I have a confession to make. I have the best-behaved children I have ever come across. Believe you me; I don’t say this to brag. It’s a little bit embarrassing. Their angelic natures are none of my doing. In fact their ridiculously good manners almost leave me feeling a social outcast amongst my peers. Let me explain why…
When most mothers get together, there is an established order of conversation topics to adhere to:-
1: Gossip; is there any? If not, why not?
2: Work (just briefly covered); how it would be generally better if we didn’t have to go.
3: How badly-behaved our children are.
The first two I can participate in with the best of them. It’s just number three that causes a bit of a problem. Mothers often take great delight in comparing their children’s dreadful behaviour; their stories are nigh-on competitive (perhaps it’s that British gallows-humour, laughing about a hopeless situation). But I can’t contribute to this pastime and I just don’t know where it all went wrong.
It started out promisingly enough. I have two children but I feel like I had the same child twice. Although they have their differences now they are older, the first months of their lives were remarkably similar. From the age of zero to one year old, (on both occasions), raising these babies was probably the toughest time of my life. Neither child had any concept of being able to sleep through the night. For both the first and second child, the entire first year of their lives, I was awakened during the ungodly hours at one-and-a-half-hourly intervals. No other new mothers I knew seemed to be having this problem. Their babies were little cherubs who barely made so much as a squeak. So I suffered. I was exhausted. Permanent dark circles existed beneath my eyes. Why was I so incredibly bad at this motherhood thing? Why were everybody else’s infants ‘sleeping through’ so early on while mine were simply night-owls?
My babies weren’t particularly good in the daytime either. Both infants detested being put down at all. They were only ever happy whilst in my arms (and even then, they weren’t particularly happy). I spent my life with a baby-carrier strapped to my body; washing up, cooking, vacuuming, eating – I always had a baby either tied to me or taking up one of my arms. I learned to only make/order food that could be eaten with one hand. Or else I wouldn’t eat at all. It got to the point where I refused to take my children out for meals in public because the babies just bawled through the entire proceedings and I would spend my lunch/dinner walking up and down, jiggling them about just to pacify them. And that wasn’t fun for anybody. Oh no, neither were contented babies.
So don’t you worry; I sure as hell did my share of suffering. For one year. Twice. But like I say, when both children hit that one year mark, my life suddenly took a dramatic turn for the better. I think the babies had just been horribly frustrated that they were so helpless. As soon as they could walk to get where they wanted to go, or talk enough to convey what they wanted to say, they were as happy as Larry! That’s when I found a wedge forming between myself and my mummy-friends.
As my children’s temperament improved every day they advanced in age, my friend’s children displayed the usual tantrums and irritability one would expect from a toddler. I can count the number of tantrums my children have had on one hand (seriously). But not only were my children good, they were even better-behaved in public! Whilst mums were comparing their parenting horror-stories; I was forced to make things up just so I could join in (or I would sound as though I were gloating). My friends eyed my unnaturally-calm children quietly pottering about and then doubtfully returned their gazes to me. I wasn’t kidding anyone. My children have never told me they hate me. Not once. And apparently that’s fairly unusual. Furthermore, my children are so good that whenever one is fractionally naughty, I honestly don’t know how to deal with it because it’s such a rare occurrence, and I just don’t have enough experience. I stare at them open-mouthed, aghast at their irrationality, and say things like, ‘have you gone mad? What’s going on? I don’t understand what it is you’re doing!’.
And I must reiterate, the gentle nature of my kids is honestly nothing to do with me. I don’t have any magic formula. There was nothing different I did during their upbringing that brought about such angelic behaviour. If we’re talking nature versus nurture, then this is definitely nature. Their goodness in innate. They are just generally content (perhaps a little on the shy side, perhaps prone to being worriers, but in the main, they are oddly calm). Apparently I too was a gentle-natured little soul when I was young. My littlest sister was a devil and my mother would love to tell the stories of how my sister made my life a living hell whilst I just sat back and took it. But my mother also loves to tell the tale of how all that changed one day when I was about eight years old. One morning, my sister (who must have been around six) was repeatedly hitting me across the back with a half-inch-thick metal rod (like you do). After about ten minutes of simply accepting this, I suddenly snapped, completely lost my rag for the first time in my life and struck out at her. This was completely out of character for me. Unfortunately my badly-timed strike missed my sister by a mile and I only resulted in painfully hurting my hand on a wooden sideboard that bore the brunt of my violence. But apparently from that day on, I was never the same. My family rued the loss of their little angel who had now turned into a sneering, grouchy madam. I was smart-mouthed, constantly testy and always quick with some snide back-chat to parents and siblings alike – because the good little girl had gone.
My children are now nearly fifteen and nearly nine years of age. Their temperaments are better than ever. People practically got in a queue to tell me (with great relish) that once my eldest hit her teens, then everything would go dramatically downhill; they swore it would happen overnight. So my child’s thirteenth birthday came and we held our breath. Nothing happened. Yes, hormones have caused a little sulkiness, but nothing out of the ordinary. Maybe it’s too early in the teens to say, but the ‘terrible-teens’ just haven’t come about. I’m sorry.
A few years ago, my husband and I took the kids out to an Indian restaurant one evening. It was mid-week and it wasn’t exactly jumping inside; only one other middle-aged couple occupied a table. As we wandered in with two kids, you could see the couple’s faces visibly drop. Their best-laid plans had been scuppered; their quiet, romantic evening was going to be annihilated by horrid children! But we ignored this, sat down and enjoyed our meal (oh, and our kids love Indian food too. They are extremely cosmopolitan, never fussy, and will eat practically anything you put in front of them). At the end of the evening, the couple ventured over to speak to us, rather shame-faced, and told us we had the best behaved children they had ever seen and that our kids were a credit to us. Of course, my husband and I patted ourselves on the back for our (evidently) exemplary parenting skills and my children brimmed with pride. And that’s not the first time that kind of thing has happened. But it isn’t normal, is it?
So I guess I should count myself lucky. Like, I say – I did all my suffering in the early days. Now my kids are just a pleasure to take care of. Okay, maybe I can’t contribute to the ‘Oh my gosh, my kid did the most horrendous thing!‘ conversations which is a bit of a shame. But it’s not the end of the world. And for those of you whose kids are giving them a difficult time; don’t worry – it’s probably just a phase they will grow out of. If it helps, my little sister was a complete nightmare (she won’t mind me telling you that…I think), and now she’s the meekest woman on earth. I was an adorable little girl but now have the propensity to be a bit of a cow at times. Sometimes the child doesn’t maketh the man. Which, if I think this through to it’s logical conclusion, means I have absolutely no idea how my kids will turn out when they’re grown-ups. Oh, damn…
NB: My teenager was a tad grumpy with me today at the table this lunchtime. Forget everything I have just told you. My children are monsters and they’re out of control!