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January 2016

'What makes a good mother?' Or, 'First World Worries'

When I was a younger woman, I thought I was going to make SUCH a good mother.

I was so patient! Tolerant! No troubles controlling my temper.

Besides, I knew so much about babies! Didn't I have a brother who was 8 years younger than me? Didn't I know how to change nappies and bottle feed? I was going to have no problem.



  Mummy angel



I got... unexpectedly pregnant, at 26, in the midst of my Generation X-er extended adolescence. My partner was living in another country. I was still flat-sharing in London and going to parties on the weekends.

Let's skip the birth for a moment, sweep past infancy and early childhood, and journey 11 years through time, across the world and back through space to a bourgeois English town on the outskirts of London... This is where our story begins.

What story?

The story: how to be a good mother/ parent. Or something like that.

I don't know what this story is, or what the end will be.

I just know - and I suspect I am not the only one - that there is a lot of scope for feeling like a BAD PARENT.

Has there always been?

I can't help feeling, when I read some of my favourite old children's books - Little House on the Prairie, for example, or Farmer Boy - that parents back then didn't spend time navel-gazing about how to provide educational opportunities for their children , taxiing them to after-school clubs and nagging them to do their homework. They sort of got on with their own Work, and the children got on with theirs, without complaint or much interference from their parents.

Of course, in 19th century Kansas the fathers did have to go out and shoot their dinner, and the mothers forage for food in their vegetable patches, cook from scratch and spend a whole day each week washing the laundry by hand.

In Enid Blyton's books, the kids made friends with adult strangers, spent all day away from home in the woods and climbed through secret under-sea passageways to mystery islands and tackled smugglers. What the heck were their parents doing all the while? Definitely BAD PARENTS.

I'm reading Gone With the Wind for the first time ever. Scarlett O'Hara is a shockingly BAD MOTHER. She even says she hates babies! Mind you, she had no choice, if she wanted to, ahem, marry and... everything that went with that. Babies were the natural outcome for a vibrantly healthy 16-year-old bride.


In my privileged, appliance-abundant middle-class world, I suspect that a GOOD MOTHER is one who provides OPPORTUNITIES  for her children, who helps them uncover their talents and passions and nurtures those, who keeps her children SAFE and HEALTHY, helps them develop their skills and ACHIEVE, is calm, patient and loving. Something like that.


I've got a guilty conscience. I have realised, this week, that I have been letting plates slip and crash to the floor, hoping they were not irredeemably damaged. I've taken my eye off the ball: I've let my kids get away with doing, basically, no exercise for the past 5 months.


In my defence, we moved country last summer, back from Switzerland to the UK. I was fed up with taxiing the kids to after school clubs that they invariably seemed to tire of after the first few enthusiastic weeks.

What the kids REALLY wanted to do, after they'd been in lessons all day, doing what they were told (more or less), was to PLAY. Alone. Or with friends. Or with me (or their Dad, when he is home).

And I couldn't be bothered to fight that, to keep whipping out my bag of mothering tricks - WHEEDLING, CAJOLING, BRIBERY - to get them out of the house and into whichever activity I had paid for that term. NEGOTIATING, making deals: ok, just one week off, then you go back, your father and I have paid for this course. LECTURING about VALUES: you need to learn commitment, stick-to-it-ness.

But shouldn't they be allowed to play, follow their own curiosity, have plenty of unstructured time...?

Problem is, we are not talking Enid Blyton-style tree-climbing, forest-exploring-type play. There is not much cardio-vascular work involved in Barbies or Minecraft, besides the pounding stress of avoiding dastardly Endermen, or deciding between survival and creative.






My worries are the epitome of First World Worries. I am well out of survival mode and fully into creative. I don't have to worry about putting food on the table, or keeping a roof over my kids' heads.

I worry because they are behind their friends in swimming, and gymnastics, and neither of them plays football, or a musical instrument, or does judo.


I want them to learn COMMITMENT, but I don't want to force them to do things they don't like. I want them to find a PASSION. But what if they don't? Is that alright?



Anyway. I've asked around about swim lessons. I've signed my daughter up for gymnastics. We held a crisis meeting and explained that they needed to do at least one physical activity a week after school. My son signed up for a swimathon in March. We are going to start family swimming sessions at the weekends.


The thing I've always thought about parenting is: it keeps taking you right back to Square One.

What makes a good parent?

Failing, acknowledging it, and trying again?

That's the kind of 'good' parenting I am aiming for this week. ;-)


How do you go about instilling your values in your kids?

How do you manage the negotiations and taxi-driving?

Do you ever feel a sense of failure for not 'keeping up' in some areas?


Come on - make me feel better! ;-)


Elizabeth, aka The Writing Parent







Befores and Afters: January cures

Does your daily routine make you HAPPY?

I ask this because, just before Christmas, I realised that, while I have many things in my life that make me happy and for which I am deeply thankful (my family, my friends, our home), what was NOT making me happy was: my daily routine. My 'daily work'.


 "Nothing is really work, unless you would rather be doing something else." J.M. Barrie


One of the most unexpected challenges of parenthood, for me, has been the metamorphosis into Household Manager, Family Secretary and General Dogsbody.

For someone earlier famed for untidiness (as well as a tendency to spend hours on the loo, reading... - What? It's peaceful!), the throwing of domestic duties at me at the same time as I was tackling baby-care and sleep deprivation was, let's say, an INTERESTING EXPERIMENT.

