Raising Civilised Children: “Because I said so”

 

My children nixed my idea of writing about how each displays their bad moods, pleading their privacy, telling me to write my own story. My reply was that firstly they ARE my story (such great material for humour) and secondly I thought many overburdened parents could relate to tales of the vloermoere, sulking, swearing, passive aggression, door-banging and yelling that accompany the varying weather conditions in our house. But sadly that chef d’oeuvre has been decimated on the cutting floor.

Now of course I would love to use my standard response to the proletariat’s desire for its voice to be heard, by my usual response of ‘Your argument is invalid because I am the mother,’ but I suppose I should refrain from exposing the ugly underbelly of the household and write about myself.

My Mom Is A Scary Lady, I Cant Wear Sweats Whenever I Want Noooo

This is for the most part a totalitarian home, but I consider myself to be a benign dictator so I shall take the sensitivities of my offspring to heart and not reveal who once threw a knife at which offending older sibling (fortunately it was someone with poor aim) or who breaks out into giggles when the rioting rabble is called in front of Judge Judy to account for mischief. I shall have to leave that until another time when I can skilfully slip into conversation which artist punched a wall in frustration when a piece wasn’t going right; or which one at five declared (with hands on hips mind you) that I was not the boss of said defiant spawn. Needless to say, that didn’t go down too well, and the rebellion was quashed before it began, to the amusement of the other four.

But I digress.

The nature of running a household of five children (permanent residents) has brought me into conflict many times with my beloved fledgling revolutionaries. And that is normal. One of the hardest things to do when you get home after a stressful day though is to say ‘No’ or have to make tough decisions which you know will not please all the people. Solomon had it easy: he only had to settle disputes between two women over a baby. I wonder how he would have managed choosing a sandwich spread which met with everyone’s culinary preferences. I did have to use holiday time to … er …redefine parameters from time to time, but in general I have been blessed with good kids. Of course they will tell you that they were beaten into submission and have had the spirit crushed out of them. Don’t believe a word of it. I still sleep with one eye open.

Unlike Bob across the border though, I have mellowed with age and, truth be told, I would handle the tribe more gently if I had my time over again – perhaps. But one cannot second-guess one’s younger self and raising children does become easier as they grow old enough to reason with (unless they think that the rules are negotiable, because that’s when Attila the Mum resurfaces.)

My household is not a democracy. I admit it. It cannot be. Now that does not prevent discussion (and much heated dialogue has been had – some still ongoing about perceived poor parenting in the past) however at some point a parent must be a parent and take a stance or make a ruling. Funnily enough children feel safe within boundaries. I think the trick is allowing them to be heard, and apologising and sometimes backing down if you are wrong. Unqualified mercy is also important. And one day – watch – they will do the same for their own children.

My mom used to say I’d get my come-uppance one day – boy was she right – and I plan to live long enough to see the Big Five get theirs. Because according to the one who thinks I am ‘Hello Kitty’ cute (see previous post), my ‘days of tyranny have ended’. But first I am going to stamp up the stairs and bang my door.

Chores

St Martha is the patron saint of drudgery. Well officially, she is the paragon of servants and cooks, but really that boils down (did you catch the cookery pun?) to housework, and by the evils of continuing patriarchy, that falls on mothers. I wonder whether the much put-upon St Martha (whom I absolutely respect btw) also had kids who staged protests worthy of the most vitriolic of trade unionists when it came to being asked to do their bit for the family well-being.

They made ‘em tough in biblical times though. Did you ever notice that Peter’s poor mother-in-law immediately began to ‘wait on them’ after she had been healed by Jesus. No rest and recuperation for her: just straight back into the servitude. You’d have thought Peter would have helped out his wife’s dear mother and finished the evening meal for her, or at least washed up the gourds and stuff!

Today’s kids have it easy too: no walking to the Parklands Well to fetch water, or having to plait a broom before sweeping, or pluck an annoying pigeon for the pot: all they have to do is walk a few steps and switch on a machine of some kind. Andrew, bless his naïve soul, bought a dishwasher a couple of years back, intending to stop the squabbling after supper over whose turn it was to wash up…well we all know how that turned out…

There seems to be this belief somehow that if they argue with me that it is not their turn, I shall magically be convinced to make some other poor inmate suffer a fate which they do not deserve. Clearly they don’t know their parent very well. Debating the instruction, no matter how deeply philosophical/ patronisingly rational (Sean), dramatic (Shannon), ironic (Mika), vociferous (Michael) or loud (Liam) the plea is, the diatribe is akin to suggesting you won the fight while still coming to on the floor of the ring. And yet they keep trying.

And I feel as though I have gone a round or two with a heavyweight boxer (without the cash prize) by the end of it all. Or a paper target after the snipers have had practice. Or Cleopatra’s messenger, the one who was unfortunate enough to bring the bad news while there was an asp around.

I think perhaps I am not cruel enough, although they will tell you that they are desperately in need of emancipation from my yoke of oppression. When I ask for a doggy patrol you’d think there was a meadow of cow pats to harvest (okay so Maggie is frighteningly and prolifically regular), but really is it my fault that you decided to put on your pyjamas at 3pm?! Everyone salivates over the home baked goodies, but no one believes they should clean up afterwards. And transport dirty plates? ‘Pffft! We’re not afraid of goggas in our rooms!’ Until they hear scurrying…then who do they call?

Please don’t bombard me with emails, brandishing successful strategies or tales of your perfect offspring, dear reader. I am not strong enough to handle the envy. My children just like to complain. To be fair, housework in our clan is rather daunting, because meals are somewhat like canteen servings and the attendant mess is proportionately off-putting. But at least they only have a turn every now and then. But therein lies the catch: sometimes the sneaky ones* plan their engagements fortuitously so that they are out when that little duty comes around. And then the outrage of the unfortunate Cinderella without a social life is doubled.

And I am to blame naturally.

Sibling sparring is as old as St Martha and Mary. I appreciate Martha’s objections (we won’t discuss why Laz wasn’t asked to chip in) and I get Jesus’ wisdom, but thank goodness my children haven’t thought to use the ‘I’m praying’ excuse. No hang on, ‘Aunty Anne is here to take me to early mass.’ was a favourite excuse a while back.

Aargh! I’m off to the Mugg and Bean.

(*names withheld to prevent lynching)