When Not to Chat to Strangers: 2013 365 Challenge #338

Controlled crying worked for one

Controlled crying worked for one

I had one of those discussion today that made me review my parenting decisions over the last four years and I almost came away not feeling awful. I say almost. I haven’t come that far!

Even as the conversation continued, and I realised I was trying to defend my choices against people who thought I was a soft parent, I wondered why I was bothering.

I mean, does it matter if two people I see once a week at gymnastics think I was a bad/easy/ lazy/hippie parent because I wouldn’t continue with controlled crying for my second child? Because I try and cajole (threaten/bribe) them into eating their dinner, rather than following the eat it or starve approach? Does it matter that I still get up in the night to them, and neither child showed any inkling to sleep through at 11 months, never mind 11 weeks?

Aside from the eating thing, these are decisions I made that no longer have any relevance. Yes, I tried controlled crying with my son. I took advice from anyone and everyone, including the sleep specialist from the clinic. I sat outside his room sobbing while he cried himself hoarse and then threw up. I persisted until he got to the point where he was crying hysterically before he even got into bed, and then I stopped. I tried again a few months later, and again stopped. For the first two years of his life he was either breastfed to sleep or held onto my hand (for thirty minutes to an hour). And now? He sleeps fine. He’s better than my daughter in some ways. Except when he’s ill, and then he goes back to needing constant reassurance. But we survived (just).

My sleeping son, day one

My sleeping son, during our long hospital stay

Same goes for the small age gap. I agreed with them that there probably was a negative impact on both children, that I didn’t get to give them both undivided attention and all that. But they’re great friends, which is what we hoped would happen, and I’m not the kind of parent that does undivided attention well anyway. Besides, I get to do that for the next two years, and they’re much more interesting at three and four than they were as babies (If harder work.)

Still, the forty minute conversation left me with a vague sense of disquiet that has build over the day, until I actually feel quite teary. I don’t know why. I think it’s the lack of empathy; seeing in their eyes (or thinking I see, which is maybe not the same thing) judgement and disapproval. Or knowing that if I’d had the conversation two years ago it would have broken me, as so many similar conversations did.

Not all children are the same, even siblings, and what works brilliantly for your child isn’t going to work for someone else’s. When will we get that as parents? (Because of course I still get a bit judgy about some parenting things I see!)

All grown up and sleeping now!

All grown up and sleeping now!

Whatever the cause, when added to a discussion I sparked off on Facebook about Christmas gifts for the children (from Santa or from the parents?), with one friend saying it should be about more than gifts (which I agree with, but makes me feel guilty, cos I love buying presents) it all makes me want to crawl into a corner and rock.

Yet my kids sat and ate Mediterranean egg fried rice for dinner (one of Mummy’s concoctions), and they’re setting up snakes and ladders in the lounge (which will be fine as long as my daughter wins). They will mostly go to bed on time with acceptable levels of fuss. They’ll get up ridiculously early, but they’ll get themselves dressed and play in their rooms more or less until their ‘suns’ are up. I’ll only get out of bed two or three times between 5am and 7am.

They’re good kids which means, somehow, I must be a good parent. So why do those conversations always leave me feeling full of doubt and self recrimination? About stuff that’s water so far under the bridge it’s out to sea by now. As if life isn’t hard enough? Sigh. Never mind. Each time it will get easier, I’ll defend my case better and not get emotionally involved. Or I’ll learn not to chat to strangers! 🙂


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:


The motorway stretched endlessly ahead of her, and Claire’s mind wandered over the events of the night before. Despite the temptation to grill her sister about the mysterious Mark, for once she had held her tongue. It was entirely possible that her sister was unaware of a nascent attraction and teasing her about it now might break it completely.

It had been an interesting twenty-four hours with her family. It felt like everyone had changed so much in such a short time. Well, maybe not her mum. But her dad was no longer the distant, reserved, businessman she remembered from childhood. As if retirement had freed him from a role he wore with reluctance, he’d become more approachable; more human. She had left him and Jack chatting about their favourite authors.

