Undercover parenting

I read an article yesterday criticising a poll which said mums remember 26 tasks before they start work. I could see the point of the article – why mums? And why can’t kids do some of the tasks for themselves? The writer argued that parents need to make their children independent and should therefore not be asking them if they have been to the toilet before embarking on a journey. It makes sense, but the reality is sometimes so very different.

Daughter three, for instance, has a very small bladder which goes from not needing the toilet to panic stations in five minutes flat. This is probably, in the eyes of the writer of said article, my fault [or my partner’s]. Oh guilt. We have failed to teach her to anticipate urgent toilet needs. We should just leave her in the back of the car to wet herself and she will never do it again. Only she does and then daughter two gets in on the act and starts complaining that daughter three is a toileting disaster. Cue tears [and wee] and possibly years of psychotherapy in about 10 years’ time. In the end, the car is drenched in liquids of various kinds which require cleaning. Of course, we could delegate this task to daughter three who would set about it with gusto and a long list of cleaning utensils, but it would take about 10 times longer than if an adult did it and it is highly likely a slight waft of wee would remain in the general area, prompting everyone to avoid sitting there for the next six months.

Ditto teeth cleaning. I admit, more guilt, that I regularly remind my children to clean their teeth. Teeth are a bit of an issue with me, even though I routinely forget to book a dental appointment. I don’t know why I have invested so much of my parenting credentials in clean teeth. Our last visit to the dentist resulted in a reprimand [for me for not going more regularly – the last time I went was when I was pregnant. In fact, I have only ever been for myself when I have been pregnant or in that bit where you get free treatment afterwards] followed by daughters two and three regularly brushing their teeth for two minutes against a pink pig eggtimer for the next month. I fear I may have overdone the messages about teeth as daughter one takes around 20 minutes doing hers, what with flossing and swooshing. Daughter two, however, often forgets and I have been known to daub a bit of toothpaste on my finger and insert it in her mouth while she is asleep, such is my tooth cleaning fervour. 

Quite possibly this fervour has actually caused daughter two to forget to clean her teeth. But daughter two is a forgetful person in general. Her mind has always been on other things, such as creating a coffee flavoured swirl cake or whether, if she was a giant strawberry balancing on my thumb, I would eat her. Daughter two regularly forgets to give in notes to her teachers. She forgets to bring her homework home. She forgets her packed lunch. I have given her every opportunity to burnish her memory skills and have refused to go back for said items on occasion. It makes no difference. Daughters one and three, on the other hand, never ever forget their homework and never need reminding to do it. 

Daughter three is the soul of efficiency and has now become number one taker in of all notes. Will daughter two have problems adapting to life as an adult? Quite probably, because I fear her artistic temperament may mean a rollercoaster ride [particularly for her parents] is awaiting her in her teenage years. But one thing is for sure. She will not starve because daughter two is already, aged 10, able to knock up a gourmet meal out of virtually nothing – witness her Nutella mousse the other day.

I have similarly no fears about daughter three’s independence. She is more efficient than my partner and I put together [which is perhaps not saying much, but you get my drift] and will surely rule the world or at least Essex some day. Daughter one is so together that she gets her homework done at school. Toddler boy wants to do everything himself, although this is not necessarily a good thing – witness, his choice of attire for nursery [this morning a ra ra skirt, a red sparkly top and unmatching socks].

Probably all of the above shows that I am a desperately controlling, yet horribly incompetent parent who is going to incapacitate her children for ever, but even if I didn’t remind them to clean their teeth would I be any less likely to screw them up? There are so very many ways to fail as a parent that I’d rather focus on the positives than feel bad before I’m even a quarter of the way into my parenting career, as it were.

Just as I am fed up with the whole working mums damage their children brigade, I am also tired of other parents [generally women] telling me how to be a parent, whether it’s in the guise of some article railing against a poll which she sees as telling her what mums should do or whether it’s supposedly tongue in cheek like Mumsnet’s The Rules. Basically what they’re saying is that what they do is the way things should be done. It’s the same old, same old conversations you have in the school playground or elsewhere which seem to begin in a harmless enough way, but are in effect a Battleship-style game of domination where to allow even a chink of light to shine on the reality of your home life leaves you open to ambush and obliteration. Parenting is an exercise in subterfuge.

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