There’s nothing like looking after a sick child to test the limits of your patience. On the one hand, your maternal love and instinct to care for them, will give you caring skills that might surprise you. On the other, they occasionally will drive you up the wall with their demands and you will probably spend quite a bit of time mopping up body fluids and trying not to curse out loud.
Let’s be clear: I’m no nurse. While I can be patient when I need to be, and I really do try to be as nice as possible, I tend towards the more irritable end of the spectrum. He might only be a young kid, but at some point, he will become a man. Based on a general experience of men with illnesses, my response usually involves a lot of eye-rolling, tutting and smiling through clenched teeth. Unless they have a genuine medical concern, then of course I will be sympathetic. Other than that, in my head, I am screaming ‘WILL YOU JUST SHUT THE FUCK UP AND GET ON WITH IT?’
Harsh maybe. But given that even in 2016, women are still doing more of the childcare, housework and shopping than men, it’s annoying that they often have to get on and do all of these things while suffering say, a bad cold. Men, however, are more likely to take to the sofa with their man-flu, safe in the knowledge that it’s all getting taken care of. If you think I’m being sexist, here’s a quick test. Male reader – did you know how to work the last washing-machine you bought since living with your current partner, BEFORE she was physically incapacitated/out of town for the weekend? No, I didn’t think so.
Before you accuse me of being a heartless wench, I don’t expect my barely six year old son to learn these things. The only things that he was avoiding were school, his normal gargantuan food consumption, getting out to play and sleep on occasion. And thankfully he is now back to being his usual self, back to school and happy once more. We lucked out, catching his bad tonsils before they got ugly and only really had about four days of him being not quite right. The weekend was tough – he was staying with me and I got about six hours sleep over two nights, then we all spent Sunday afternoon in the out of hours GP service at the local hospital. Between his dad and myself, we juggled two days of working at home and he was well enough to go back to school on Wednesday. Nothing at all in the scheme of things. So what the hell am I moaning about?
Perhaps I’m not moaning at all, just reflecting on how tough it is sometimes to be a parent, and worrying about whether I am patient enough to be up to the job. Case in point – spotting that some of his behaviour was like a man feeling sorry for himself with man-flu. He is not even six, fer crissakes. You will be relieved to know that I managed to hide this, and rock up for all the cuddles and soothing that were required. Ach, I admit, I even enjoyed that bit of it. A lot.
But when I was trying to get work done on Tuesday, it was harder. He wanted my company all the time, to play Lego, or draw together, or play a game. And I had fifty emails to send, a work PC on the blink and spent half the morning on the phone to the IT department trying to get it sorted. I didn’t get annoyed with him, but my patience was wearing very thin. The only thing that stopped me from losing it was knowing that he was going to his dad’s that evening and that I was going out to a gig. And therein lies the rub of what concerns me.
The worry that the things that make you just a normal person, might make you a bad parent. Our basic selfishness and our desire to escape the unpleasant things in life. Having a kid, or more than one, isn’t a magic panacea for all the ills of humanity. Your priorities will change and maybe to an extent, your personality, but essentially we are still the same combination of ego, flesh and bones that we always were. These days, the images of parenting we see are either rose-tinted, soft focus idealisations containing all home cooked meals, wooden toys and constant educational stimulation through creative play, or some kind of monstrosity of cruelty and abuse. The reality for most of us is that grey area in between, involving plastic, processed foods and iPads, and wondering whether we are about to create the next generation of societal fuck ups. And despite the strides we have made in gender equality in recent times, this is multiplied by ten for mothers, who are always judged more harshly (often by themselves) than men.
In some ways, I know I have it easy. I only have one child and I share the parenting with his dad on a co-operative, flexible and friendly basis. I get lots of time to myself, which is sometimes hard, but if you are not living together, then it’s probably the best model. I have female friends doing it almost all alone, and I see how hard that is. Not because they are bad people but because it’s fucking hard work to raise a child and ideally shouldn’t be done alone, not just for the sanity of the parent, but for the good of the child. People without children might say, ‘oh the world is over populated, if you weren’t prepared to take the rough with the smooth, and put your entire self on hold for 18 years, then you shouldn’t have children.’ Yeah sure. Because that’s how life works. Essentially the people with this view are smug and clueless and have no idea what they are talking about. Love can solve a lot of problems but it’s not the only solution, otherwise everyone would mate for life and no-one would ever have a bad word to say about anyone else. Puh-lease.
Having one child makes some things easier, but others harder. When you are at home, they always want you to play with them because there is no-one else. And that’s fine, when you don’t have chores, or other stuff to do, and are in the mood for role play with plastic blocks. At other times, like when you just got home from work and want to lie down in a darkened room and talk to no-one for at least an hour, it sucks. Yet, that is when they are at their most demanding: for food, entertainment and potential meltdowns. Any parent will tell you that the period between dinner and bed time is the worst shift of the day. Any parent providing wholesome craft activities at this time of day should be taken out and shot for disloyalty to other parents. Kidding. If you have the patience to do it, then good luck to you, just don’t post about it on social media. For the rest of us, it’s what cbeebies was invented for.
Perhaps I have become inured to bad stuff because most of the time, my child is happy, robust and healthy. He is smart, funny and kind and I love spending time with him. When he malfunctions, it can be a bit of a shock. And sometimes there is nothing wrong with him, just with me. I try my best, but I can’t be a good person all of the time. I get tired, irritable and snappish. In an ideal world, I would save this behaviour for when he isn’t with me, but that doesn’t work either. And it would only teach him that life was lived in a bubble of perfection, which is isn’t. We are all human and all flawed.
I think that’s an okay lesson to learn, even at a young age. To get annoyed with your child and then say sorry afterwards, and tell them it isn’t their fault, it’s yours. That sometimes you get annoyed for no reason other than being tired and grumpy and that’s what people are like. Why pretend to be perfect when you are not? And if you think you are a perfect parent, get over yourself.
In the end, maybe the other thing that stopped me from getting angry at my son was love. Out of all the loves, I think the love for a child, either your child or someone else’s, is probably the best there is. Even then, it’s still not perfect. Because what the hell on this screwed up planet is? Learning to be happy with that is half the battle to good living.
Until next time,
I think you have pretty much got it right – showing your child you are human with all that entails is a valuable lesson. It prepares them for real life when they will meet all sorts of weirdos or just grumpy teachers! They will be all the more resilient when they know that mum can be a spitting wildcat one second and a sobbing heap the next. Explaining why is the key – they have to understand that it is not their fault. I miss those endless queating and cuddles now, though at times I just wanted to walk away (briefly)…
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Thanks Teigom. I think we all want to walk away some days…but thankfully they are too delicious for that 🙂