not just a provider of milk for supper.
You are not just the ears that listen to small voices,
You are not just the help that you give with their choices.
You are more than the times you've sat and watched them sleeping,
More than all the hand prints and drawings you are keeping.
You are not just a carrier, a giver of birth, 
You are much more than society gives you your worth.
You are more than the label that you are 'just a mum,'
You are more than that (though it's something you've become).
You are more than the disapproving words that you hear,
You are more than dismissals of your unpaid career.
Your role is much greater than leaders of world nations – 
Their armies you're raising in the next generations. 
Your encouragements move mountains, your hugs stop the rain;
Your kisses help to remedy earth's suffering and pain.
Your talents lie deeper than glitter and messy fun,
So don't let anyone tell you that you're 'just a mum.'

Friday 20 March 2015

Just what do mothers DO all day? (Why I didn't return your call.)

what do mothers do all day, motherhood, mother diaries, parenting, parenting blog, funny parenting blog, ladies that lunch, stay at home mum, stay at home mom, sahm, full time mum
lettering: www.lisamaltby.com photo: stock up

Just what do mothers DO all day? (Why I didn't return your call.)

I'm sorry I didn't return your call today, I appreciate that this isn't the first time it's happened and, I'll be honest, it probably won't be the last. See, although you may think that all I do are cafe-crawls, sipping lattes and eating cake with my buggy buddies, there are some days when I don't even make it out of the house. What can be so hard? You may ask. How can something so small take so much looking after? Isn't maternity leave one big jolly holiday? I'll admit that the second time around there are days when that's true for me, but maybe that's because having ONE child all day feels like a novelty, and my second baby is like an angel compared to my first. Still, it's no walk in the park. Today I am fortunate enough to have my eldest child in nursery and I STILL didn't call you. Here are my excuses

6am: I am awoken by a crying baby who needs feeding. I peel myself wearily from the bed and go over to the crib to find that he has leaked poo all over his babygrow. I go to find a clean one and realise that most of them are in the washing basket, full of clothes I haven't had time to wash. I find one that got left on the radiator that smells of 'wet dog-slash-I haven't dried my washing properly' smell and I proceed to change him. Mid change he pees all over his new babygrow and I spend the next few minutes scrambling through drawers to find another set of clothes that are blatantly too small for him, making the poppers undo every time he kicks his little legs. Meanwhile my four year old is jumping off his bunk bed, pretending to be Spider-Man until he falls on his arm and starts screaming.

7am: I comfort my four year old who is now crying on the floor like George from Peppa pig. I try to distract him with the prospect of toast and he manages to find the strength to walk down the stairs, find a place on the sofa and watch Dora the explorer. I make him toast and then feed my baby, who is now screaming like an abandoned child.

8am: I realise I need to take my four year old to nursery but my fussy feeder of a baby isn't done yet. I tell my four year old to go to the toilet, which he does, ALL OVER THE BATHROOM FLOOR (apparently he was distracted by a shadow on the wall that looked like the shape of a tortoise). I walk in with him turned 90 degrees to the right and peeing like the Trevi Fountain.

9am: Walk my four year old to nursery and hope that my baby falls to sleep in his pushchair, which he does (thank goodness). I plan to ring you when I get back in the house while he's asleep but my baby has a built in sensor for 'home' which means 'wake up' and he promptly does so after I push the buggy over the threshold. I nip to the loo and discover I got distracted and forgot to clean up the pee which has now seeped into the bathroom mat too. I clean the floor while my baby sits in his bouncer, whining.

10am: I would call you but my baby is in that in between stage of 'still really tired because I haven't napped enough' and 'I'm getting a bit hungry again now.' I try to appease him with jumping him up and down/carrying him around/singing/shaking things in his face.

11am: Feeding time again and I decide this is a great opportunity to call you as I have one hand free. The problem is that my baby is now so tired that he won't feed properly so I alter between waking him and winding him. By the time he's finished he is asleep so I put him down for a nap.

12pm: Nap time. Great. Perfect time to call you but the gas man comes to read the meter. I feel slightly embarrassed as the floor is covered in jigsaws and toys that my four year old got out this morning while he was waiting for his toast. After the gas man goes I tidy up and I'm made ever more aware of the state of the house in general and the piles of washing that need to be done (including a urine soaked bath mat) before my house looks like it's turned into a rubbish tip.

