One of the things I struggle most with as a parent is consistency. When it comes to setting boundaries and laying down the law, I often find myself floundering. I can’t quite get my head around the idea that it is completely up to me, that I can just decide. Sometimes this power goes to my head and I find myself saying ‘no’ to the most innocent of requests. Catch me in a rebellious mood though and I will happily let Belle watch hours of TV in the nude (don’t ask), offer up toast and chocolate spread for dinner and quickly succumb to my children’s requests for that guiltiest of pleasures – garage tea.
For me, being a single mother makes consistent parenting even more of a challenge. I don’t have another sensible adult on hand to keep me grounded or to question why I think it is ok to let Belle watch 12 certificate films, but not ok for her to eat a bag of maltesers while she does it. (Funnily enough, the malteser website says you have to be 12 or over to enter – how weird is that - so maybe I’m not being so unreasonable after all!)
Of course I do have my mother. She is always happy to challenge me, often in front of the children, about my take on discipline. But however reasonable she may be, she is my mother, and my childish side kicks in, making it seem suddenly even more important that Belle eat all her peas before being allowed a pudding. Why? Because I am her mother and I say so. No other reason that ‘just because’.
Not wanting to sound too much like a Marks & Spencer advert, I have been trying lately to challenge myself, to think more carefully about what rules and routines are actually important and which are just me flexing my mummy muscles for the sake of it. The trouble is, that once I start questioning things, my pinball machine brain runs away with me. Will tidy bedrooms really make us happier? Does it actually matter if Belle finishes her peas when ultimately we are all going to die anyway? You see my problem.
My sense of discipline also varies hugely depending on my own selfish needs and fluctuates with my mood. If I have a deadline looming, the Disney Channel suddenly becomes a much more attractive option. When I’m tired, I can easily convince myself that ordering vegetable supreme as a Domino’s pizza topping constituents several of our five-a-day.
Yesterday I had one of those days when my own preoccupations meant Belle was free to wander the house, watch back to back Hannah Montana and eat Weetos out of box. Now I know in my heart of hearts that Weetos do not a wholesome supper make, but I get sucked in by idea of them being ‘fortified with vitamins and iron’ and they are just so yummy.
Busy in the garden with my pressure washer – relocating the moss and mud from the patio onto the walls and my face – I ignored Belle’s plaintive cries for snacks. It was only when I realised it wasn’t actually late-afternoon at all, but nearly 8pm, that I thought I should probably come in and rustle up a healthy snack.
Unfortunately the fridge contained only Carlsberg and Jarlsberg (what are the chances??) so I turned instead to the emergency freezer drawer. 20 minutes later we were tucking into fish fingers and naan bread. By rights it should have been bedtime for Belle, but having neglected her for most of the afternoon I decide to let her stay up with me and watch Jonathan Creek. We are half way through before I wonder if it’s really suitable for a sensitive seven-year-old, but I put my hands over her eyes for the bit where the crazy secretary is having afternoon tea with the corpse of her former boss, so I think it’s ok.
When we finally get to bed Belle is overtired and a little traumtised and wants to come in my bed. I say no – kindly but firmly. Five minutes later she is back, but again I say no. In my head I decide that if she asks again I will say yes, so ten minutes later she is asleep next to me, thus rendering my initial resistance fairly pointless. What kind of rubbish parent develops a method of saying no twice, then yes on the third attempt? It doesn’t make a huge amount of sense.
But maybe it doesn’t need to. Maybe my fickleness is teaching my girls a valuable lesson about the inconsistencies of life and the importance of determination and persistance in getting what you want. Perhaps I am actually being a Very Good Mum, subtly showing them that life as an adult isn’t always fair or rational. Yes, that sounds plausible. Excellent. Now, Sunday lunch, Wheetos all round I think…
Photo credit: GavinLi