Dear Dad…

I’m so sad tonight. I wish I could pick up the phone and call you up and tell you how I’m feeling and let all my frustrations out. You would probably listen awkwardly because I’m a woman and I’d be crying, and then you would tell me a story that hardly seems related, but somehow makes me feel better anyway. I would put down the phone feeling all cried out in the way you normally can only be when you’re by yourself, but in a good way, instead of this lonely aching feeling that I’m left with right now.

You never met R, so I don’t know how you would deal with his visual impairment or his and our frustration at his speech delays. For all I know, when it comes to his medical history, you would be just as unhelpful as my remaining parent, not knowing what to say or do to help, or how to be supportive in the way we need. But I do know for certain one thing, when it comes to his everyday life, you would be here.

You would take me to appointments when I needed the company, you would be phoning off the hook every day to see how we both are, you would hug me when the terrible two’s were driving me mad, or there wasn’t anything helpful left to say. I can’t imagine a day going by where you wouldn’t want to see us both, to hold your grandson, to sit with your daughter, and just while away the time with us both.

You would probably tell me that it’s her depression and the years of being alone, but you’ll have to excuse me for insisting that it is still not normal for a parent to not want to see their grandchildren. After almost three weeks of no contact, it is not normal for a parent to have to be bullied into spending some time with their daughter and grandchild. And yet that’s what happened today. And I don’t know why I bothered. After an hour and a half of sitting on my couch watching him while I played with him, a large portion of that spent with her eyes closed, she left. My mother hadn’t hugged him, kissed him, read to him, or even touched him. She hadn’t even moved from her spot on the couch to go down to his level and join a game.

It’s true- I might imagine you being here through the tragically rose coloured glasses of knowing you never will be again. But it’s not the fact that you’re gone that tells me you would hardly let R go if you had the chance, it’s just fact. Because somehow, with one parent who told me she had to ‘learn’ to hug me when I needed it, I still grew up affectionate and loving to my friends and family. Even though I’ve been told that I’m loved the least out of her children, I’ve somehow got a sense of self-worth and belief. And I didn’t give myself those things, you did.

So I know, with the certainty of really knowing a person, the way I’m coming to believe I never will know my own mother, that you would be cuddling and playing and singing with my little boy every chance you could get your hands on. You would call, probably too much, to find out how we are and to tell us you care. It wouldn’t be a chore, or something you needed to be reminded to do or argued into.

I don’t worry about R, the way I sometimes worry about myself. He has two parents that know how to make him feel loved and special. Thank God, he doesn’t need you in his life to make him feel supported and worth something.

Sadly however, I sometimes think that I still do.

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Four’s a Crowd

Me and my mother don’t really argue any more. We have ‘near-fights’ instead. They are similar to how women generally argue, ie: it doesn’t seem like we’re fighting, but we are. Women can be smiling, laughing, talking in an un-serious tone, and yet be having a huge fight at the same time. It’s all about the subtext. So it is with the two of us. We’ve got really quite good at not ignoring each other, or storming off in a huff, or shouting in public any more. But we still say mean things, or start a controversial topic knowing it wont end well, or say things in a sing-song happy voice which we know will grate on the other’s nerves. All part of the process, we’ll get there eventually.

Today we had a ‘near-fight’ about something which I think people will have  opinions over. So I’m going to throw it into the public domain and see what I get back, even though I know some people may disagree with me.

While out and about running errands together, I mentioned what we’d done at the weekend. By we, I mean myself, my husband and our 1yo. We went fruit picking. I didn’t say anything else. My entire sentence was “We went fruit picking at the weekend.” I’m not sure what I expected as a response, maybe “That’s fun-where did you go?” or “How nice, what did you pick?” or “Did R enjoy it, was he old enough?” etc. Basically I was just starting a conversation, and sharing-as I’ve heard people do with their parents once they’ve left home and lost the teenage secretiveness. Maybe I wanted to tell her how we went home afterwards and made strawberry ice cream together, or how the blender woke up R in a frantic state and it took an hour to get him settled again.

I didn’t get to say any of the above however, because the response I got was so negative. “Oh…. I would have loved to go fruit picking.” 

What can I say to that? Should I have said I’m sorry? Should I have said “next time we’ll invite you along then”? Should I have ignored the comment entirely and just carried on with the ice cream part?

Obviously I did nothing like the above, I got irritated and asked why she would answer like that, (putting her on the frightened defensive) and told her how the 3 of us rarely get a chance to go out as a family together (making her feel excluded of course) and that it’s not like every time we go out the house I think how lovely it would be if my mother joined us (making her feel like I dislike her company) and gave her a list of answers she should have said instead (making her feel condescended to). Her response was “you have so many lovely outings, and I have nothing.”

I did all the wrong things, and by the time we parted company, things were stilted and awkward, and ‘near-fight-like’ and no progress had been made. But I don’t think I’m wrong for the underlying point. Surely it’s fine for C and I to take our son out for family day-trips or outings just the 3 of us, without worrying about her not being there? It’s not our responsibility to invite her along every time we’re doing something she might also enjoy.

