Now that my ‘baby’ is rapidly heading for her seventh birthday and my eldest his twenty-first, I have been looking back at my twenty or so years of parenting and thinking back to those lovely parenting books that I read expectantly, hoping for all of the answers to the many parenting mysteries. Those books were great at the time but experience tells me that parenting books need to be rewritten with a bit of real-life parenting perspective. Here are 25 things that aren’t in parenting books (and should be).
How to change a baby boy’s nappy in less than a thirty seconds. All those parents of boys will be nodding there I’m sure. I remember only too well, having had three boys, that as babies, the minute that they felt the air down there, it seemed to trigger a fountain of pee. And boy can they pee for such small people. I became very proficient in the art of the thirty-second nappy change, but sadly only due to being covered in pee more times than I can remember.
How to get out of the house on time when you have babies and toddlers. That is one that I never mastered. I was ALWAYS late for everything. It didn’t matter how early I got up, how organised I was, it just didn’t happen, in fact even now we are well beyond that stage, I’m still not sure that it does.
How to put up pushchairs and prams. Over the years, I have had a few pushchairs and prams. I was the proud owner of a wonderful travel system that took me half an hour to get it up every time. There have been strollers, double buggies, travel systems plus all of the different ‘fun’ accessories to manage along with them such as buggy boards, canopies, sunshades. Some of the accessories alone required a degree in engineering to put them on. I think I have tried every possible thing and all in all, I can honestly say that I was VERY glad when my youngest child was happy to walk and I was very happy to say goodbye to a life of wrestling with pushchairs.
How to get out of a sleeping child’s bed without waking them up. Just call me Ninja Mummy, I can roll quickly and silently out of a bed at high speed and leave a bedroom in full on stealth mode after years and years of practice. You need to slowly detach yourself, know where the creaky floor boards are and eliminate any trip hazards or noisy toys that might get in your way just in case your final glance at them before you leave, finds them sitting up and asking you where you’re going and you realise that your ninja moves were all wasted.
How to get wee and poo out of your carpet. There are hundreds and hundreds of guides and books about potty training and the different methods. Trust me, I read a few and I often sobbed silently at the thought of those lucky people who were able to potty train before they could even walk but let’s face it, the really useful information here is how on earth do you get rid of the smell of freshly sprayed urine or worse, the dreaded poo stain, when things don’t quite go according to plan. One of my children (who shall remain nameless) how shall I put it, well, he liked to poo quietly, secretly where no-one could see him. Not in the toilet with the door shut, though, that would have been too easy wouldn’t it? I did point out to him on more than one occasion that toilets were ideal for this as you can close the door and everything. But oh no, he far preferred hiding behind doors or sofas to do the dirty and there were occasions where the brown footprints led me right to the spot. Oh yes, not only did he poo on the carpet, but he also redecorated the rest of the carpet with poo foot prints. Nice.
How to remove Sudocrem from household objects. So, well we are deep in the stain department, let’s stop and talk for a moment about Sudocrem (other brands are available.)If you have ever suffered a Sudocremtastrophe at the hands of your little darlings, you will know exactly what I mean. That stuff is great for bottoms but not so great for carpets, leather sofas and walls. Luckily it does come off children who have covered themselves in it too (she says very knowingly).
How to open childproof lids. Childproof? I think some of these lids are humanproof! Even now I still struggle with some of them.
How to enjoy all food and drink cold. When I had my middle two children, there was only 19 months between them and it felt like years before I could sit and eat a hot plate of food or drink hot drinks without interruption. Microwaves are great, of course they are, and they were undoubtedly invented by a parent of multiple children in need of a hot meal, but when you are starving and you don’t know when your next refreshment break will happen, you have sometimes just got to get on with it, cold or not.
How to do everything one handed. Isn’t it amazing how well you cope with one hand when you have a baby? When I think back now, I took my life in my hands on a daily basis, with a baby in one arm and kettles, saucepans, screaming children, food, drinks, toys, pushchairs in the other. If there was a qualification in ‘one-handedness’, I think I would pass with flying colours.
How to stop swaying. Are your children older? Do you still sway? Is it really just me? I have been asked on more than a few occasions if I have a baby at home. At first, I found it really odd that a stranger in a queue would ask me that. However, I can’t stand still. When I am standing and waiting, I start swaying gently from side to side. It might be general insanity that causes it (another general side effect of parenting) or it could just be a habit caused by years of swaying babies and children. I’m going to go with the latter for now.
How to successfully take a toddler girl for an ‘outside wee’. It isn’t ideal, but even if they have been to the toilet five times before you leave, those small bladders just can’t help themselves and small children especially will wait until the exact moment when they absolutely cannot hold on anymore before telling you that they need the toilet. With boys, I became quite proficient at the outside emergency wee. It does help if you lean them forwards to stop them peeing on their shoes, but generally, boys are designed slightly better for these types of situations. What do you do with a girl? I was clueless. Whatever way you hold them, it just goes everywhere, all over you, all over them. In the end, I gave up and bought a travel potty and in absolute emergencies, we developed an interesting strategy where I picked her up and held her away from me. Not great. We don’t go out much now, far easier to stay within easy reach of a toilet.
How to get new toys out of boxes/wrapping. When I had children, I had this wonderful vision of Christmas and birthdays. The room would be filled with radiantly happy children all playing with their gifts and smiling and laughing. I will interrupt this imaginary rubbish for the reality. Smiling? Yes,when they get their gifts. Laughing? Yes, but it is me hysterically laughing as I head for box number ten with my scissors, screwdrivers, pliers and various other tools required to release the toys from their cardboard prisons. Are the toy companies having a laugh? Have they taken the Toy Story films too seriously? Why? Why do they need to tie the toys into boxes with so many ties and things?
