Parenting Wars: Battle of the Sexes

There’s a ‘fun’ little game hubby and I never seem to tire of. In fact we often seem to play several rounds in any given day.

You might be familiar with it yourself? It’s what I like to call the ‘my life is harder’ game. Yes, that’s the one.

You know where you’ve barely had a minute to sit down all day, have been dreaming of supping even a semi-lukewarm beverage, and then the moment you’ve finally got the rug rats into bed your other half calls to say he hasn’t had the chance to eat since breakfast and what’s for dinner.

You then proceed to mutter to yourself as you stomp around the kitchen wondering exactly how many tea rounds there were in the office today, whether he enjoyed having time to read something other than the back of a baby food pouch on his commute and cursing the fact there’s bloody football on the telly. Again.

Of course you choose not to recall the fact that hubby had to trudge to work in the pouring rain, that you did get to catch up with a friend (if that’s what you can call a snatched conversation as you try to rescue various offspring from the bacteria-soaked ball pit at soft play) and that other half is babysitting at the weekend so you can go out for a drink.

But that’s a given with parental bickering – especially of the mid-week, getting really knackered now variety – isn’t it? The whole point is that on particularly sleep-deprived, vomit-fuelled days your life is DEFINITELY harder than theirs.

Several bones of contention spring to mind at this point. All of which my mum friends would sincerely back me up on. I know because I’ve done my ‘mum market research’, otherwise known as having a good old bitch over coffee!

Firstly who wrote the rule that as a mum you’re the one person in the family who is never allowed to get sick? Or, if someone actually acknowledges that you have a slight sniffle – usually full-blown flu – as mum you are not entitled to a single snippet of sympathy.

No, your job is simply to get on with it. Or ‘man up’ as hubby so charitably described it the other day.

This when I was recovering from a sickness bug that would proceed to take down everyone we know while coping with both kids and he headed out for a poker night. Hmm, yes he did pay for that one. Mostly with hangover + screaming baby = tough, deal with it sunshine!

Second, the dad misconception that when you meet up with friends, with numerous offspring in tow, that a lovely ‘relaxing’ time is had by all, consuming vast quantities of afternoon tea and debating the news of the day.

To be fair hubby does admit his mistakes here when faced with a coffee shop and a plethora of small people at the weekend, but it’s all conveniently forgotten by Monday.

Third, since when did I say that I was happy to become some kind of housekeeper, chef, dry cleaner and professional ironer? Oh that’s right, it was allegedly a given when I got the first bun in the oven. Having been a career girl since my early 20s it’s only natural that the majority of household tasks should all fall to me.

After all who doesn’t love washing other peoples’ pants and cleaning up poo?!

Yes I like things neat and tidy. Doesn’t mean I clean the kitchen floor for kicks.

Anyway, I realise I sound rather bitter and twisted here. But hey it’s the end of the week and I had three hours sleep last night.

The good thing about the ‘my life is harder’ game is that it usually ends in laughter and an admission that ‘sorry, I’m being a bit of a dick.’ And bickering – of the largely good-natured variety – keeps you both on your toes.

Just don’t expect me to iron you a shirt okay?!



The Primary School Equation: How do you choose?

Am I the only one who’s ever thought that old saying: ‘Your school days are the best of your life’ is a little bit glib? Or at least too black and white?

I have many very happy memories of my own school days but I was also bullied at various points so making sure mini-me ends up somewhere she feels loved, happy and accepted is hugely important to me.

Plus to be honest I can’t quite believe that we’ve actually got to the stage of picking a primary school for my beautiful baby girl – evidently not so small anymore! It all feels like a huge responsibility.

Where we live there’s one main village school that mini-me should automatically get into, which makes things easier and also harder in equal measure. Less stress over choice but more pressure to like it if you see what I mean.

Well last week hubby and I joined a big group of other potential parents on a tour of the school led by the headmistress about who we’d heard great things. First impressions were that she was quietly assured and trendy and reminded me of a ‘PR type’ who might work in Soho (not that you stereotype when you work in the media!)

Hubby was already stressed as I’d forgotten to book blue-eyed boy in for an earlier start at nursery so he was accompanying us in his sling complete with the hacking cough he has yet to shake off.

‘What if he starts screaming? What am I supposed to do, walk off and do a circuit of the school building? How’s that going to look?’ he asked indignantly.

It got the stock response. ‘Um, it’ll be fine.’

Fortunately I was saved by blue-eyed boy’s famous good nature and a few other parents who’d also accessorised with their under-ones. Plus the youngest was working his cuteness to our advantage – trendy headmistress even commented on how lovely he was!

Also BFF was there and both offspring prefer her to us anyway. Mini-me is frequently asking when she can move in…

Anyway us and the other parents were taken on a loop of the school umming and ahhing over the music room and the new library, trying to filter ‘quietly’ into various classrooms where we were followed by many pairs of small eyes as if animals in the zoo.