It’s not that we don’t ever want our parents with us. We spend lots of time together, and I told her that it would be lovely if she thought of something fun to do, and she phoned us up during the week asking if we wanted to do that on the next available day we all had. (she never would.) But nevertheless, if we make a plan, and carry it through, and have some much needed ‘the three of us’ time, I’m not going to feel like I have to keep it a secret because anyone else may feel left out. Especially when it is something that can so easily be replicated again anyway.

I know that at some point in our lives, our parents are meant to stop looking after us, and we start looking out for them instead. For some, it starts earlier than others, and certainly some of the older generation have more of a ‘life’ than others and so need it less. But I think we can only take responsibility for them so far, even if we do empathise with their loneliness. If a person chooses not to ask for what they want, or not to find the means and drive to do the activities they enjoy, it’s not up to their children to do it all for them. And it certainly doesn’t seem fair to make your kids feel bad for having that ‘get up and go’ which they themselves lack.

‘Helpful’ Grandparenting

I overheard a conversation today at a toddler group at the library. Two grandmothers had brought their grandchildren along, and were clearly enjoying the bonding time together. These young grannies were possibly mid fifties, and both had grandchildren of about 18 months to 2 years, about the same age as my own son.

What caught my attention initially was their talk of nap times. “Oh it depends how long I have her for” one grandma said, “if she’s with me for the whole day, she’ll have two naps.” The other grandma expressed surprise that the child was not down to just one long sleep in the day, to which granny #1 answered, “Oh yes, my daughter tells me only to give her one, but how can I get anything done that way? I always give her two, it’s much easier for me, I dont mind that she’s sleeping more than usual”

I’m sure you don’t mind, [I wish I’d replied] because it isnt you having to settle her that evening, and having no idea why she isnt tired! I was really irritated by her attitude, but not overly surprised. I’ve often heard mums complaining that their own parents dont listen to the ‘rules’ they’ve put in place for their children.

The whole concept kind of confuses me. Our parents tell us they are so proud of the way we raise our own children, they praise us for being great mothers and fathers, and yet find it impossible to keep to our guidelines.

Do you not trust us? Is it hard to see us as grown up enough to make sensible and thought out choices about our own offspring?

I can imagine that after a lifetime of being able to make the rules, it must be hard to suddenly have to listen to your own child, and adhere to their way of thinking, especially where it differs from your own. I can see that when times change, and what you did as a young mum is no longer the norm, it can seem OTT or uneccesary to be strict about routines or some of the more modern parenting techniques which involve unwavering consistency.

This explains how parents might get in interesting and spirited debate with their kids about how rules and customs have changed over the years, and how child-rearing has evolved in the last generation. None of this explains to me how a grandparent can see no problem whatsoever with nodding in agreement when their daughter gives a direct request, “put him down at 1pm” “don’t give him anything sugary” “no TV please” and then go and do the exact opposite, and not even mention it. Especially when they probably went through the exact same thing with their own parents!

Maybe this is harsh, but having control over eating/sleeping/treats and the like, is simply not one of the perks of being a grandparent. There are so many, and I’ve heard many say that they actually prefer it to parenthood. But making those decisions is not your job. It’s the parents job. And it makes sense, because the parents are the ones who have to deal with the inevitable consequences of too much/not enough sleep, or the wrong kinds of foods, or a overstimulated toddler bouncing off the walls.

Dont get me wrong, ‘m sure I speak for all parents when I say that any help or babysitting from grandparents is incredibly kind and helpful. After all, you dont have to be offering at all! And maybe I’m the one being OTT now. But I speak only for ourselves when I say, that if our parents were secretly doing the opposite of what we were asking them to do, even with the best intentions in the world-that kind of help we can really do without.

Which songs can I sing to make my child a genius?

We all worry about the same things when raising our babies. Are we giving them the right foods, the right toys, the right social interaction? Are we introducing things too early, or leaving them too late? In hindsight, each decision seems well thought out and correct, if not immediately then eventually, (have you ever seen an adult worrying if his life problems are due to which playmat he had?) and yet at the time, we agonise and ask questions to anyone and everyone who has an opinion, and work ourselves into a state if we cant do our ideal response to any given situation.

When my son was tiny, I had a morning routine. Morning was whenever he woke up, which was obviously a different time each day. I would look at my watch, and begin counting. I’m going to give him his first bottle now, so in order to fit all 5 in today, I will feed again at 10.30, and then every 4 hours and 45 minutes until bed time. Some mornings were really stressful. Oh no, he’s slept until 8.30.. How am I going to fit all the bottles in? Yes, you heard that correctly, I said “Oh no. He’s slept until 8.30.” I apologize. But the most important thing to me was getting the full oz of milk into him. There were days when I fed him every 3 hours, and other days when I left nearly 6 hours between feeds. I wouldnt have dreamt of simply leaving out one feed that day, or making the others bigger or smaller. It was all about the maths, with the handy guide on the side of the Aptimil carton as my friend.