How to deal with nits. I did not sign up for nits. I really did not. I spend over forty years of my life nit-free and that was something to be proud of. Then one day, my pride was shattered when I discovered that not only had my son got the cretinous creatures in his hair, but he had kindly shared his infestation with us all. That sad day, I discovered that nits are very difficult to get rid of (those adverts that claim ‘one application is all you need’ are talking rubbish). I am now nit-neurotic and have sprays, combs, repellent shampoos, electric nit-zapping combs and even equipped with such an armoury, we still get them from time to time, but they don’t stick around for long.
How to do girl hair. On the subject of hair, having three boys first did not prepare me in any way for girl hair. Boy hair is great, brush it, stick a bit of gel in it every now and then and get it regularly cut and it is fine. By the time they are ten, they take over responsibility for doing it and even though you might not get much of a look-in at the mirror, it is fairly straightforward. Not with girl hair. Oh no. Girl hair has to be styled. Girl hair has to be brushed, plaited, pony-tailed, styled this way and that (usually in keeping with whatever styles the other girls in school have) and it can take hours. I feel like a hairdresser each morning when I ask my daughter, “and what would you like today?”.
How to be able to respond to awkward questions. Curiosity is a wonderful thing but with curiosity comes the responsibility to answer some questions that might make you feel outside your comfort zone. Be warned.
How to get children to talk (aka how to extract information) Now this is a conversation that I have had on numerous occasions with parents of children of all ages. How do you get children to talk? Younger children will often talk endlessly about random things and you listen patiently for an inkling as to how their day went and if you are lucky, a snippet might come out at some point. But ask them specifically about their day, what they did, who they played with, what they learnt and they look at you blankly and either change the subject or shrug “I dunno” at you. As they get older it becomes even harder to extract information. How very dare you try and drag them from whatever screen they are glued to have an actual conversation? Even worse, how dare you take an interest in their lives? Some of the best conversations I had with my eldest son during the teen years were via text message.
How to remove children from devices. There would need to be a long chapter on this topic. Removing children from screens is one of the toughest challenges known to modern parents. Families everywhere are having to endure just one more level, or just a few more minutes or the level that just never ever ends. There are the sneaky ones who hide their devices so that they can continue their screen addiction in bed and the ones who claim that their social life depends upon it. I have tried all methods of screen removal; cajoling, coaxing, asking nicely, shouting, screaming, switching off the fuse box (I wouldn’t recommend that one), bargaining, bribing, taking the devices away, shouting some more and banning them for weeks at a time. None of them to date have been terribly successful, so a practical guide to this art would be greatly appreciated.
How to get older children to bed in the evening. Once children reach the age of 11 or 12, they are suddenly never tired and it is an actual infringement of their human rights to try and assist them in having a good night’s sleep. I have one in particular who will yawn constantly but he is NEVER tired and when you finally convince him to go to bed, he will start doing exercises to try and prove that he doesn’t need any sleep. At what point of extreme fatigue will they admit that they are in fact really tired and go to bed without a battle?
How to be a mind reader. Cookery ingredients are a very good example of when mind reading would be a very useful parenting skill to have. The night before (if you are lucky) or the morning of the lesson, they will suddenly ask you if you have got their ingredients even though they have not actually mentioned it before that moment in time. Then it is somehow your fault if you don’t have them. This is just one example but I have no doubt that as a parent, mind reading would be so helpful.
How to do all sorts of homework. My children seem to think that I am the font of all knowledge. I wish. In the later years of primary and all through secondary, homework comes in thick and fast and rather than take the far simpler option of asking Professor Google, they ask me. Yes, I am a teacher (French) but that does not make me an expert in all other school subjects. Yet, my insistence that I don’t know is often translated by them that I don’t care about their homework or I’m not interested.
How to get children to do their homework. I have been lucky. Three out of four of mine were/are quite self-motivated and will do homework without too much nagging. One, however, makes up for it. He hates homework. He can’t understand why he has to do it, he hates doing it and will do absolutely anything rather than do it. It can take hours to get him to sit down and start it and then, even more hours to do one piece of homework. I’m not looking forward to the high school years with him and his homework, I think there will be tears (probably mine).
How to not cry at leavers assemblies. I cry at leavers assemblies when it is not even my children so when it comes to mine, I am quite literally an emotional wreck for days. I well up when someone mentions the assembly, I well up before it and then openly sob and snivel all the way through them and feel totally distraught afterwards. I can’t help it but it is mightily embarrassing. The other parents and teachers at the first school all know exactly how bad I am as I had leavers assemblies for two consecutive years and I think we are all relieved that I don’t have a child leaving this year.
How to juggle multiple children. Just how? I thought it would get easier as they get older but it hasn’t. In fact, it is worse as I fly from one activity to another, often having to be in two or three places at one time. A time machine and eyes in the back of my head would be extremely handy.
How to get through parenting without nagging. I have tried and I just can’t stop doing it.
How to cope when they leave home. If leavers assemblies aren’t bad enough, what about when they leave home? There is a sense of relief that you have created a fully-fledged adult who is independent and capable enough to live by themselves but the sense of loss that you feel is huge and it suddenly hits you like a wave.
Those are some of the useful things that I would like to be written into parenting books, what would you add?