It’s every parent’s nightmare isn’t it – a tearaway kid – but if I’m honest, I can’t control my child. I often find myself worrying what others think about my lack of parental control. I’m sure it’s a fear of mums everywhere, but sometimes I worry that, as a single mum, the judging will flow more easily in my direction. Over the past three years I’ve often felt I’m being looked down on by others when I can’t “control” my son in public. Sometimes it’s their words, other times just a look. At the end of a long day, when I’m at my wit’s end wondering why on earth I can’t get my son to do something as simple as clean his bloody teeth, I also begin to wonder why the hell I can’t control him either.
Not so long ago, as I tried to retrieve the buggy after a swimming class and get our shoes and socks on, my son made a run for it. Now you would think as a (then) two year old he wouldn’t be that fast. Think again. Before I’d stood up, he was halfway across the building. He made a bee-line for the café and ran straight through the open kitchen door. I was sharply reprimanded by the café staff, “control your child, it’s not safe to run into the kitchen!”
When it’s something potentially dangerous I can understand the looks and stares a little more, after all, it’s not like I’d let my son run out into the middle of the road. But the judging often isn’t about potential danger. My son had a phase where he loved lying down on the floor, it didn’t matter where, but streets and public transport were a favourite. Passers by and fellow travellers hated it, and I’m not even talking about him getting in the way, generally he wasn’t. But somehow it annoyed them that this kid was just doing what the fuck he wanted, when the fuck he wanted.
So when I was out with a gang of old school friends the other day, most of whom are parents, and the chat got on to our
defiant little shits little darlings and how strong willed they can be, I thought this was my chance to learn the *secret* to motherhood. So I asked them, genuinely asked them, “what do you do when your little one is refusing to obey you?” You know the type of thing I mean, refusing to get dressed for nursery/ brush their teeth/ sit down for dinner/ stay in their seat on the train, or whatever it is that today’s battle is about? I may be three years into this parenting journey, but it seems I’m still trying to work out the answer to the ultimate parenting question – how do I control my child? Could it be that I was finally about to learn the answer? I felt like getting out a notepad so I could record all the wisdom from the group (there was about 90 years of parenting experience at that table). Finally, I’d be able to get my son to do what I want, I was practically rubbing my hands with glee.
Only my friends didn’t let me in on the secret; they couldn’t. There is no secret. I’m not failing as a mum and if you recognise yourself in these words, neither are you. I hear so many mums with little ones younger than mine saying in ashamed tones, “I’m sorry, I keep telling her to share but she just won’t.” I remember that feeling so well. I expected so much more of my son than was humanly possible of a child his age. Those expectations have grown with him at a rate faster than he can keep up with. I expected it because the looks, murmurs and plain mean comments you hear as a mum in those first few years lead you to believe something else is possible. But it’s not.
Now don’t get me wrong, at times I wish I had more control over my son. On hard days I still question why I can’t control him. But really it’s a bit of a weird concept isn’t it – controlling another human being? I mean, I’m supposed to be raising an individual with his own thoughts and opinions, yet I’m also supposed to get him to do exactly what I ask, when I ask. I try not to over burden him with demands, but let’s be honest, getting out of the house in the morning involves a fair few requests which, to a three year old, probably seem arbitrary and annoying – hell I’d love to go out in my fluffy PJs some days too.
If you’re a new mum, or – like me – not so new, I’ll let you in on a little secret. A secret that, although I’ve always known, is easy to forget when others around you are
not quite so understanding judgemental bastards. A secret that these old friends were able to remind me of. No-one can control their child. It doesn’t mean we won’t try to. We will continue to negotiate, beg and bribe our way towards something that occasionally resembles victory with our children, but it’s generally short lived and it’s as exhausting as hell and that is the secret of motherhood.
PS. If you have a brother like mine who ‘asked’ me when my son was seven months old, “haven’t you taught him ‘no’ yet?” tell them to get to fuck!