Claire glanced over at the passenger seat, where a proof copy of her dad’s book sat on top of her handbag. It felt odd to think her father had written it.

Then there was Ruth. No longer the needy, miserable, sister she’d been only months before, she now carried herself with a quiet confidence and a security that she said knew her place in the world and was content. Although she felt less able to relate to the new Ruth, Claire was glad she’d found a path she was happy with.

And what about me? Have I changed? What do they see, when they see me? I don’t feel any different, but I suppose a few months ago I wouldn’t have been driving to the middle of nowhere in a rusty car with anything other than horror.

The trill of the phone cut through her thoughts. Claire glanced down to see who was calling. No name came on the screen, but the number looked familiar. Thinking it might be Conor, she grabbed the handset.


“Claire, hi, it’s Kim.”

“Kim! How great to hear from you. Listen, I’m driving at the moment, and this clapped out old car doesn’t have anything as posh as hands-free. Can I call you back in,” she looked out the window and saw a sign for a service station in ten miles, “say, twenty minutes? I’m due a stop.”

“Sure, no problem. I’ll go and make myself a cup of tea.”

Claire hung up the phone and tried to work out why Kim had sounded strange. And then she realised what was different. She’d sounded happy.


“So, what’s the gos?” Claire cradled the phone to her ear, and sipped at the hot latte in her other hand.

“Are you safe to talk now?”

“Yes, I’m at the services, coffee at the ready.”

“Good.” Kim fell silent, and Claire wondered if she’d imagined the happiness in her voice earlier. As the silence stretched out, Claire tried to think of something harmless to say.

“How are you?” She didn’t want to say more than that, but it was enough.

“You mean, am I still nuts? No, the doctor thinks I’m making good progress. I’m hoping to go back home soon. Jeff’s still busy, so they want me to stay with Mum until they’re sure I’m safe to be by myself, but I feel okay.”

“You sound great.” Claire smiled, aware of a real sense of relief to hear her friend on the road to recovery.

“Helena is coming home.” Kim blurted the words out and it took Claire a moment to process them.

“Your sister? I thought she’d put down roots in Hong Kong? She didn’t even come home for your wedding.”

“Yes, well, I don’t think it’s entirely her idea.” Kim’s voice bubbled with suppressed mirth. “I shouldn’t laugh, but it’s so out of character for Helena.” She giggled.

“What happened?” Claire tried to remember what Kim’s sister was like. She was older than Kim, and was the driven, business orientated one, full of ambition.

“We don’t know.” Kim laughed. “But it’s got to be pretty bad. I’ve got bets on her having slept with a client. Mum’s saying nothing, but I think she’s worried that she’s up the duff.”

Silence fell again, and Claire wondered if Kim was dwelling on her own lost baby.

“Be bloody typical if she is.” Kim’s voice had lost some of its humour. “Maybe I could convince her to give it to me and Jeff.”

Claire winced and took a gulp of coffee, cursing as she scalded her mouth. Her brain hummed with useless words and she pictured Kim sinking back into the dark place.

“Whatever the cause, it’s brilliant that she’s coming home under a cloud. It’ll take the heat off me as the useless one. Anyway, I wondered if you’re around? She’ll be home next week; it’d be great if we could all catch up.”

With a frown, Claire tried to read beneath Kim’s request. She hardly knew Helena. There was a four-year age gap, from what she could remember, and Helena had been a shadowy figure at school, one who refused to associate with her younger sister.

“I’m in Cornwall, or I will be soon.” She heard Kim’s intake of breath, and quickly added, “But I’m sure I could shoot up to yours one weekend. After the Carnival though. Conor would kill me if I wasn’t around for that. I can do early August.”

Kim agreed somewhat reluctantly and Claire felt a pang of guilt for bursting her happy bubble. She wondered why Kim needed moral support to face her sister, and filed it away under things to worry about.


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