As parents we understand why parenting is so ridiculously hard.
Some days, it’s like banging your head against a brick wall, while attempting to do half a dozen other things at the same time.
You only have to look at a fellow parent in the eye to know when they’ve had a rough night.
Mama friends respond by nodding our heads in solidarity and passing the gin.
Non-parents respond with a story about how they had an all-nighter at a party the other weekend and they had never been so tired in all their life, so much so that they slept the entire following day. In a room full of parents, this remark would be met with hysterical laughter, followed by tears of envy.
I’ve been faced with quite a few situations recently where people clearly didn’t “get” why I have been struggling so much.
And I understand why it’s difficult to comprehend, I really do, for several reasons:
1. The children are smaller than me. Surely it is a simple matter of “I am the grown-up, do as I say”? Unfortunately as parents, we all know that when it comes to babies and toddlers, size does not matter one jot.
2. Children do as they are told, and if they don’t they are punished. I don’t know if you’ve ever tried to discipline a baby (if you’re a normal human being you won’t have done), but the fact of the matter is, if the baby doesn’t want to go to sleep, they just won’t.
3. Children have to sleep at some point. They do, absolutely. The trouble is that many children, babies in particular, like to divide their sleep into very unhelpful four-hour chunks of time (or less). Have you ever spent 30 minutes trying to get to sleep, only to be woken up 30 minutes later? Try doing that 10 times a night and you will have an idea of what a parent with a difficult baby is facing.
4. You made the decision to have kids, surely you love them. This is absolutely true. I love my kids more than anything with a fierceness that I didn’t think I possessed. However the are capable of sending me utterly bonkers with their endless chants of “mummy” and repetition of the phrase “I’m still hungry”. That doesn’t mean I don’t love them, it just means that a child’s love comes with a LOT of baggage.
Normally it’s fine that other people don’t get how hard it is parenting babies and toddlers.
We crack on with doing our thing, and they crack on with doing theirs. No harm.
But I’ve had a couple of experiences where people tut as my 18-month-old cries and squirms while we’re eating out at a restaurant. Or another where someone asked why my three-year-old wakes up at 5am.
As parents, our lives would be so much easier if other people didn’t throw judgement our way. And if people understood why it’s so flipping hard just getting through the day, let alone facing a barrage of questions about our ability to parent effectively and our children’s behaviour, then maybe we could relax a little bit when in other people’s company.
So how on earth do we explain parenting to someone who does not have children, or someone who hasn’t had tiny kids for many years?
Asking them to spend a day caring for a baby could help. But the crucial problem with this is that they will have the knowledge during that entire 24-hour period that the baby will be handed back. They can then go back to their life of freedom and independence, happy in the knowledge that when they want to leave the house, all they have to do is walk out of the door.
I don’t really know how to put into words how hard some of my days and weeks can be. However, I thought that perhaps a little summary of a typical day may help.
4.30am – Three-year-old wakes up and says she needs a wee.
4.45am – Three-year-old comes back into bedroom and demands help finding a book to read.
5am – Three-year-old comes back into bedroom wanting a cuddle.
6am – 18-month-old wakes up.
6.05am – Both children are screaming for breakfast.
6.10am – Attempt to pour milk into cereal bowl while holding wailing 18-month-old with three-year-old hanging off leg screaming she wanted porridge.
6.30am – Children demand to watch television.
6.35am – Both children climb onto my lap and take turns at stealing bites of my breakfast.
7am – Bored. Check clock, fear for sanity over the course of the next 12 hours.
9am – Take children out for “fun” activity. Takes 30 minutes to wrestle children into clothes, appropriate footwear, brush teeth, apply sunscreen and find the one toy they just HAVE to take with them.
9.30am – Arrive at fun activity. Eldest child declares she wanted to go somewhere else. Spend next 90 minutes trying to inspire fun, before giving up and just buying them an ice cream.
11.30am – Lunch – any later than this is a bad idea for several reasons, particularly that the 18-month-old’s nap comes after lunch and the earlier that happens, the better.
12.30am – Naptime. Stick elder child in front of television for next two hours and attempt to not feel guilty for failing to adequately parent/pass on knowledge during precious spare time.
3pm – End of naptime. The end of the day is nigh, however the next four hours will pass slower than a tortoise on his last legs. Attempt another fun activity, or a walk to the park where the children will climb to the top of the highest piece of play equipment and require rescuing.
4pm – Everyone is now tired and cranky, as well as hungry. This results in tears, tantrums and sibling battles.
4.30pm – Time for tea. Anything other than chicken nuggets will be rejected. Sometimes even chicken nuggets are rejected. The only reliable foodstuff is cheese, however it’s best to avoid giving this at every meal lest the health visitor catch wind of it and freak out.
5pm – Children say they are both still hungry.
5.30pm – Give in and turn on the telly.
6pm – When will it be bedtime!?
6.30pm – The start of the bedtime routine. Neither child wants to get their pyjamas on, despite both being extremely tired. Neither child can agree on a book to read. Realise both bedrooms are a complete tip so have to spend 10 minutes tidying up, during which time the kids pull all of the toys out as quickly as I can put them away.
7pm – Bedtime. With no bars on her bed any more, the three-year-old will now be in and out of bed for the next one to two hours with varying reasons including “I need a poo”, “I’m not tired” and “I want another book”.
9pm – Mummy’s bedtime routine, which includes a prayer that 4.30am will be the earliest wake-up time I have to endure, because those midnight ones are hell.
Even this, my daily routine written out in black and white, fails to adequately explain the sheer mind-numbing hell of parenting at times. And so I can only conclude that I will never be able to explain what’s so bloody hard about parenting. But that’s OK, so long as a fellow mama is always there to pass the gin when times get really tough.