There is one argument that occurs regularly in our household. Actually, there are quite a few:
“You don’t change enough nappies!”
“You don’t help out enough around the house!”
“The bathroom always smells like something died and has been decomposing for a month, every time you go in there!”
But to avoid delving into the intricacies of what could be perceived as a dysfunctional marriage, I’m just going to focus on one for the purpose of this post: “You don’t help when it comes to disciplining the kids!”
In our house, I am the only one who enforces rules, I am the master of routines and the only parent that says “no” when there is a need for it (and sometimes when there isn’t a need, but being a mum can be stressful and unjustifiable aggression is an unfortunate consequence).
Dad, on the other hand, is a shameless Yes Man. If the kids don’t want to eat something I’ve spent two hours making, “It’s fine. They can just have a sandwich.” If they don’t want to go to bed on time, “It’s ok. Going to sleep half an hour later each day isn’t going to make any difference.” If our four-year-old makes excuses every night for a week so she can sleep in our room, “What difference does it make where she sleeps, as long as she sleeps?” And, of course, the only way to stop tears and tantrums is by giving them whatever they want.
It drives me crazy! I feel like I’m always the MC (Master of Constant-acrimony) while Dad gets to be the DJ (Dumb Joker) at the party where I’m always having the least amount of fun. In his defence, when things go too far, and he can’t get the kids to listen when he needs them to, he’ll graciously step aside and let me deal with it on his behalf.
As much as it frustrates me, I’ve come to realise that I couldn’t be like Dad even if I wanted to be.
Not too long ago, there was a documentary on Channel 4 called Feral Families about parents who follow a No Rules Parenting approach.
These parents had pulled their kids out of school, allowed them to eat what they want, when they want it, sleep when they want and basically do what they like 24/7. At first, I was as aghast as any uptight, self-congratulatory mum would be and, to be honest, it seemed many of the families on the show had opted for the approach because it allowed them to not have to face the more challenging aspects of parenting.
At one point, however, I saw an eight-year-old ask her mum if she could shave off her hair and witnessed her mum compliantly hand her some electric hair trimmers without any hesitation. The mum explained that she had taught her daughter how to use them safely and that she would learn more from being able to make her own decisions; If it ends up not looking nice, she will think twice before acting on impulse again, but if she likes it then there’s no reason why she shouldn’t do it as children have a right over their own bodies.
I remember hearing all this against a backdrop of half-naked kids sliding down stairs on mattresses at midnight and being surprised at the fact that I actually agreed with her.
I thought about how much more relaxed our household would be if I didn’t hover over every decision that needs to be made, insist that things need to be done in a particular way and allowed the kids to have more of a say in the decisions that affected them (or even any kind of say in anything).
I decided that I would try I would try to take a more hands-off parenting approach and promised that I would allow the children to make more of their own decisions…I didn’t say it out loud, of course, because that would mean I could be held to account for my intentions, and I wouldn’t want that, but just to myself in a completely self-appeasing and pointless way.
I have to admit, the next morning, I felt like a different person. When my four-year-old woke up at 5am and insisted to go downstairs and watch TV, I allowed it thinking that when she gets tired during the day because she hasn’t had enough sleep, she’ll see for herself that going downstairs so early wasn’t a good idea.
I even managed to suppress a fit when my youngest smeared bum cream all over his bedroom wall believing that when he sees how he’s ruined his beloved dinosaur wall display, he’ll know not to do it again.
There was a genuine sense of peace in the house and it wasn’t just the atmosphere that had changed; I was calm, level-headed, open-minded and softly-spoken… and it lasted all of one hour!
It took my toddler spilling half a bowl of Coco Pops on me 10 minutes before school starts and my daughter having an uncontrollable meltdown just as we were walking out of the door because she decided that she wanted sandwiches, despite insisting on having school dinners when asked just half an hour earlier, for me to resort to a more ‘traditional’ parenting style and tell my daughter that she was having a school dinner or going hungry.
On the way to school, in a haze of green from the snot that was streaming from my daughter’s nose, who was still crying because she felt desperately hard-done-by, and the stench of curdled milk coming from my clothes, I realised that No Rules Parenting just wasn’t for me.
Was I really expecting my four-year-old to take responsibility for her own tiredness? This is the same child who once insisted that she didn’t need a hat, gloves or a scarf to play in the snow and then blamed me for allowing the snow to be so cold. Or was I expecting the child, that once deliberately stepped in dog poo and then ran inside to make and admire the footsteps he created on the carpet, to give a duck’s butt about bedroom interior design?
To be frank, I found being hands-off far more stressful than being hands-on. Children live in the present, they only think about what would make them happy in any given instant, they don’t worry about what’s in their best interest but just about what they think they want and, while this is part of the unparalleled beauty of children, it makes them notoriously bad at making decisions. As dictatorial as it sounds, most of the time, they need someone to make those decisions for them.
And as much as it would make my life easier to give into the occasional tantrum or not follow a routine some days, I always worry that giving in sometimes will mean the kids testing me all the time so I don’t.
Luckily, I don’t have to because they already have a parent that’s always ready to give in. While it deeply frustrates me most of the time, and it means that the kids very rarely listen to their dad, I’ve come to realise that to function as a ‘normal’ family, it’s necessary to have that balance in a household to allow the children to feel as though as they can escape the routine sometimes and for Dad to be able to enjoy the little time he gets to spend with them.
He really just isn’t very good at the whole disciplining children thing. He was once forced to look after the kids alone for a few days while I was away and realised, the hard way, that he couldn’t be Fun Dad all the time if he wanted the kids to do what he told them to.
I returned to find my daughter in a crying heap because her dad threatened to chop off the heads of all her dolls because she wouldn’t stop jumping off the sofa. When I questioned whether this was a proportionate response, he refused to back down because he had gotten so worked up. He then spent the entire next day apologising to her because he felt so guilty.
I know it’s not ideal, but I have happy, healthy and (reasonably) well behaved kids and, while I take most of the credit for that, I have to accept that they wouldn’t be as happy if they didn’t know they could bend the rules sometimes.
So if, like me, you are fed up of always being the villain, just accept that constant popularity is just another sacrifice you’re making that will benefit your children in the long run.
Besides, if me and Dad we were always on the same page about parenting, who on earth would I blame for everything?