Quite freaky to think that hopefully next year mini-me will be one of them.

It also, and hopefully I’m not the only one to admit to this, got my competitive hackles up a bit. I found myself commenting to hubby that mini-me is ‘very musical’ so the school would be perfect for her.

Also I was quite pleased with myself for asking a semi-intelligent question about whether parents can get involved with school life, helping with reading etc.

Silly really, but I suppose as a parent you want to be accepted too just like you did when you were at school.

It’s all coming back to me now. My mum running the book stall every year at my school’s autumn fair and dad helping out with various things.

Waiting nervously for them to return from parents’ evenings to see what my teacher had to say about me.

That’s going to be me and hubby soon. Scarily grown up, for both us and mini-me…

The Mum-pedemic sweeping the nation

Everyone tells you that the moment you become a parent the world as you once knew it will become shaken to the core.

But until someone hands you your firstborn it’s hard to really understand just how much loving and looking after a small person changes everything. It’s a bit like rattling a kaleidoscope and then lifting it to your eye and gazing at a completely different picture.

Once you’ve had a baby you come to realise many things: Just how little sleep it’s possible to survive on, just how much love it’s possible to have for your child and just how high the creator of Night Garden must have been when they came up with Makka Pakka and the Haahoos.

In smaller measure the world also tilts on its axis when you throw a second little one into the mix. Now you’re a professional juggler who will never pee alone again, unless it’s the weekend.

But there’s one facet of parenthood that only women get. The dreaded Mum Guilt.

Not only are men immune from this terrible disease, they don’t understand it and will tell you in exasperated tone that it is totally pointless – which to be fair it is.

Absolutely no good can ever come from worrying yourself stupid about whether or not you: cook enough from scratch for your children, let them watch too much TV, read to them enough, should ban yourself from using your iPhone when spending time with them, should have seen that tantrum coming and steered away from it, are a ‘bad parent’ for being too tired to have another row over teeth cleaning etc. etc.

Feel free to add your own ‘guilt trigger’ into the mix here. They are after all, as we mums know, too numerous to mention.

On one particularly low Tuesday I even found myself self-flagellating over the fact that my mum had pointed out I perhaps should cook hubby more potatoes.

(‘Just because you don’t like them doesn’t mean he should be deprived. After all his family is Irish…’)

Fortunately on this occasion I came quickly to my senses and informed her that he was very welcome to cook his own tubers. Foul things.

My point is that even though us mums know that stewing over something small is rarely going to turn out well we just can’t escape it. It’s impossible to be rational about Mum Guilt.

A major cause of MG seems to be work – whether you do, whether you don’t, whether you love your career, whether you’re happier staying at home…

Another is breastfeeding – whether you’ve done it for long enough, for too long, whether it secretly repulsed you…

Yet another is comparison – measuring yourself up against other mums and constantly feeling you come up short, that you should be doing what they are for your kids, that you should have bought that toy or gadget for your kids…

Gah! It’s exhausting – all that self-doubt and questioning whizzing around in your brain. Even more so if you find it hard to admit to your friends and so find yourself falling apart behind the closed front door.

There’s no cure for Mum Guilt and it’s likely none will ever be found. The best thing you can do is try to push it out of your head and replace with a cuppa and chocolate biscuit or super-sized glass of wine – without feeling bad about the calories.

And if all else fails remember this – you’re NOT alone!


Nice toes and naughty toes

Ah ballet class, the place where all parenting life meets looking slightly harassed on a Saturday morning.

Since mini-me has been prancing around pretty much since the day she could stand (actually from memory she sported a mean bottom wiggle before this too…) hubby and I reasoned that turning three was probably a good time for her to start a proper dance class.

We’ve heard from friends with slightly older children about the ‘joys’ of ferrying various offspring to football, drama, choir, gymnastics etc. etc. after school or on a weekend morning, a la an unpaid taxi firm.

Fortunately for us this is still ahead – which is just as well as weekly one of us still ends up careering into the village hall car park just after the one class we have to make it to has started. But we’re never alone thankfully, which I find nicely reassuring.

In fact sitting outside mini-me’s beginners’ ballet half-hour is a really good way to remind yourself we’re all in this parenting malarkey together. And you don’t even have to talk to anyone to draw this conclusion – merely pretend to read your book while actually eavesdropping.

(Am I the only one who does this?!)

There’s always at least one of us with ‘mum flu’, that is spluttering into a tissue trying to convince yourself and others that you’re not ill, just a bit grumpy.

There’s the usual array of children hanging off parents’ legs and demanding snacks, the ‘dulcet’ tones of Peppa and her pals playing on a loop on someone’s iPad and the sound of someone coaxing a small person to ‘please do a wee.’

