I don’t know about you but I assumed that when you had children, as in many computer games you would get a ‘parenting upgrade’ with useful skills like knowing how to tell the difference between each of your baby’s cries, or how many layers to dress your baby in for the weather that day. You would definitely get upgraded to “lover of washing-up”, whilst also achieving a calm, relaxed manner when wafting through the house reprimanding your children for their misdemeanours (to which of course they would reply eloquently and sincerely, something along the lines of “I’m so sorry mummy, I now realise the error of my ways when I… and it will not happen again!”) With this bolt-on of parenting skills and loves, I would be storming ahead leaving others gazing in wonder at how I managed it all and never seemed to have my feathers ruffled!
8 years later and I am still waiting for that bloody upgrade! My feathers appear continually matted and I even managed to raise a smirk and an eyebrow out of the headteacher at my kid’s school the other day as I barrelled around the corner shouting at MC “Run, run, I think the door is still open!” (previous readers will be able to tell how well my school run management plan is going then, lol!) I hate washing up – still! I had no idea whether my baby’s cries meant angry, sad, hungry or bored – essentially I stuck a boob their mouth and 90% of the time that seemed to work and I still overdress or underdress my children on a daily basis! So, is it just me? Or do others feel let down by the idea that having a baby should come with a downloadable manual where you become a motherly version of Cyberman (ahem, woman!)?
I blame my mother (sorry mum!) and I mean this is the nicest possible way because, you see, she was (and still is) amazing. I know, get me I am about to complain about an excellent childhood, but bear with me whilst I explain why! My mum was like one of those almost mythical supermum’s where the house was always tidy, the toys were always sorted, clothes were always in their drawers and we certainly did not have a sock bag like we do in my current household! Mum moved gazelle-like, zipping from one thing to another and I only remember a handful of times when she lost her cool with us (she did once lock herself in the car for 5 minutes peace, only for us all to follow her out crying and she unlocked the door almost immediately after locking it!)
She did I must admit have an unhealthy obsession with mills and boon books around this time in her life and really long bathroom breaks (which again we interrupted and sometimes all three of us would sit outside the door talking to her until she came out! Poor mum!) but we rarely saw a hint of the mad, paddling legs of this particular swan, to the point that I can distinctly remember seeing her with an almost overflowing basket of laundry walking across the front room and thinking ‘Mum really loves cleaning’! Hilarious I know (although I do know some people who adore cleaning, Mum I have since learnt is not one of them!) I had just assumed that because my siblings and I were doing what we wanted to do, that Mum was doing the same. Of course, as we grew older she taught us certain skills for life, but most of the time she was making certain that everything was working in the household as smoothly as possible, even when in later years she had a full-time teaching job.
Truthfully I am not really complaining at all, but merely pointing out that like many of us do, I just assumed I would morph into my Mum one night and that would be it, not realising that her upbringing and her personality had informed her decision on how to parent, along with me witnessing her parenting through a child’s eyes and not clocking at that point in time how hard she worked at keeping the house and all of us looked after.
So it was a massive shock to me when I realised I was me, I wasn’t going to get automatically upgraded, in fact I was expected to upgrade myself (or even decide if this upgrading was something I wanted to do!) This realisation didn’t happen overnight though because I adored being a mum to my eldest son, I didn’t suffer from PND and together my husband and I shared the chores and bringing up the little one, I was at home and did the housework as and when I could, he picked up the rest and worked Sundays to get all his planning done – it truly was a perfect set up, but with a change in the amount of work expected from him coming in line with our second child, whose birth was not as straightforward and the recovery nowhere near as plain-sailing, along with doubling the amount of babies we were looking after and suddenly the chores seriously started feeling like chores – the washing mounted up and the sofa-robe and ‘bag for life’ sock bag were born! Plastic toys started to adorn every surface and every floor; nappies and wipes filled every spare corner and all remnants of the young adults we were before kids were slowly removed one by one, either into the attic or onto eBay!
And I struggled, seriously so, because I adored my children but looking after them was exhausting and once they were down, I wanted to rest too rather than do the washing up, the laundry, pick up endless amounts of toys (which would be out again within 8 hours!) freeze batch wholesome meals, etc, etc, etc! I wasn’t interested.
Thank goodness for those antibacterial wipes because they cleaned every single surface, usually in mad dashes around the house before someone visited and the toys? Well many nights they just stayed on the floor and the laundry pile grew so high it took up a whole 2 square feet in the corner of our lounge! We hadn’t lost the basic levels of cleanliness – hoovering was done, sides wiped, etc, but we had a lot on. My husband worked as a full-time teacher and put in every spare hour he could into parenting and being with the family and I wasn’t prepared to give up that hour or two of me-time in the evenings for a cleaner house as for me it was to clean and lose my sanity, or have a messier house but also have my sanity – so I chose the latter (I still would every time, we are all different and different things get to us or are at the top of our list – that’s fine and is what makes us interesting, this was my coping mechanism).
This was when I started to ask my Mum how she did it all, or seemingly did it all so calmly. She very openly admitted that a) it didn’t feel that way to her, she felt frenzied and felt she rushed around the whole time and b) that she ‘just did it’ – the second one wasn’t the most helpful piece of advice anyone has ever given me, but I do get what she means because in the time that I have thought about whether to do it or not and begrudged the task ahead of me, I could have often done it and almost be finished. This is how she worked though, it wasn’t for me – we are very different, much to my surprise (and my husband’s constant amusement as he always thinks this is abundantly clear!)
Our lounge: this is as tidy as it gets (unless it’s Christmas!) clean enough, but pockets of kids toys, school bags, our mini sofa-robe (you don’t know how happy this small pile of clothing makes me – I have almost beaten the Mount Everest that is our laundry! It’s only taken years!) overflowing stuff in the corner that needs to be sorted (I often give this a 5 minute blitz and then approximately 48 hours later it is out of control again!) and the Tesco bag for life that is the dreaded sock bag – how I hate this thing! Maybe I’ll empty it all today and finally pair all the socks and throw all the odd ones away! Along with bags of books my mother kindly gave me and I have nowhere else to put.
So, if your house looks like this, you are not alone!
So now? Maybe I can say I am working at Stage Two of my Adulting Badge. I have got the basic skills of toilet and kitchen side wiping down and throwing the hoover around when I can. I try to have pockets of 5-minute blitz cleans on specific areas of the house to allow me to a) feel like I have achieved something and b) give myself some me-time too. I have almost mastered filling in school forms immediately, although the internet payment for school meals often catches me out (thank goodness for those shaming school-parent texts we get, lol!) and whilst the sofa-robe hasn’t made an appearance for a number of weeks, the sock bag still lives on.
I have to accept that I am probably always going to be one of those mum’s who forgets to take in the wellies for a club and has to hand them in at reception and I am almost definitely always going to be one of those mum’s who audibly huffs around my children about how the house is a mess and how I’ll never get it sorted – that is me! I can’t become a Cyberman robot, I am human with all my flaws, but you know what I might not be great at adulting, but I’m bloody brilliant at other things that I know impact my kids lives in a positive way and what’s the worst thing that can happen? That they rebel against my ‘childing’ and decide to ‘adult’ as well as my Mum? Well that would be no bad thing and would definitely be categorized as a first world problem if ever I saw one!
The Mum Conundrum