The (fictional) Manual.

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I hate parenting pages. Actually the older I get the more I hate them. I understand they’re a necessary evil because when you first become a mum or dad you essentially have NFI what you’re doing and set out to find a method that works well for you. Except for most people I’ve come across the ‘method’ they choose is essentially what they would have done anyway but finding someone else saying it validates their parenting choice and makes them feel like they’re doing the right thing. Still, I get that.

My parenting journey now has spanned 19 years from when I was first pregnant with my eldest daughter to now, my youngest being 5. Over nearly two decades my style emerged rather organically. Much of my parenting style in the early days was learnt through observation – watching my mother tend to my younger brothers who were 8 and 11 years younger than me. And then slowly over time I kept the parts that worked for me and discarded others and found new things that worked. And obviously each child was different, with new challenges and their own unique personality.

What I didn’t have for much of my parenting journey was a team of other parents on the internet telling me I was shit. For my last three kids I have been active on the Internet but by that stage I was fairly confident in my ability to keep small humans alive so most things just rolled off my back. Actually, I wish I had the same self confidence in other aspects of my life. I find it really easy to just say an internal, “Oh, fuck off,” to unsolicited parenting advice – meanwhile mimicking Sia when I leave the house trying to hide my face from someone that glances at it lest they notice my freckles or smile lines or hormonal chin pimples. But parenting I’m celebrity confident at.

It’s NOT that I figure I have it all worked out. It’s that I am okay with the fact I don’t. That what works today may not work tomorrow. That as long as I try to be fair, respect my children, don’t sweat the small stuff and try every day to do my best that there is very little I can do in any 24 hour period that is going to ruin their life. I’m not going to berate myself for feeding little Jimmy a ham sandwich just because some other mum on the Internet wants to talk about how her kid doesn’t even know pork exists just because it makes her feel better about her own choices.

Parenthood actually isn’t hard. It’s the pressure we put on ourselves to be perfect because we care SO MUCH that is hard. Every time I see a photo with some accompanying text that says, “Do this for your kid or its DOOOOOOMED” I feel simultaneously grateful that I’m not brand new in the parenting pool and sad for every new parent wading in that thinks if they aren’t baby wearing their 18 year old will have insecurity issues.

So this is the only piece of advice I am going to give you.

There is no manual.

There is not a single book or site or program or baby whisperer on the whole planet that can give you a step by step guide to not fucking up your kids. In fact, so long as they’re fed and clothed and you are doing your best, chances are – you aren’t going to fuck them up anyway. If you’re a SAHP – you aren’t going to fuck them up. If you’re a working parent – you aren’t going to fuck them up. No matter whether your kid is bottlefed or breastfed – it isn’t going to fuck them up. If you miss out on awards day because you completely forgot – they will get over it. If you still kiss them goodbye at the school gate at 15 – no harm done.

There is no manual. It’s just you learning how to parent in a way that works FOR YOU. It’s okay to hate some parts. It’s okay to admit you have an age that you don’t really mesh with (for me that’s ages 8-12, big struggle).

Kids are resilient. Parenting is fun. Family is amazing. Feel free to hide parenting pages on Facebook from your newsfeed. People were doing this long before the Internet told them how.

Sink or Swim.

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Earlier this week a well known writer posted an article about how her son doesn’t do chores because his only job is to be a child. To a degree, I get that. My five year old doesn’t have any chores either. But Lana’s son isn’t five – he is fifteen. In three years he will be able to drink, vote and be a legal adult. I have no concerns that this boy will grow to be a responsible and contributing member of society. From reading her life for some time now I can see that he appears from the outside to a a pretty decent kid. And so obviously whatever she is doing works for her.

My general opinion though is very different. Worlds apart – if you will. Because the world is hard and nothing is free and everything comes with a price. My children have been raised to help out a decent amount. In fairness – I have six children and for a good chunk of my parenting journey a work away husband – Lana has one child and what seems to be a hands on husband. I COULD do everything myself but I figure if they’re going to be part of a family then they need to understand that means we help each other out. Oh, and I don’t pay them for chores either. Sorry. No one will pay you to do the dishes when you leave home. At what point did ‘childhood’ come to mean ‘super loads of fun with no responsibility’? Being a child means play, school, lack of responsibility for things like rent, bills, taxes, car maintenance and politics. You can have all those things and still load the dishwasher.

