If You Can’t Say Something Nice… 2013 365 Challenge #121

If you can't say something nice...

If you can’t say something nice…

I’m constantly amazed by both the supportiveness and meanness of the online parenting community. Today was a day when I posted on Twitter the kind of comment that really meant Tell me I’m okay, tell me it gets better.

Because yesterday was month-end, and I needed to format and upload the free ebook, I didn’t get to bed until midnight. Actually I haven’t for a while as there is no time to write during the day and the kids have been going to bed a bit later since the shift to summer time (generally it means they get up later so we take the trade.) Unfortunately Amber came in at 6am this morning so it felt too short a night to survive twelve hours of parenting.

A busy morning at play and stay, a screaming child who wouldn’t sit in the hairdresser chair and a boy who shrieked every time he lost sight of his Mummy meant I was in constant tears of exhaustion by mid-afternoon. Not an unusual occurrence these, days to be fair. So I turned to Twitter for support. And found it.

My comment on Twitter generated lovely responses including a link to a great blog post: To Parents of Small Children:

If you are a parent of small children, you know that there are moments of spectacular delight, and you can’t believe you get to be around these little people. But let me be the one who says the following things out loud:

You are not a terrible parent if you can’t figure out a way for your children to eat as healthy as your friend’s children do. She’s obviously using a bizarre and probably illegal form of hypnotism.

You are not a terrible parent if you yell at your kids sometimes. You have little dictators living in your house. If someone else talked to you like that, they’d be put in prison.

You are not a terrible parent if you can’t figure out how to calmly give them appropriate consequences in real time for every single act of terrorism that they so creatively devise.

You are not a terrible parent if you’d rather be at work.

You are not a terrible parent if you just can’t wait for them to go to bed.

You are not a terrible parent if the sound of their voices sometimes makes you want to drink and never stop.

I felt so much better after reading it – problem shared, problem halved and all that. Until I read the latest comment on the blog from a parent of teenagers who said they hated the post for its “sheer blind arrogant silliness”.

[Y]ou might also hate it when people tell you to you enjoy every minute, (everyone says it to everyone, WE ALL had it so don’t be so uptight and melodramatic ‘it doesn’t help’ poor you)

In the spirit of fairness they did say the post was sweet and they liked its honesty, but the comment left me feeling sick to the stomach.

Anyone is entirely entitled to their opinion and I’m sure I’m just as capable of being sanctimonious and smug. In fact I know sometimes I see parents of one baby who are tired and part of me wants to say, Wait until you have two. Or Wait until they’re walking or something equally discouraging. The point is I don’t say it. Well, hardly ever, and then only as a joke to people I know. (At least I think so. Apologies if I’ve ever made another parent feel bad.) Generally, if I’m honest about the trials of being a parent it is to encourage other parents not to suffer in silence, rather than to make them feel bad.

Because even if it’s true, even if it is harder with two, what’s the point in saying it? Why do humans feel the need to share their misery in such a way? I remember when I only had one child and was struggling and a friend of hubbie’s said It never gets easier. My daughter was six months old. I couldn’t give her back. And instead of bolstering myself on bad days with the thought that one day I might just feel like it was going to get better I had this doom-laden future stretching endlessly before me.

It was already hard surviving teething and breast feeding and sleepless nights. Suddenly I had to face twenty years of pain. And then, as if that wasn’t enough, someone said It doesn’t get any easier when they leave home. Oh come on, guys, enough already.

...don't say nothing at all

…don’t say nothing at all

Some days, the only reason I don’t drive my car into a river is the thought that I’d leave my kids without a mother, and any mother is better than none. Facing the idea that I’ll feel like that until I do finally crack and drive that route isn’t helpful. When you’re low, and you’re turning to friendly blog posts for support and empathy, you don’t need someone belittling your experience by saying “Why do all new parents think they invented the feelings that go with it.”

So, however tempting it is to give the honest answer when someone asks if it will get better – however noble or genuine the motivation – try to resist. This advice applies to me, too. Because now I think about it, I know I’ve done it. I’ve been that person wanting to warn about the horror (although hopefully never in as arrogant or spiteful a way as the commenter I’ve quoted). From now on I’m going to try and find something positive to say, without actually lying.

As Thumper’s father teaches Thumper in Bambi, “If you can’t say something nice, don’t say nothing at all.”

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Below is the next installment in my novel Two-Hundred Steps Home: written in daily posts since 1st January as part of my 2013 365 Challenge. Read about the challenge here.You can catch up by downloading the free ebook volumes on the right hand side of the blog:

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“Kim, Jeff, over here!” Claire put down her book and strode to the door to embrace her friend. As she grinned up at Kim’s boyfriend, she marvelled – as she always did – at just how attractive he really was. “It’s great that you were able to get a room here for the weekend. Have you eaten? How was the journey?”

“Hey, Claire.” Kim pulled back and stared with concern at her face. “You look tired, I thought you were on holiday?”

With a glance back to where Sky was watching mutely from the sofa, Claire shrugged. “It’s not a holiday, you know that. Carl would have my hide if he knew Sky was travelling with me for two whole weeks.” Besides, you don’t look so great yourself. Claire wondered whether to comment on her friend’s pasty complexion, stark against the pillar-box red hair. An odd tension between her and Jeff stilled Claire’s tongue. I wonder if they had a fight?

Kim walked over and sat next to Sky, perched on the sofa. She smiled the uncomfortable grimace of a person who has little contact with small children. “Hello, you must be Sky.”

Claire shuddered at the patronising tone in her friend’s voice. She’s six, not six-months old. Did I used to talk that that? God, do I still talk to her like that?

Sky stared wide-eyed up at Kim, but didn’t speak. Claire could sense the questions building in the tiny chest. Auntie Claire, why is your friend’s hair red. Auntie Claire why is your friend talking to me like I’m a baby. Wanting to forestall the inevitable, she went over and snuggled next to her niece on the sofa.

“Sky, honey, I’d like you to meet Kim and Jeff. I’ve known Kim since I was younger than you. When we first met she had long blonde hair, like yours. I thought she was a princess.”

As she spoke the words, two decades slipped away in an instant. She turned to share the moment with Kim, and was surprised by the expression on her friend’s face. Her attention was fixed on Sky as if an alien had wandered into the room.

She looks scared. Or, no, speculative? Don’t tell me she and Jeff are planning to have kids. Claire felt a shiver raise the hairs on her arm. The idea of Kim having a baby felt like a betrayal. Through all the years they had known each other – or at least since they finished their A Levels and went to University – they had shared an antipathy to becoming parents.

Kim might not earn the same as me, but her career is equally if not more important to her. She and Jeff aren’t even getting married until they can afford it. No, it can’t be that. She raised her eyes to observe Jeff and was relieved to see nothing odd in his expression. He leant over the sofa and looked at the game Sky had been playing on the iPad.

“Ah, Angry Birds. My nephews love that. What level are you on?” He squeezed on the seat between Sky and Kim and opened himself to the eager words pouring forth in response to his question.

Soon Sky and Jeff were deep in conversation, discussing tactics and cheats for a game Claire barely understood. She felt Kim’s eyes on her and, when she looked up, saw the slight jerk of the head that said Let’s leave them to it.

“Shall we go and make tea, Kim? I’m sure you must be parched.” She half-expected Kim to suggest something stronger. Instead she stood up and nodded. “Yes, I’m dying for a cuppa and a gossip.” Linking arms with Claire, she led her from the room as if she couldn’t get away from Jeff and Sky fast enough.

***

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