For many years, our house looked mainly like this: 

Messy bedroom pic

Okay, this was in the midst of a renovation, but still, fairly representative.

This particular renovation experience was transformative, for me. We put the house up for sale after we'd finished renovating (- we were off to China for an adventure!) and so had to spruce it all up.

'It needs to look IMMACULATE,' the estate agent warned us.

I read my first book on de-cluttering - Clear Your Clutter With Feng Shui by Karen Kingston

We sifted through our stuff, put things on Ebay, did countless trips to the tip, bought big wardrobes from Ikea to hide things in, and stuffed all the kids' toys into the car when viewers were coming round. And we got that messy bedroom to look like this:


Tidy bedroom

I didn't actually think I had it in me. I remember the joy - the ease - of keeping house when we had so little stuff, everything had its place, and we'd cleared out all the rubbish (or hidden it in the boot of the car).


5 and a 1/2 years and 4 house moves on, I sometimes feel as though we've gone backwards from that point. I feel as though I am constantly sorting stuff - and still the house rarely looks as nice as I'd like it to.

I read my second de-cluttering book - The Life-Changing Magic of Tidying, by Marie Kondo.

In some ways, it has changed my life. I've been through all our stuff again and got rid of loads more clothes, books, toys, papers. We have less stuff. Instead of flinging clothes into piles in the cupboard I now fold them on end in the drawer, so I can see them all every time I open it, like this:


  Drawer pic


And I can't imagine going back to the way I did it before.

But, still. Somehow it all seems to creep back again - especially after Christmas, with all of those presents, paper and packaging. I can't seem to inspire much tidying zeal in the rest of the family, and I am still so new to it myself - and still quite lazy - that I don't really know how to TEACH it.

For me, a way of getting myself to do chores I dislike is to find some sort of INSPIRATION. The 'Clear Your Clutter with Feng Shui' book talks about how you shouldn't spend your time tidying: you should get your home organized and clutter-free so that you can then focus on what is REALLY important to you - your work, your family, friends etc.. Marie Kondo says something similar in her book - tidying in and of itself is not important; what is important is what it frees you up TO DO afterwards.

In theory. But sometimes I feel as though I am going round in circles, cleaning up the same old sh*t.


Know what I mean???


We went away for the New Year week, to France. I had a week of sitting on the sofa reading novels, interrupted by the odd walk, pony ride (the kids, not me) or bit of cooking. It was lovely.

We got back late after our drive home and walked through the front door and I thought, 'Oh. All this STUFF to manage again.'

 I read an article on (a website I am now totally addicted to!) which said [something like]: keeping a house clean and tidy is a lot of work. There is no way round it. 

I thought, huh.

That's kind of helpful. I COULD keep my home super clean and tidy - IF I could be bothered. But I can't. Not really. I want it to BE tidy, but I don't really want TO tidy.

I have signed up to the January Cure, though. Every day in January you get a small 'assignment', so by the end of the month your home - be it big, small, owned or rented - can be as spruced up as you like.

I am a bit behind on my 'assignments', if I'm honest, but I do appreciate the daily INSPIRATION HITS. They get me thinking, and then, when I'm ready, doing. And it feels good, afterwards.


So, de-cluttering is back on my list of NEW YEAR'S RESOLUTIONS.


What I REALLY want, though is to TRANSFORM my daily routine. And part of that, I think, is worrying less about the house, getting out of the house more. Sometimes I think I had more FUN when the house was still like it was in the first photo :-).

So, my other GOALS FOR 2016 include:

  1. Doing more exercise - getting strong. Prioritizing physical well-being.
  2. Learning about plot and how to structure a novel - reading creative writing books and novels
  3. Meeting up with friends - several times a week, if possible (to banish loneliness )
  4. Adding activities with the kids to my To Do list - I feel I used to do loads of fun things with them at home; now we seem to spend time at home doing our own thing, and I'd like to get some of that FUN back.


How about you?

Is de-cluttering on your 2016 list too?

Is there an answer to the circular task of TIDYING, or is it just 'hard work' - what do you think?

Have you set any other goals? I'd love to hear!


Love Elizabeth, aka The Writing Parent


"Out of clutter, find simplicity."   Albert Einstein

Back to School

Ooh, they were cross this morning.


Cross face


Like baby tigers.


One of them 'pushed me with her foot' as I was trying to help her dress. The other scowled all the way to school and shouted how unfair teachers are.

I couldn't help feeling that I was the messenger, being shot BAM BAM BAM.


It's not like I don't have reservations about this 100-year-old social experiment called school (despite my aim to become a teacher next year). It's not that I don't empathise with the fear of pressure, of public humiliation and social pain, that I don't equally dread the early starts, the homework and the teachers' succinct, critical notes: 'Please read more with your child', 'Please check your child's homework is properly done', 'Please pay your overdue lunch bills'.

But what are the alternatives?

I considered home-schooling, briefly, before I realised that HOME-schooling meant HOME for me as well, for a LONG time, and no income, nor any time to myself.


House pic

So back to school it was, with a sigh of relief, and gratitude.


I met an old friend for coffee after drop-off this morning. La-di-da. (Still a stay-at-home housewife for just a little bit longer, and intent on enjoying it...)

The kids had to stay all day at school and concentrate. They're still there, poor poppets.


Still, there's no need to KICK me.


How did you get on getting back to the Old Routine after the holidays?


Love, Elizabeth, aka The Writing Parent.