1pm: I pick up my phone to call you but I realise I'm pretty hungry because I forgot to make myself breakfast this morning. I have a short window of opportunity to eat so I attempt make a sandwich, but there's no bread so I plump for a bag of walkers crisps and a slightly wrinkly apple. I pick up my phone again. THIS time I even dial your number, but I'm interrupted by a baby crying.

2pm: I feed my baby and think about calling you with my spare hand but now I'm starting to feel so exhausted on three hours sleep that the thought of phoning you and sounding like an intellectual human being is beyond me right now. I think about it again after my baby finishes his feed but he then proceeds to puke up all over my shoulder. Now I have to find more clean clothes and add more dirty ones to my ever increasing washing pile. I REALLY need a cup of tea but I realise I'm out of tea-bags. Disaster!

3pm: Walk to the shops like a zombie. I get stopped several times by people telling me this is 'the best time of my life' and that I should 'enjoy every minute.' I'm too tired to respond. Shop. Get back from shops. Unpack shopping. Feel slightly light headed.

4pm: Put baby down for a nap and attempt to nap myself but after just dosing off my baby wakes up too early because we've reached 'crazy hour' (which is actually, TWO hours of grizzliness). Rock baby and try to calm him until his next feed.

5pm: Feed him again but this now takes an hour because he is beside himself with tiredness/grouchiness! I need to watch something mind numbing like Dinner Date so that I have something to talk about other than baby things the next time I see a human being (or call you). Before I know it it's time to pick up my four year old.

6pm: Pick up my four year old and run a bath for them both while he trashes the house again. I walk in to jigsaws all over the floor but I'm too exhausted to care. I eventually manage to bath them, dry them, put on their pyjamas and snuggle on the sofa for a blissful half hour. I take a selfie of us and post it on Facebook and you write a comment like 'looks like you're having a great day' and I think 'oh crap, I've not rang you!' I decide I'll do it when they're in bed.

7pm: Attempt to put the kids to bed, but my four year old is now biding his time by saying he's thirsty, hungry, has an itch or that he's scared that a dinosaur will crush him in his sleep. I manage to bribe him into bed with the promise of chocolate the next day. I read him a story whilst jigging my baby on my knee to stop him crying. My husband comes home to complete and utter chaos and asks what I've been doing all day.

8pm: I finally manage to get the baby down for a nap while my husband cooks some dinner because I've not had time. We eat the dinner in silence because we're both too tired to speak.

9pm: I look at my phone and I'll be honest, if I can't face talking to my dearly beloved then there's no chance I'm going to attempt to speak to you (sorry). I put on my pyjamas, go to bed and aimlessly scroll through my facebook feed to gain a sense of 'other life' in an attempt to connect in some way with other humans with limited effort on my part. I write this post as a sort of apology but it ends up being another listy post about how hard done by I am as a mother (sorry).

10pm: fall asleep, dribbling.

These are my reasons for not calling you; I hope you understand. On a good day (or should I say 'few hours', because things could take a turn for the worse at any given moment), I will have no problems calling you. On a good day I will be sat in Costa, sipping a cappuccino with friends. On a good day I will sit and watch This Morning and eat cake. On a good day I will have a whole hour to myself while my baby naps. But this is not a good day OR a bad day: it's a normal day - a normal day when trying to call you, or anyone, is quite difficult. I hope you understand.

Monday 16 March 2015

Fancy dress? No, thank you.

mother diaries, fancy dress, bat man, batman, masks of parenting, parenting masks, putting on a front, parenting, motherhood

I dropped my son off at nursery on Friday morning to discover that the nursery staff were adorned in red noses and brightly coloured outfits. Crap, Red Nose Day, how did I forget that one? See, I wouldn't mind but I already forgot about World Book Day, Christmas Jumper Day and Pyjama Day. I forgot to to collect money in time for his daffodil appeal and I continually forget to fill in his 'activities book' with the things he does at weekends or milestones, like when he actually ate a piece of cucumber for the first time.

