Happy Families Are Made In a Multitude of Ways

Parenthood. It can be hard and fraught sometimes.

It feels that even talking about our decisions or feelings as parents suddenly means we are opening ourselves to a pile on of reckons, and answers to questions we didn’t ask. Every word open to misinterpretation. Making different choices mutated into judging other’s choices. Uttering our darkest fears seen as revealing a rotting core.

Why does it have to be this way?

I guess it is because we all have so much skin in the game, but damn, if that skin isn’t thin sometimes.

I’ve been a bit quieter here on this blog, mostly because of fear of this. That opening the door even the tiniest crack on aspects of our life means I’ll have to justify myself, or apologise for slights I don’t intend.

Talking about things can be hard. It feels risky to fess up to the time you yelled because the kids wouldn’t stop fighting and you felt completely overwhelmed. Or how you were driven bonkers by the lack of sleep and decided to sleep train, or decided to co-sleep and it worked for you. To admit to having a picky eater. Or a hopelessly messy home.

If we can’t talk about these things without treading carefully, then how do we talk about the things that are harder? Should we pick our way gingerly across the minefield? Or swallow them whole? Keep them burning a pit in our stomach for fear we, or our child, will be seen as failing.

I started reading a book recommended to me – The Highly Sensitive Person. I never finished it. I gave up about the time I read a passage stating that only half of people experience adequate parenting as a child.

Screw that.

There are some terrible parents in the world. Some children suffer terribly at the hands of their parents. Some highly successful people carry scars all their life from parents who failed them in very important ways.

But – half?

I don’t think there are any perfect parents in the world. No matter how understanding, or nurturing, or independence-building, or loving parents are, there will always be mistakes.

There is no one way to raise a child.

I refuse to believe we are all going around fucking up our children with our incompetence. Fucking up days? Weeks, even? Maybe. But the vast majority of us provide lives that are stable enough, loving enough for our children.

I think of Anna Karenina’s famous opening line

All happy families are alike but an unhappy family is unhappy after its own fashion.

It’s a fabulous sentence, and who am I to judge Tolstoy, with his bestselling classics, 14 children and a whole religious-socialist movement named after him? Yet, I think he couldn’t be more wrong.

Happy families are made in a multitude of different fashions.

We don’t need each other’s permission for the choices we make. Other people do not need your permission for the choices they make. There are happy families with happy kids whose parents are doing things you wouldn’t agree with, wouldn’t do, can’t imagine. So what?

Parenting is hard, and it is fraught, but ultimately the world is full of functional adults who work hard and look after each other, and who have people they love. Who bake cakes for friends in need, and visit their grandmothers for tea, and in turn have children that they love. Despite everything, I choose to see the best in people.

Right now, parenting can seem hard. Sometimes after an evening with my son bouncing off the walls, and tears, and slammed doors, I slump on the couch with a lump on my throat and wonder what I have done wrong. I delete nice things I’ve written because I feel like a fraud.

I’m not a fraud. I know it is not about me. I know my son’s problems are larger than my acts as a parent. I know they are also much, much smaller than him. He is my own sweet child, as complex as any. I haven’t written about it because I don’t want to hear the solutions, or the judgement. There is nothing you can offer him or me in two minutes typing that I won’t get from the professionals we see. He needs some more help at the moment and we are getting that for him.

In many aspects of his life he is thriving. He has a very blessed childhood that he enjoys. He gets a lot of positive attention and family time. He has interests we support. He is learning to read. He has two parents who love him, and a sister who only pulls his hair occasionally.

We are a happy family in our own way.

Ultimately I am only parenting my children. I answer to them. The only people who have the right to look back at the decisions we make about bedtimes and mealtimes and playtimes and judge will be my children. I don’t want to hear ‘have you tried…’ I don’t want to justify the minutiae of our life.  Nobody can create the perfect environment for their children 100% of the time.

It is clear that I’m not always going to be the kind of parent I thought I would be, or that many parenting columns tell me I should be. What I am being is the parent that my son needs. I think that this is a better parent than any that only exists on paper, or the stock photo parents who are nothing but the ghosts of our internet imaginations

Parenting is hard and fraught and it is a long, long game. My son might have some problems, and they might weigh heavily on us at times, but he’s only five. We’ve got a lot of life and growing up to do together still. I’m pretty sure one day I will turn around and see a young man, and be enormously proud of how my wee boy has turned out, and wonder what miracle it was that brought him into my life, and is this really the same young man who could never stop talking, or sit still, or go the fuck to sleep despite being eye-rollingly tired?

I am sure I am not the only parent who feels this way. Who can feel weighed down in the now. The future may be bright, but the getting there is hard. Nonetheless we carry on, finding glimmers of hope. Sun rays that burst through the clouds. Auroras that play across our night skies.

My life isn’t perfect. I never expected it to be. The choices my family makes are just our choices. We’re making the choices that enable all four of us to carry on as best we can. You might make different choices in my place. That’s okay too.