Last week one of the dads was loudly telling his friend how glad he was that his son hadn’t yet professed a desire to start ballet with his sister, as it could have been quite awkward having the only boy in the class.

A mum was picking out tiles from a catalogue while discussing the merits of various colour options, and several of us were gazing with amazement at the pint-sized ballerina with hair her mother had clearly slaved over for the best part of half an hour.

We’re talking not one solitary hair out of place, a curled ponytail, colour-co-ordinating ribbon in exactly the right hue of purple and feathers for crying out loud.

I’ll bet I wasn’t the only one thinking I really must allow time for more than just brushing mini-me’s hair next week.

But the other thing we all have in common, and this to me is the sheer joy of my lovely girl’s ballet class, is the visible pride in watching our offspring practise ‘nice toes and naughty toes’, waiting patiently in line to show the teacher their butterfly run and tippy-toeing around the hall to classics such as ‘I Do Like To Be Beside The Seaside.’

I love watching mini-me twirl and whirl with a delighted smile on her face as her little tutu floats behind her. I love her teeny yet perfect ballet slippers, and I love her uniform that has Royal Academy of Dance embroidered on the label.

Do I think she’ll grow up to be the next Darcey Bussell? Of course not, but it’s still nice to daydream for a few minutes.

Along with the other parents that is.

Forget Frozen: The best films to watch with your pre-schooler

Surely one of the nicest things as your child grows older is being able to sit and watch films with them.

Especially when their attention spans reach the stage of enjoying an entire viewing, rather than drawing on the walls at the same time.

Mini-me has only recently attained this level of ‘sitting still-ness’ and with her baby brother now in tow it’s become a bit of a godsend, especially on those rainy or had-too-little-sleep days when getting out and about seems like a monumental effort.

It’s especially lovely of course when you can share films you used to love with them – even when you then get to view them about a hundred times over the coming few weeks!

Current favourites in the Neat Freak household include Disney’s Peter Pan, Annie and Mary Poppins. Mini-me seems to be a particular fan of musicals and likes to perform certain numbers from them in the lounge, although only when singing solo.

‘Just me, Mummy,’ she’ll shriek, in apparent Shirley Bassey diva mode, before launching into her own version of ‘Tomorrow’.

Well in the spirit of such movie madness I thought I’d take a rather self-indulgent trip down memory lane and share a few classic films I remember watching again and again as a kid and am now planning to pass on to mini-me. After all she did introduce me to Frozen.

*The Jungle Book

Home to some of the greatest musical numbers ever in my humble opinion, although obviously not the one with the four vultures who, I’m sure I’m right in this, were modelled on The Beatles?! Mini-me and I love a good old shimmy to Bear Necessities and the ‘Louis Song’. She’s also much braver than I was when I saw this for the first time – I seem to remember being pretty scared of Shere Khan the tiger.

*Meet Me in St Louis

This is a gem that viewers of any age will love, although you need to be a fan of Judy Garland. Some might say this film’s a bit twee – my father-in-law’s idea of torture – but I’m having none of it. It’s such a lovely film to watch on Christmas Eve and I often still soak it up while wrapping presents and singing along to its most famous number, Have Yourself a Merry Little Christmas.

*Santa Claus The Movie

This was never going to be an Oscar contender, but Dudley Moore starring as wayward elf Patch and one of the sisters from Keeping Up Appearances as ‘Mother Christmas’?? Come on, festive film genius! My sister and I absolutely loved this in its mid-1980s heyday.

*The Goonies

I caught this film again fairly recently and had forgotten just how brilliant it is – well Steven Spielberg did come up with the story. The Fratellis are genuinely scary when you first encounter them and what little girl didn’t want to be Andy? ‘Hey You Guys!’

*The Slipper and the Rose

This is definitely one for little girls who want to be Cinderella – so it should be right up mini-me’s street. Not that clear from the title, it’s a musical version of the glass slipper, wicked stepmother yarn. I never particularly bought Richard Chamberlain as the handsome prince, but it’s packed with brilliant British actors from days gone by like Michael Hordern. A bit dated yes, but still brilliant.

*Finding Nemo

Okay so this film was actually only made in 2003, so clearly it’s a kids’ film I love from having watched it as an adult. But who cares, it’s so good! Mini-me has actually already seen this and we agree that it’s right up there as one of our all-time favourites. And if you need another reason the amazing Allison Janney (CJ from the West Wing) provides one of the voices – genius!

*Space Camp

A film with perhaps the most ridiculous premise ever – the idea that a group of ‘all-American teens’ could accidentally end up orbiting the earth due to a technical glitch while spending the summer at space camp. But as a kid you really believed it could happen! Also a young Tate Donovan was hugely, and shamefully, fanciable. Made hubby watch this once – grounds for divorce apparently.