Now don't get me wrong, when I became a mother I was all prepared that life would get a little bit more complicated. I accounted for the dirty nappies, the sleepless nights and the tantrums. I even prepared myself for the chaos of children's parties and holidays replaced with water parks instead of sunny beaches. I even prepared to share my chocolate. And then, THEN, some bugger came along and decided that all mothers should be inflicted with a day of fancy dress every month or so, or that they have to prove they're doing a good job by putting it into writing.

I remember my son's first fancy dress day – it was halloween and I inflicted on him a home-made bat costume. He hated it. For the kid who won't even wear clothes with buttons or zips, a bat costume was just that little bit too far. Instead of saying, do you know what, you don't have to dress up in this ridiculous costume, I made him wear it just to prove I was a good mother. And he cried all the way to nursery.

On world book day this year I considered a last minute excuse of a fancy dress costume and instead I decided my son could take in a book. Controversial, I know. He loves books; he's only four and he can read early-readers from cover to cover, but for some reason this doesn't count on world book day. Somehow you are not a good parent by reading poems to your children, buying them books or writing them stories of your own – it only counts if they get dressed up as Piglet.

The problem is that all us mothers do it, we look at the one mother who forgot to dress up her child as a superhero and we wince. We don't really wince because we genuinely think she's a bad mother, but we wince because we know just how that feels. But why should we care? Why is it so bad that she forgot when she's already had to feed and dress her children on practically no sleep? If she manages to take them to school or nursery on time, or if at all, she deserves a medal already.

And it doesn't stop with fancy dress. No, mothers have to bear the brunt of all consequences of having children. You can teach your kids all you want about the importance of doing their homework by themselves, but when push comes to shove you're the one who's going to be on Wikapedia learning about the amazon rainforest at 11pm. You say to your teenager that he needs to start ironing his own shirts, and he doesn't and you do because you care more that people think you iron clothes than you do about your son taking responsibility.

So why am I writing a ranty post about fancy dress, like a bah humbug of a mother? For god's sake woman, I hear you cry, let your kids have a little fun why don't you? Stop being so self obsessed that you forget to buy a pack of face paints the next time you're in Tesco. I hear you. In an ideal world I would imagine joyful evenings making costumes out of toilet rolls with my four year old, blissfully sharing Pritt Stick and getting sequins stuck down the sofa. But, I'll be honest, it rarely happens. (And that's coming from an artist.)

My point is, that a lot of people will try to make you think that you have to do certain things to prove your worth as a mother and I'm here to tell you that it's all a load of rubbish. It is not about putting on a front that you have the perfect family because that only makes everyone else feel that they are failing, let alone puts pressure on you. We are raising human beings, not sheep. So your child forgot to do his homework? Let him take responsibility and learn a good work ethic. So you forgot to dress your child up as Piglet? So what. And in ten years time when I'm ironing shirts, please refer me to this post.

Wednesday 4 March 2015

Ten reasons why mothers make great employees


Ten reasons why mothers make great employees

You may have heard it said that being a mother is a full time job. It's odd, then, that mothers are expected to do so much more than simply look after their children. If a mother chooses to stay at home with her kids, for example, she may be asked by her partner why the dinner hasn't been made. Or if she is at work, her employer may ask her to put in more commitment instead of leaving early to pick her child up from nursery. Mothers cannot win: their work ethics are continually questioned, generally by those who have no idea just how hard it is to be the main carer of a child.

There has been a lot in the media about women being paid less than men and there is general criticism of women in business because the majority of such women also become mothers. This means that they will be out of 'work' for a number of months or years (or however long they decide), and this makes them appear less valuable to the work force. As a woman, now a mother, I have had my share of discrimination for being of the 'fairer' sex (though there's nothing fair about it). Some business owners say that women screw businesses over; that they take the piss with their maternity leave ("I wish I could take a year off work," they say). They may think that mothers can't be serious about work if they have any sort of maternal instinct about them. Now let me make this perfectly clear, some mothers are bad employees but that has more to do with the work attitude they had long before they became a parent. I'm here to tell you all why employing a mother might just be a benefit, not just to your company, but to the nation as a whole.