All of our families are finding their own ways to be. To hold it together and build the best worlds we can for our children. Building with little things and big things. A whole messy jumble of things.

Happiness finding its own way into our life.

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There’s no such thing as bad weather, only bad clothing

How to dress your children for a Danish winter.

Undies
Singlet
Trousers
Long-sleeved t-shirt
Socks
Jersey
Snowsuit
Snow boots
Mittens
Hat

There is your list.

Dressed for winter snow
Dressed for winter snow

Oh, I’m sorry, you meant how do you get your kids dressed in all those layers and layers of clothing? My mistake.

How to dress your children for a Danish winter.

“Come hither my darlings. Let’s go exploring. Let’s go out and play.  Here let me help you.”

Your children come scampering over, eager to co-operate, knowing what fun is ahead. They already have clothes on. They get dressed promptly after breakfast. You lay their snowsuits on the floor, ready for them to step into. You know where all their mittens are. Everything is always kept in its proper place.

children-playing-snowsuits-autumn
Not just winter – we dress like this in autumn too.

You help AJ while MJ (being four years old) dresses himself. Their excitement does the get better of them briefly. MJ begins to spin in circles instead of getting his shoes on. AJ copies him.
“Ah ha ha” you say, sounding like the narrator from Maisy “What Fun!”
They fall over laughing, and remember that they are supposed to be putting shoes on. Little rascals! On go the shoes, hat, then mittens and, voila! You are ready to go out.

Sorry, sorry, that’s not right either.

How to dress your children for a Danish winter.

Oh shit. You meant to get ready ten minutes ago.

MJ is playing with Duplo. AJ has migrated from drawing on paper, to drawing on the drawing table. She’s wearing a nappy and t-shirt. You grab trousers for your daughter. She sees you coming and runs away yelling
“Chee-chi, chee-chi” Cheeky. It is adorable. Except obviously not right now.

Once you catch her and start wrestling, you ask MJ to also get ready.
“Do you need the toilet?”
“No”
“Are you sure?”
“Yes.”
“Really sure?”
“Ye-es.”
“Really, really, really sure?”
“YES!”

Oh well. You’ll just have to accept the consequences of this decision later.

AJ is wearing trousers now, and you begin on her socks.
“MJ, you need to get some socks on.”

He doesn’t go and get socks. You go and get socks. Choosing a pair from the carefully curated sock drawer. Socks in one style, two colours: navy blue and grey. The only socks he will wear. Since they are sold in mix-packs, this is an improvement on the stage where he would only wear the blue ones.  Other socks are too scruffly. I can’t tell you what scruffly means. I can only tell you what scruffly is:

Scruffly is unbearable. Scruffly is something you feel at the depths of your soul. Scruffly cannot merely be said. It must be bayed at the lightbulb, head thrown back, like a wolf howling at a moon. Scruffly must ring out for all the world to hear. And while it echoes through your house, carrying its waves of despair with it, best practice is to throw yourself prostate on the floor and kick your bare feet.

(You have considered bulk buying these socks in enough sizes to last for years as a precautionary measure in case they are discontinued. Or the apocalypse happens and you survive but can only find scruffly socks whilst looting.)

The non-scruffly socks start to go on. There is a further complication. For some unknown reason the store decided to stitch the size in the bottom of the sock. This means tense moments where MJ arranges the sock with the numbers exactly in the middle of his sole. Thanks design geniuses. We definitely needed another hurdle in our routine.

Time for snowsuits. The best way to start is sitting down on the snowsuit laid out on the floor. Helpfully that is exactly where they got dropped yesterday afternoon. Legs go in, kids stand up – sleeves next. MJ can, and usually will, get his arms and legs in. AJ’s legs go in alright, but she needs you to do her sleeves. At this point, for some inexplicable reason her arm goes floppy. She is smiling at you sweetly, but honestly, now is not the time. You insert your fingers at the opposite end, groping up the sleeve until you find her fingers and then you pull.

She’s not smiling now.

You start on the second sleeve while AJ throws herself on the floor, legs flailing. She spins around, while you tug. Congratulations! You are now the epicentre of a toddler break dancing routine. Meanwhile MJ has got his suit on and is struggling with his zip and you can feel the despair building behind you, but you almost… have… the… second… hand… Done!

You offer to help MJ and narrowly avoid a disaster of scruffly-type proportions. Never touch the snowsuit without being asked. Touching it to help without being asked will result in removal of said snowsuit and a repeat of the procedure. You restrain yourself just in time, and look on while he tugs ineffectually at the zip. You hope he doesn’t break it.
“I could just hold the bottom while you pull?”
“Ooh. Yes.” He is pleased at your bright idea. As though this isn’t the same bright idea you use every day.