Looking back now, I think I’m pretty crazy. But I dont give myself too hard a time, as I watch so many other mums do the exact same thing when it comes to their children and routine. It might not be milk, but most mums have their own share of craziness in one way or another. If she sleeps now, and then we’re going out later, she might fall asleep in the car, and then will she sleep tonight? If he eats that, it’s only an hour until lunch, and then he might not eat enough of his proper food, and he’ll get hungry mid afternoon.

We’re all a little crazy. As I scan the motherhood forums and see the same questions coming up again and again, tips for weaning, when should I drop the afternoon bottle, what kind of toys are right for a 6 month old.. I think our kids may be the luckiest and unluckiest generation ever. Many of us complain that our parents generation don’t understand what it’s like to be parents nowadays, and they would be right. But a lot of that is because we have unnecessary choice and access to opinion. Our parents are about to start weaning us, maybe they ask their own parents, at a stretch the local doctor or a close friend. But the excess ofnew companies and books, let alone the faceless crowd of opinion on the internet, was simply not available (or frankly needed) thirty years ago.

I’m not saying that it’s entirely unwelcome, after all, knowing more means that syndromes such as cot death has been more than halved, and behavioural and social issues are rarely ignored, in comparion to decades past. However, we also have more serious allergies in younger children than ever before, which many put down to our obsessive cleanliness and hygeine guidelines. There are also so many of us walking around feeling like we’re not doing it right. Maybe I’m wrong, but this is not an issue our grandparents had. Self esteem as parents was most likely not even thought of, wheras now, we are constantly comparing ourselves, not only to our friends, but to people we don’t even know on the television and the internet. A new revolution in reality TV is basically entitled “Terrible parenting that makes you feel better about yourself.” Whether it contains ‘problem teens’ or ‘kids running riot’ or even sending your kids abroad to get a week with “stricter” aka “better” parents, the genre has become a phenomenon.

I wonder if we need any of it? Our parents all managed to get to adulthood eating, sleeping, drinking the right amount of milk, without seventeen different opinions about which teat they used. The same goes for us. I’m sure our parents and grandparents still had the same questions and craziness, it seems to arrive with the baby in the hospital, but without the plethora of opinions and people to ask, they just made a choice and got on with it.

I guess I’m saying, whatever decision you make, your baby will be fine. And if we didnt have all these other people to ask, we’d probably make quite a quick decision. But we have too much choice.

Of course, none of this stops me from checking mumsnet to see if anyone’s got more advice on what R should be sleeping in tonight. (Well…. the room is currently 24, but it’s only 2 degrees outside, and I’m not sure if he needs a long or short sleeve vest….)

Would Grandparenting make good Parenting?

 

Grandparents would make really cool parents. But my aim is not to be cool.

We all know the expression that most grandparents employ, that being a g’parent is great because you get all the fun and sharing, and then you get to give the kids back at the end of the day. Partly, the way they seem to act must be down to this sudden lack of real parental responsibility after all these years of having their own children. I’ve spoken before (Emerging Adulthood) about finally becoming a grown up, and one of the five stages of this being having your own children. Perhaps with this, we cross the line into not needing ‘looking after’ any more, and our parents are free to seize the silliness which theyve spent the last few decades quashing and enjoy not having to be the ‘grown ups’ for a while.

Does this explain why when I’m trying to get my 1yo down for an afternoon nap, gritting my teeth through the controlled crying and trying not to join him in his tears, I have a grandma at my shoulder voicing her opinion of “Well, if he doesnt want to go to sleep, why should he have to?” Er.. maybe because otherwise he’s going to be a huge grouch all afternoon and not eat properly or feel well? And when I’m feeding him, Oh you’re being so cruel, if he doesnt want that mashed potato, why should he have to have it? Because kids (especially babies) dont have any idea what they like yet and its up to us to introduce tastes and different foods? Apparently irrelevant.

It’s not as if I have some magical knowledge of babies that they don’t have. On the contrary, they brought us all up, and I would bet a substantial sum that all of us had plenty of afternoon naps and ate full and nourishing meals, against our heavy protestations. But somehow when the generation gap widens, all responsible parenting seems to fly out the window. I’m sure R would love a piece of chocolate cake.. just a small piece? … Oh let’s wake him up for a quick cuddle… I saw seventeen different toys he doesnt need this week, and just had to buy them all. Where was this when we were growing up? With our strict bed times and dietary mandates and forgotten birthday presents let alone ‘just because’ presents.. Is this just sudden freedom from parental responsibility? Or have they grown up and realised that life’s too short to be so strict?

If grandparents could have their time back with us parents as babies, I wonder if they would be so laissez faire with the rules. Or if it is just a way to build that special g’parent/g’child bond through cake and treats and bending those rules. Maybe I’m crazy to let it annoy me when I know that to some extent all g’parents do the same thing. And yet…

Thoughts?