Parenting on the front line
Updated: Mar 24, 2019
I swore I would never write about parenting directly or make it the focus of my pieces, yet here I am.. doing the unthinkable.
The reality is that as a parent, there’s no getting away from being a parent.
We are currently in the throes of toddler domination, with our little dictator just a few months shy of turning 3. Generally, he’s a very sweet, loving, affectionate, albeit exceedingly active little boy who is loved by everyone he meets. But when it’s tyrant time, it can often feel like the dying minutes on the front line, the bloodied bodies of your comrades strewn across the battlefield around you, with the enemy closing in. And you can be sure there is zero chance of a rescue chopper flying in with an enormous Arnold Schwarzenegger sized hero to come and scrape you out of the debris before it’s too late.
Suddenly that delicious, loving boy we want to eat up by the spoonful becomes a stone deaf, iron-willed autocrat who no longer responds to negotiations, bribes, threats or demands. They warn you about this, they tell you that the terrible twos is a thing but like all idiot parents, we thought – not our boy! He’s terrific! He’s not. He’s just like all of his peers. Kim Jong-un, Stalin and Trump.
In fact, many have argued that the closest emulation of a toddler is without a doubt, Donald Trump. Makes implausible demands, won’t listen to reason, defies logic, facts are irrelevant, charges blindly towards danger despite ceaseless warnings. The parallels are alarmingly transparent.
So how do you manage an irrational dictator with an over-inflated ego? A wise friend once told me never to give in to their demands. Sage words when negotiating with terrorists, though not always applicable to the battlefield at home. There’s always that faint hope that maybe that one last drink, or story, or inexplicable need to have the sheets turned the other way round will finally placate the beast and allow you to limp gingerly back down the hallway to the relative safety of the living room. Relative safety of course, because it’s only a matter of time before the tyrannical despot is just a few frightening steps away from flinging open the door and barking out a sparkling new set of demands.
This scenario invariably plays out at the end of a long day, when you’re running on fumes and have no reserves left in the tank. They always seem to rope you into doing your time on the front line at your weakest moment, and it can be incredibly difficult to maintain any level of maturity, patience or humour.
I have found myself using every weapon in my arsenal only to have them ricochet off the walls like misfired bouncy balls. Defeated, yet again, by a tiny person who has decided that bedtime will not be at the usual scheduled time, as per your request. Nor will those pyjamas be worn tonight, or that book be read. I want, I need, ignore, do what I want. Repeat. Love you Mummy!
So how do you stay sane when the cycle is on repeat?
Sure, you can turn to wine or other substances (no judgement here!), chocolate can definitely take the edge off, but what I have found to be most valuable, is making time for yourself. Time to remember who you are and who you were, before a micro-sized Napoleon began smothering you with sloppy, germy kisses only to throw books at your head the next minute. Time to do something that helps you remember what you love, what you’re good at and to fulfil you in other ways outside the family home.
It could be as simple as going for a walk on your own and taking an hour to breathe, move and think for yourself. It might be a night out with your friends or your partner. A few hours on the beach. Or in a pool. Or a library. It’s so easy to overlook that precious time for self-care, pursuit of passions and creativity when you’re in survival mode with kids and obsessing over how badly you might be damaging them by negotiating and arguing over everything. This blog and the podcast were born out of a single solo walk in the evening sunshine one night. A friend’s business was dreamed up after a luxurious bath sans fam.
Giving yourself permission to focus on yourself can re-energise you in a way that will make you the best version of yourself and thus the best parent you can be in return.
So the next time you’re in a showdown like we frequently are, try to be kind to yourself and remember that there are other parents out there on the same battlefield, fighting the same fight and doing the best they can. And surely our kids will thank us for it later.. right? Right.