1. She shows up
Do you know how hard it is to get out of the house with one child, let alone multiples? If a mother has managed to get, not just herself, but a non-compliant, whiny little person dressed and fed after four hours of sleep, then you can be pretty damn sure that she's determined to be somewhere. Sure, she may have the odd bit of vomit on her work jacket, but she shows up. This determination and drive is something that a lot of workers simply do not have; as soon as a job gets tough they give up or they slack off. Please don't confuse lateness or tiredness with commitment and determination. If she can get out of the house with children then she can do amazing things for your company.

2. She is an excellent problem solver
Have you ever had to make a Harry Potter outfit in ten minutes because your kid didn't give you the letter about world book day? Have you ever made a face out of vegetables to convince a child to eat their five a day or made a nappy out of a scarf because you didn't have a spare? (yes, that was a bad day.) Have you ever turned an average sofa into a secret den or encouraged them to do maths by making an abacus out of jelly beans? Mothers are no strangers to thinking on their feet and solving problems, and if they can find a way to avoid a toddler tantrum, believe me, they can solve any problem in the workplace.

3. She is responsible for practically everything
Everyone hates that person in the workplace who says 'it's not my job' when they're asked to wash the coffee cups. How do you think that would go down at home every time I was asked to do something extra that I didn't want to do? "It's not my job to wipe that dog poo off your shoe!" Or "You knocked that bottle of wine off the shelf, you pay for it!" Mothers have to take responsibility for everything their children do, therefore they are used to multitasking and taking on responsibilities outside of their job role. This is not an excuse to take advantage of her, it simply means that she has the ability to be versatile and multitask in her working environment.

4. She is great at dealing with people
She has experience of working alongside extremely stubborn people and getting them to comply with her ways. She is the ultimate mediator and counsellor; she knows how to get the best out of difficult personality types and to bribe them with chocolate if necessary. Equally she knows how to be appreciative of helpfulness, like when she actually gets a cup of tea made for her that doesn't go cold.

5. She can see the bigger picture
When she's having a bad day, she knows that it won't be forever. She knows that one day the sleepless nights will be over or that her house will be quiet and maybe even tidy again. This gives her the ability to be more positive when hard times come in the workplace and find strategies to make the future better. She is more likely to be well considered in her approach to her work because she sees ahead.

6. She can prioritise
Mothers are extremely pressed for time and although you may think that this is a bad thing, this makes her better able to invest her time wisely. All tasks are carefully considered in order to cut out the unnecessary time wasting jobs that aren't important. She can filter out the bullshit and concentrate on what really needs to be done, making sure that she is efficient and profitable.

7. She sees the funny side
If mothers didn't laugh they would definitely cry (I have been known to) but on the whole we see the funny side of life. What better ice breaker in an awkward business meeting than to walk in with a Peppa Pig sticker on your back?

8. She is used to working under pressure.
Mothers have to make appointments no matter what has gone on beforehand: explosive nappies, tantrums, weetabix smeared on the walls or finding that their shoe has been put down the toilet (all to the soundtrack of baby screams). Somehow they learn to keep their cool (okay, so not all the time). There is no greater experience than parenting to develop an ability for working under intense pressure.

9. She is loyal
There is no greater commitment than being a parent. Mothers, if they haven't already, develop stickability like they never have before. They learn to ride the ups and downs because they believe in their children and stand by them at all costs. In the right job setting a mother has the potential to be extremely loyal and not walk away at the first hurdle.

10. She is used to dealing with crap
No, not just the nappies. We are used to being told that we take everything for granted; that we sit all day in Starbucks sipping lattes. We are used to the chauvinists who tell us we have it easy; that we don't deserve to have weekends off if we've been at home with the kids all week. We are used to the ridiculous working conditions: the long shifts, the on-calls and lack of tea-breaks. We are used to people telling us that we don't contribute enough to society, that we don't deserve to be paid well or be treated as equals.

Whether a woman chooses to work for an employer or as a full time parent, she could be raising the next big political leader or the scientist who discovers the cure for cancer. Parenting is not to be taken lightly, or as though it is a menial and unimportant job. Mothers, simply because the majority of them are the main carers of their children, have the biggest influence on the next generation. Their encouragement, investment, love and support means that you get excellent workers out of their overlooked work. Whether a mother goes out to work or stays at home, she hopefully wants to teach her kids that it's not okay to sit on their arses playing computer games all day. Let's hope we can do a better job of raising a generation of business men and women who are as prepared to clean up the crap as we are.