Sunday 23 October 2016

Mum's the word: Parenting is a tough job, but there is a way to make it easier

Hold that guilt and do something for yourself - it will make you a better parent

Minding your children is tough but massively rewarding
Minding your children is tough but massively rewarding

Let's start with a few truths. Parenting is one of the toughest things we will ever do in our lives. Sure, it is deeply rewarding, but in between the satisfying glow of unconditional love and success there are the countless struggles that age us prematurely.

Haven't noticed? Just check out your friend who's never had kids. See? She looks about five years younger!

Parenting is relentlessly exhausting. When you finally move from the sleepless nights into fussy eater land, you think it's all about to get easier.

But sleep deprivation is merely replaced by daytime frustrations, and that's before you head into the terrible twos, tantrum threes and feisty fours.

Finally, hair pulled out and nails bitten off, you get junior in the door of school, looking forward to the notion that life is about to calm down and become so much more manageable. Hell, you may even get five minutes to yourself.

Ha! Within a few months you'll figure out how wrong you were. School may free up your mornings (or childcare bill) but it also kick starts your progeny's new social life.

What a hoot that is. Every second weekend there's a birthday party ('Just how many kids are in that class?' you sigh as yet another invitation comes home.)

When junior isn't off at a party there are all those extra curricular activities: soccer and ballet, music and gymnastics, Beavers and drama. Before you even notice, you're running a full-blown taxi service, something you'll be doing for the next 10-plus years of your life.

I haven't even touched on housekeeping or cooking, two of the most thankless duties of parenthood.

No matter how hard you try there will be grumbles at the table, often verging on mutiny, simply because someone doesn't like potatoes, or anything green, or 'yucky' fish.

You can play hardball with these faddy fiends - a draining practice in itself - but nothing reduces that sinking feeling as you dump yet another home-cooked meal in the bin.

Then there's the never-ending cleaning and tidying: the laundry; the toys; the dishes. The more kids, the bigger the mess, the bigger the pile of stuff cluttering your home, the bigger the capacity to lose it in one giant, mum-sized meltdown.


Okay, so I'm not exactly selling the role, but there's no point sugarcoating reality. Creating time for yourself becomes harder and harder: by the time you get to sit down at the end of the day you're a shadow of the person you were that morning.

You've put all your energy into being a mum, and have very little left in your tank. Making a cup of tea, prepping the kids' school bags and flopping on the couch are the sum total of your abilities come 9pm.

Admittedly, we all have friends who have permanently clean houses and can still make time for a blow-dry and manicure before a night out.

Their kind does exist, but I find they're either full-time homemakers, co-habit with a neat freak or have an au pair and/or cleaner. I haven't even touched on the stress that accompanies our journey into family life. The worrying - about the kids, the finances, their education, the state of our home - becomes a constant.

Then there's that special brand of guilt only a parent can know. Do we pay our kids enough attention? Are we spoiling them? Are we strict enough, or maybe too strict? Could we try harder?

If you're reading this with your first child on the way, then apologies for being a killjoy.

Luckily, a child's unconditional love and personal achievements go a long way towards counterbalancing the compromises we make as parents.

And while it's a fact that we will neglect ourselves in favour of our kids' futures, there is one survival technique every parent should practise.

Book a night or two away - a long weekend if you're lucky enough to have babysitting back-up - and slip away, kid-free, with your partner or your best friend.

Put yourself first for 48 hours. Forget the kids and the chaos, the dishes and the dirt. Sleep in late, hit the shops, the dance floor, the pool, a great restaurant. Relive the carefree weekends of pre-parenting years.

Worried it won't feel right? Don't be! Make it guilt-free by remembering that an investment in your well-being is a step towards being an even better parent. Now, what are you waiting for?

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