In my opinion there is a vast difference between a little child of five and a budding adult of fifteen. Teen years is where you need to start giving them the lessons they will need to know to make it in the world. I’m not interested in making life easier for them, in the blink of an eye they will be out from under my wing, unsheltered and I need to know they can weather storms on their own. It becomes a transformation from ‘raising a child’ to ‘raising an adult’.

It’s hard. It’s much easier to say yes, to do it yourself, to pay that for them, to say ‘just keep it’ when you’ve agreed your 18 year old will start paying board. It is incredibly difficult as a parent to take the floaties off your child and then watch them learn to swim. The desire to throw them a rope is overwhelming. It’s hard. But as a mother, I set my jaw and offer advice instead of aid.

This year my 8 year old will get his first proper chore. He will be expected to unload the dishwasher every day. To begin with, one of the older children will buddy him and then he will have to do it alone. Chores will be shuffled as the littler kids learn other aspects to keeping house. From fifteen I know my eldest daughter could have ran the house herself. At 18 – preparing to leave home (she has just begun collecting items for her own place now) – I know she will do fine. That more than just the mechanics of a task she understand the cost of meals, the time a job will take, the importance of doing it correctly.

I understand that children frequently do not want to do chores. But as my kids know and often sing to each other, “You can’t always get what you want.”

The Price of Cruelty.

When I was in grade four a girl came to my school who I am going to call Stacey for the purpose of this post. Stacey’s uniform was always lopsided and unironed. Stacey’s hair pulled up into a ponytail with bits sticking out looked like it had never seen a brush in it’s life. She was shy and in that kind of ugly stage all kids go through when they’re a tween and their body is in metamorphosis. No one liked Stacey. A rumour went around that she had lice since her hair was so unkempt. Secretly I believed her mama maybe didn’t care about her that much because my mother would never have let me out the door like that. When people would have to walk past Stacey’s desk on the way to the waste paper basket they would tip toe past and loudly exclaim they didn’t want her ‘germs’. To be honest, I didn’t really want to be Stacey’s friend either. She scared me a little, this wild girl. I didn’t actively tease her, but I didn’t stick up for her either.

The next year we were put in the same grade again and this class was much smaller. My mother was working early at one point and she had to drop me off really early for the span of a month or so and so I would get to school about an hour and a half before the bell. No one was around in the playgroup at that time, just me…and Stacey. So Stacey and I began to talk a bit. Her mama worked early too. She walked herself to school after she got ready and then she walked herself home. She was about to turn ten soon. She had gotten her first training bra. She didn’t have lice and she knew people said she did but she didn’t care.

I knew that was a lie.

Because I had seen the hurt in her eyes when those kids tip toed past her desk and I had seen her wipe her eyes on her sleeve when kids teased her in the playground. She didn’t play with me at lunch even though we talked every morning. I’m ashamed to say, I don’t know where Stacey played. I only know it was on her own somewhere. And I, despite the fact she opened herself to me, never opened myself to her. I was polite. But not really her friend.

So it surprised me when she invited me to her birthday party. I didn’t want to go, but I wanted to be polite so I did. Her mama did care about her. So much. She lived in a run down high set home that had been decorated within an inch of its life. She had a big cake, she showed me her room. We played games and drank soft drink and even though not many people came (when she handed out her invitations some kids tore them up right in front of her) we had fun.

She moved away not long after.

I think about her all the time.

I didn’t actively participate in the systematic bullying of that little girl whose only crime was that she was nine years old and didn’t have her mama in the morning to help her get ready and do her hair for her. I didn’t participate. But I didn’t stop it either. I feel guilty about that all the time. And, oh Stacey, I am so sorry. I’m sorry I didn’t stand up and say something when people were nasty and I’m sorry I didn’t hand you a tissue when I saw you wiping your eyes on your sleeve. I’m sorry I didn’t open up to you. You were a good friend to me and I wasn’t a good friend to you.

And that’s the way karma works. It isn’t always the big things. It doesn’t always mean someone is going to reach down from the sky and smite you for being an asshole. Sometimes it is much more subtle. Like the fact that 25 years later I still remember her name and feel the niggle in my heart at having borne witness to her sadness with no comfort offered. I deserve to feel that. It’s why now, I cannot be silenced when I see someone getting a raw deal. I don’t think I can fight their battles for them, but I can definitely stand with them. Kindness costs you absolutely fucking nothing. Cruelty will haunt you for the rest of your days.

Stacey, I hope you grew up to be fierce and free. I hope you always managed to keep your sweetness. I hope you found a group of wonderful friends who love you. I hope you bloomed.  Thank you for inviting me into your life. You deserved better than me.

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