This post was first published in Practical Parenting Magazine, February 2013
Sometimes becoming a parent means facing the hard truths about yourself. For me, that means accepting that I am a deeply hypocritical mother. For example, I only let the kids have jam on their toast at the weekend, and yet, most nights after they are in bed I demolish half a block of fruit and nut chocolate in the bath. The kids view Mum’s frequent takeaway coffee stops when we are out and about as normal, but have been indoctrinated to accept that they are only allowed a milkshake on a special occasion. (That occasion is usually my desperate need to bribe them.)
I rail at them every day to pick their clothes and toys and CD’s and books up off the floor. And yet, when I look around my bedroom, it is pretty well carpeted with clothes and undies. My six-year-old daughter Peanut has towering piles of ‘collections’ that drive me batty, but my cupboards groan with stuff I can’t throw away.
It’s not just behaviour either. Language can get me into trouble too, especially considering that my husband Keith and I value making each other laugh more highly than being careful what the kids might repeat. For instance, last week we tried to explain to four year-old T-Bone why drinking water was important. ‘Keeps you regular, son,' Keith said, in his blokiest voice. ‘You don’t want to wind up crapping diamonds.’ Our small boy looked thoughtful and we snickered. But yesterday T-Bone called out to me from the bathroom. ‘I need more water, Mum!’ he shouted. ‘I’m crapping diamonds!’
Oh, I thought. That’s not going to play out well at pre-school.
We teach the kids that there is one rule at home, another out in the world. But sometimes worlds collide. When, one rainy afternoon, you help the kids to make up a song called ‘Put Poo on Daddy’s Head’, and then teach them to dance Gangnam Style to it, you can’t always expect that they will know when it’s OK to break that number out at volume (in the lounge room) and when it is not (at BiLo, peak hour. ) Nude gymnastics might be fine with your aunty, but horrifying to your uncle. And on the whole, free and talkative and curious children are wonderful in life, but tough to contain at a dinner party.
I expect the kids to understand how life works to a degree that suits their age, and yet frequently the simplest concepts elude me. The other day I chatted to Keith about the mould in the bathroom. ‘It’s a real mystery,’ I said. ‘I can’t work out where it’s coming from.’ He looked at me with the careful, quizzical expression I have grown used to. ‘All the wet towels on the floor might be connected,’ he said gently. I was honestly confused. ‘Water makes mould,’ he said, like I’d had a traumatic brain injury in the night and was having to re-learn all the practical aspects of life. And a penny dropped for me. Honestly, it did. Mould comes from water! Who knew? I am so sorry; I need to tell the kids. I may have a little problem with some areas of logic and science. (You can look to your father to answer those questions.) But I have some dazzling interpretive dance moves, and you can thank me for that part of your genetic heritage. As for the rest, do as I say, I beg of you, and not as I do.