MJ starts on his boots, and even though you did shake out the boots, the minute he rips the velcro a puddle of sand appears on your minimalist Danish floor. AJ obligingly balances against you while you help her foot into her shoe. She’s relaxed again. Which is a shame as you need her to step down into the boot.
“AJ can you put your foot in the boot, please?”
The foot dangles resolutely at the top.

You try pushing the boot up onto the foot. The angle isn’t exactly right and she protests. You huff and puff, until finally she puts some weight on that foot and the boot goes on. One down. One to go. The process will work exactly the same because your children never learn, and neither, apparently, do you.

You turn to MJ to help him with the boot straps. The essential bit making sure the boot and snowsuit don’t separate and let cold air, or water, in. More sand and grit flakes off onto your floor as you run your fingers along the straps, tucking them under the boots. It is a delicate process. The trick here is to remember that it is impossible to walk with boot straps that are twisted. Impossible. MJ checks them suspiciously once you are done.
“Sådan” he declares, expressing satisfaction with your job.

Well, thank fuck for that.

You throw your jacket and boots on – that’s me done. Then their hats go on. Mercifully easily. Apart from the yelling, of course. As soon as they have their mittens on you can go.

Mittens… Where are the mittens?

Ten sweaty minutes later, you have found the mittens and operation Michelin-children is complete.

You open the door. It is like releasing a cork from a bottle. All the tension dissipates, your children fizz outside.

You are no longer a harassed mother and two young kids. You are no longer contained. Now you are explorers, adventurers, treasure hunters. You can see the possibilities.

walk-cold-appropriate-clothing
Ready to explore

The air crackles with ice-crystals. As the three of you roar, you melt it with your hot breath.

Here be dragons.

 

 

 

 

filled with the gladness/ of love for one another

A few weeks ago, as we left my sons daycare, another boy approached my 14 month old daughter and abruptly shoved her, knocking her onto her back. My husband and I were shocked, and our Danish is never quick so neither of us stumbled out anything more than ‘Nej. Nej.’ But I saw my son move in front of the boy ‘That is my little sister’ M said in Danish, hands on hips ‘ You must not push her’

I was impressed. Not just with his big brotherly instincts, but also to see his non-violent conflict resolution skills were better than I had expected.

At home we have the usual amount of sibling arguments for their age. M loves to build elaborate duplo constructions. So does A, but her contributions tend to be bashed onto the top, bringing the whole structure tumbling down. We do an odd shuffle around the floor, me trying to keep A away and distract her with her toy, only for M to decide whatever we have looks interesting and so, to come grab it. What I never expected is how when they do play together the game gets very physical. They really are like two puppies, nipping at each others’ tails.

The other week they invented a game where A lay on the bed and M jumped over her or, at least, mostly over her. Knees into chest seemed to be ok, as they were both shrieking with laughter. That is until the inevitable head clash; I held one sobbing child on each knee until the tears stopped and no sooner did that happen than my daughter threw herself down on the bed, looking at her brother with a big grin. He bounced back to his feet.

* * *

I’m the youngest of three so I don’t remember what we were like at this age. I only remember us as older children. My oldest sister always seemed so grown-up. No matter how much I grew I couldn’t catch up. Starting high school I felt like I was in her shadow. But I idolised her too, choosing subjects she had studied when she had started. My middle sister had that ability to play part of the older wiser sibling unit, only to flip and play annoying younger sibling with me. And we were annoying. Especially that time we watched Lady and the Tramp and we imitated the actually quite racist cats ‘We are Siamese if you please, purrrr’ . I say ‘that time’ but it was many times. Heck I can hear her finishing that sentence as I type.

giphy

I’ve always felt lucky to have grown up with my two sisters. So I did want my son to have that. Perhaps a pregnancy barely a month after my mother died was less than ideal timing. But, for all the difficulties of the last few years of our life, I know this is one way my family is very blessed.

The Christmas before my mother died my sisters and I re-staged some of our childhood photos. The photo with my sisters dressed as clowns, me standing proudly next to them in a onesie and gumboots. My sister reading with great concentration an upside down picture book. My other sister with ham on her head – at a wedding! The time I thought lifting my skirt to cover my face while I sat on a chair would be less embarrassing than a photo of me sitting in a chair . My mother loved it, she laughed and laughed.

I wonder, did I know what we were giving her then? Not just a laugh, or a trip down memory lane, not just a thanks for the good times. It was also an affirmation that all that work, every sibling squabble she had soothed, every frustrating afternoon, had been worth it. Here were her three children, together, with bonds that hold them close still.

* * *

My children love to bounce on our bed. They turn the radio on, A bouncing her knees while M jumps around. A few days ago M reached out suddenly and pushed A. I started to intervene, but then I realised she was laughing. Laughing and laughing as she fell through the air and then landing -whumpf- on the soft bed. Then -whumpf- M lands next to her. Their eyes are sparkling as they turn towards each other.

This. This is the start of something wonderful.