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Column: Five things I swore I’d never do if I had kids…

(… and guess how that worked out)

Andrea Mara

“TAKE THE PATH of least resistance” was the wise advice from blogger Fiona Kennedy last week. This is certainly the path we took in our house this morning, which is how the two-year-old ended up in our bed at 5.15am watching Mickey Mouse on YouTube. If I’d had chocolate to hand, he’d have had that too.

This is quite a divergence from the path I thought I’d follow, six short years ago when I embarked on the journey to human-being-raising.

I really didn’t know a lot about parenting and didn’t have any illusions about how vast my knowledge gap was. But there were a few things I knew I’d NEVER do:

1. I would never use a soother

What I thought:

Soothers are TERRIBLE. I’m not sure exactly why they’re so bad, something to do with dependency and speech and teeth maybe, but anyway, I know they are bad news and no child of mine will have a soother.

What actually happened:

I lasted seven long weeks before caving – seven weeks of walking the floors with my firstborn; rocking and feeding and wondering what the hell I was doing wrong and walking some more. Then I popped a soother in her mouth – it was magical. No really, it was the closest thing to real magic that I’ve ever witnessed. She stopped crying. And we lived happily ever after. Subsequent babies didn’t have to wait seven weeks for the magic.

2. I would never bring a baby into bed

What I thought:

Everyone says DO NOT LET THE BABY INTO THE BED. This seems to be a serious one – apparently once they’re in, they never leave. So for the love of God, whatever else happens, don’t let the baby into the bed.

What actually happened:

Again with baby-number-one, I resisted and resisted, sitting up to feed her at night and then carefully transferring her back to her cot. With baby-two, I did the same. Baby-three was the worst sleeper of all time, but still I resisted for five months, those ominous warnings ringing in my ears: do not bring them into the bed, they will never leave.

But it all became too much. Months of broken sleep, a broken spirit, and then a broken resolution. The baby came into the bed. And I got some sleep. Not loads actually, but a bit more, just enough to save my sanity and stop me selling him on eBay. And the ominous warning may have had a ring of truth – this morning’s 5am Mickey Mouse viewing was not a unique event. But hey, we’re all still sane and we’re feeling far better than we did this time two years ago. You do what you have to do.

3. I would never let my kids watch too much TV

What I thought:

Of course, when the time comes, I’ll let my children watch a little TV – I’m sure there are some very educational programmes out there, and ten minutes on weekend afternoons won’t hurt. I don’t want them to be the only kids in school who don’t know what a television is.

What actually happened:

Mickey Mouse at 5am is not the only TV that the toddler watches – he also has his nightly fix of Disney Junior along with his two big sisters. The three of them are obsessed with TV; if I left it on all day, they would watch it all day.

So I let them watch three cartoons at tea-time each evening. And sometimes when the third one is over, and they say that it was very short, I let them have a fourth. Especially if I’m in the middle of a just-perfect-temperature-and-strength cup of tea. They definitely watch too much TV and I’m definitely going to sort that out, just not today.

4. I would never feed McDonalds to my children

What I thought:

I don’t even like McDonalds food myself, so I can’t see why I’d ever bring my kids there. Anyway, I’ll probably be far too busy cooking healthy food from scratch every evening after work while the children play happily at my feet.

What actually happened:

My kids know all about McDonalds; in particular McDonalds in France, where we go on the way to and from the ferry every year, because it’s just so much easier than trying to find a restaurant that’s a) open when it’s not lunchtime b)  suitable for three small, tired, cross, travel-weary, hungry children. Only one such place exists. They don’t call them Happy Meals for nothing.

5. I would never use bribery

What I thought:

Bribery isn’t a good way to get kids to do what you want them to do, so I won’t use bribery. I’ll find more constructive parenting methods and in the end they’ll just do what they’re asked, because they’ll know it’s the right thing to do.

What actually happened:

I found a way to circumvent this one – to tell myself I don’t bribe my kids. I use a “subtle hint” system. For example, there’s a taxi outside for a rare night out, and one child is telling me she can’t sleep if I go out and that she’s coming downstairs with me. I reply “But you need your sleep – I was just thinking we might go to the playground tomorrow and for coffee after but you need lots of energy for that. If you’re too tired, we won’t be able to go…”

I convince myself that I’m not really using bribery; meanwhile my child very clearly hears the message that if she doesn’t go to bed she’s not going to the playground. Win-win. OK, I know it’s not remotely win-win and the parenting books would be cross with me, but when there’s a taxi outside, it’s the path of least resistance.

Now, I should really write down all the stuff I’m not going to do when they’re teens. I’m sure that’s all very straightforward.

Anyone else backtrack spectacularly?

Andrea Mara has three small kids, one tall husband and one office job. She writes at OfficeMum.ie about being a parent, being a mother working outside the home, being a woman in the workplace. She’s just trying to keep her balance. Follow her tweets @office_mum or on Facebook.

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Andrea Mara

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