There’s no room for self-doubt in parenting and yet I’ve never come across anything that made me question myself more. Daughter came into our room at 5am, this morning, for the fifth time in a row and shone a torch in my eyes. I only got to bed at 1am after writing my post. I snapped. And then snapped at her.
Not shouted, by any means, just “what is it you want?” in a firm (harsh?) voice. Knowing I was cross, I sent her to her room with Daddy, as he’s far more sympathetic than I am, whatever the time. But she still dissolved into floods of very loud tears, as is usual form at the moment whenever I dare to even mildly chastise her. The crying is likely to go on for some time.
Cue Mummy guilt, mixed with anger. And cue self-doubt. Is her emotional fragility my fault for being harsh? Or copied behaviour from my depression? Should it always be “dependence before independence” in parenting, as my therapist once told me: should a four year old’s nighttime visits to her parents’ bedroom always be greeted with concern and sympathy? Or should the tears be ignored as manipulation, as the preschool teacher tells me they are? Should she learn that waking people up in the night for no good reason is unacceptable behaviour? Or am I a monster?
On the way to school yesterday, both children asked me to stop being a grumpy Mummy, and my response was, “when you two stop waking me up at all hours.” So now I’m giving them guilt, too. Because don’t we teach our children that only they are responsible for their own happiness, not anyone else? So only I am responsible for my grumpiness and, as they often tell me to do, I can choose to stop being grumpy at any time. Even if I’ve averaged less than four hours’ continuous sleep a night for the last five and a half years, since a wriggly baby in Mummy’s tummy started the transformation of me into the raging, sobbing monster I am today.
The problem with parenting is: there are no right answers, and we won’t vaguely know if we did okay for a couple of decades at least. My Mum recently said she felt sorry for me and my sister, parenting in the twenty-first century. When we were little, she said, a parent’s role was to keep the tikes alive for sixteen years. Job done.
I can’t even be consistent, because my program parent – my learnt behaviour from my work-from-home Dad – is cross, shouty and unsympathetic. Whilst my chosen responses (harder to produce when tired) tend more towards liberal, sympathetic, hippie parenting. And hubbie is all soft and cuddly pretty much all the time, so I usually act (and feel) the bad cop.
Daughter has gone quiet, but is probably awake and upset. Hubbie is still awake beside me in the dark. Son has been woken by the commotion and is calling for me. My moment of grump and indignation at getting a torchlight in my eyes at 5am has caused only widespread misery. So, next time, should I sacrifice my sleep to the greater good, as I usually try to do, hoping this, too, will pass? Or am I right to take a stand? Who knows. I only know that grumpy Mummy isn’t likely to be leaving anytime soon, and the person who is most upset about that is me.
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:
“Is it back to Cornwall, then?”
Conor drained his beer and looked over at Claire. Lunch was an informal affair, up at Durlston Country Park. By unspoken agreement they’d kept the tone friendly rather than romantic. Claire wasn’t sure if Conor was taking her lead, or protecting himself.
“I think I’ll head to north Devon, actually. I’ve stayed in most of the hostels in Cornwall, and I covered a lot of ground with the boys. There are some places along by Westward Ho! which are meant to be great for surfing.”
She flushed, as she realised she’d just told her boss her intention was to skive off rather than work.
This is why I couldn’t work for him. That, and I’d never get any work done.
Sat across the table from her, he looked ruggedly handsome, with his two-day stubble and crumpled t-shirt. It was the expression in his eyes, though, that kept turning her knees to jelly. The words he spoke might be platonic, but his gaze was X-rated.
Conor grinned at the slip. “Intending to play truant, are we? I didn’t know you could surf. You strike me more as the horsy type.”
“God, no. I hate riding. I’ve done it a few times as part of my travels but it hurts! I’m not a surfer, either, but I have been learning.”
“I quite fancy the idea of you all surfer chick in stretchy neoprene.” He widened his eyes appreciatively and she threw her napkin at him.
“Behave! Do you surf?”
“Ha, no. Not my thing.”
Claire realised she didn’t know what his thing was, aside from work and listening to live music.
“How do you let off steam? Is there a gym at your fancy apartment?”
“Hardly. I think there’s a drying room somewhere, and of course steps down to the beach. I go for a run, if I feel the need. That’s about it.”
Claire wasn’t sure she believed him. The sculptured body suggested more effort than that. He didn’t seem to be concealing anything, though, so she let it go. It was so hard to get him to talk about himself.
I hope there aren’t skeletons in his closet. That would be just my luck.
She looked out at the view, across past Peveril Point to the cliffs near Old Harry. On a day like today, away from the town, she could appreciate his love for the place.
“Are you finished? Do you fancy a wander or have you got to rush off?”
Conor’s voice broke into her reverie. His reference to her departure sounded casual and unconcerned and she felt gratitude flare in her heart.
“A quick walk would be lovely, before I swelter in my car for a few hours. No such thing as aircon in an old banger like mine. Not too long, though, I don’t want to get snarled in Sunday evening traffic.”
“Sure thing, my lady. Follow me and prepare to be amazed.”
Wondering what he was planning, Claire let Conor lead her from the restaurant and down a path that meandered away from the folly known as the castle. Beneath them she could see something concrete at the end of the path, and wondered what it was. As she got nearer she realised it was a large stone globe, surrounded by black railings.
“Ta da!” Conor said, when they reached it.
Claire tried to hide her puzzlement. “What is it?”
She saw Conor’s delight fade at her lack of enthusiasm. “It’s Victorian. It’s weathered now, so you can’t really read it, but it’s a Victorian globe. I used to come here as a child. There’s a picture, somewhere, of me and my brothers and sisters all lined up round the railing.” He kicked at the gravel. “I guess it’s not so amazing to a stranger.”
Claire walked up to him and put her arms around his waist. He was a complicated man, and she felt she barely knew him. But what she knew she liked. More than liked.
“Thank you for sharing it with me.” She reached up and kissed him. Conor’s arms tightened around her, and the railings jabbed into her as he pushed her back.
Conor pulled away, and saw the black metal points. His mouth turned down and he looked ludicrously pathetic, like a small child caught in wrongdoing. “Sorry.”
She giggled at his expression and laced her hand through his. “Come on; let’s go get lost in the woods.” She tugged him back up the hill and along in the other direction, away from the castle, to where the path disappeared into some trees. Time enough to drive away later.