It’s 9.22 on Monday morning and already the weight of accumulative small failings is too heavy a burden for my delicate parental ego. So far the list of things that, with nothing but childcare and domestic duties to concern me, I have still been unable to perform satisfactorily, includes: not enough bread for both toast and packed lunches; five disgusting choices of cereal; homework too hard to complete while cleaning teeth; sun cream too runny for four-year-old self application; recycled cotton school bag lost and capital punishment guaranteed for a plastic-bag option; wrong top brought downstairs for eight-year-old daughter.
This last one is the most serious, and I suspect highlights the common thread running through all my other failings. I need to stop showing my kids how much I care about the little things. I’ve made it too easy for them to grind me down by picking out their own socks.
We had some friends over for supper a few weeks ago and, after struggling to put the kids to bed, I came down full of indignation about how rude and difficult my daughter was being. She was too hot to sleep, and rather than take my sensible advise of less clothes and no covers, she chose to sleep upright with three pillows and a sparkly cushion to cool her down.
The list of horrific things that can happen to a small girl trying to sleep upright is long and ugly, and obviously I informed her of each painful option, covering myself for the ‘I told you so’ conversation that would come later when she was sobbing with repentance in my arms. After hearing the whole story, my friend was unmoved. Wouldn’t she lie down if she was uncomfortable? Wouldn’t I rather have a glass of wine?
But then I wouldn’t have passed on any advice. What about my needs? And I wouldn’t be able to sit downstairs actually feeling how comfortable she was, and know that her duvet would be in exactly the right position when she reached for it in the cooler hours of the morning.
It’s empathetic control beyond the realms of sanity. And I don’t do it with the boys, or at least not as much. At four they don’t get it quite so wrong, maybe. Clearly I’m the one behaving badly, and I need to back down, back off and stop barking. The chasm between super-strict mother and menopausal best friend is a tough one to rattle around in, and the truth is that no-one can make an eight-year-old girl happy unless you invite her friends for tea.
But it’s not really about control. I don’t think I get it right all the time at all. More likely, I’m terrified my daughter will get it wrong in all the same places I did, and will look back and wish she’d known at eight how to be that bit more savvy. Living vicariously through your daughter and trying to train her to be the confident, cool teenager you probably weren’t – now there’s a new one… I’m sure we weren’t the only mother and daughter listening to Thriller and practising eyeliner application all weekend. 1982: RIP.