Roll up, roll up!
In any single week I can be called upon to don a number of hats; and not just for work.
We’re doing an office refurb at the moment so Trusty and I have had to learn a fair bit about lighting and fire regs. Then we’ve been learning a new database – fun, but challenging. We’ve also been finishing off our new website, writing sales emails, getting my number 3 child through SATS, supporting Trusty’s number 2 child on the run up to GCSE’s, organising wedding outfits for my numbers 1, 2 and 3 children, wading through catering suppliers and photographers, keeping up to date with the quickly changing data protection legislation, making sure children get where they need to go – both of us across 2 families. And did I mention the mountain of paperwork Trusty got involved in for a visa for her number 1 child’s imminent trip to Russia.
In amongst all this we’ve made sure school runs are done, hugs given, trip money paid (usually at the last minute) and the right instrument goes to school on the right day.
What I haven’t managed is to check the swimming bag (last week’s damp costume and towel, but she’s only going to get wet again, right?), chase up the violin practice book (the second one that’s gone astray from Amazon), pay Guide subs (left until the last meeting of the term). I’ve also repeatedly double booked appointments, to the point that people have started checking, not long after I’ve made an appointment, to make sure it’s still OK.
If you want to understand how bad things have got, I had a wedding planner. Explained in detail my car crash of a life and told her what I wanted and could she please get on with it. When I failed to respond to her innumerable daily emails, she dumped me, because I wasn’t needy enough and refused to prioritise her needs above everyone else’s.
That’s right folks, I’ve been dumped by a wedding planner!
I’m being flippant, to a point – everything above is absolutely true, even if a comedic tone has been applied; probably to make me feel better about my failings. It’s a common worry for lots of parents, men as well as women, the guilt because of things forgotten or the lack of family time (or family time interrupted by calls and emails). And the duck/swan thing…you know, serene on the surface and paddling below is hugely annoying; like any of us have the time for this level of pretence.
I’ve been a parent for 11 years, the first few were as a completely lone parent – no family nearby, a minimal support network and working full-time, some of it in London. I had a choice, let the guilt build up and consume me, taking away what little time I had with my daughter, or make my peace with it and make sure the time together was good, however brief. On a Saturday morning when she was still a baby, I would get out of bed and give her a 7am feed and then we would lay on the sofa together – her snuggled on my chest – and we would sleep. That extra couple of hours made a huge difference to my mind-set and I was heartbroken the first Saturday she decided she didn’t want to go back to sleep.
Even now the guilt is there. It never really goes, like the tiredness, both are constant companions. My daughter is now 11 and doesn’t go to bed until much later and she’s also an early riser; an impatient early riser demanding of my attention. By the time she’s gone to bed and I’ve done the bits of housework that absolutely have to be done and I’ve tried to snatch an hour with Mr PtG it can be nearer 11pm or later. Usually sleep is restless and always less than the 8 hours some smartarse reckons an adult needs.
I don’t have a magic formula – or wand – that will help you manage your life. I’m also not going to blow smoke up your bum and tell you you’re wonderful and how no one would believe you’re disorganised etc. There is nothing I can say to make you feel less guilty or less tired, what I can say is that the people who are most vocal about being so wonderfully organised are using it as a means of making themselves feel better – rarely is it directed at your failings as a parent; although sometimes it can feel like it.
Find someone you can be honest with, and don’t be ashamed of sharing your epic parenting fails – maybe suggest that your local networking group you have an epic fail ‘show and tell’, have a laugh over it, get it out rather than sitting on it and stewing. If it helps, ask me about my latest fail – I’m always happy to share, and if my latest disaster makes you feel better, then you can have it with my blessing.
However you decide to deal with your guilt, make sure you do deal with it. Maybe you should embrace it, because when you look at things you’ll realise that your kids are fine and your partner is doing OK because after all she or he is an adult. All you’re doing is making memories and anecdotes for future years that you will laugh at – as a family, even if that family isn’t traditional and is made of children with different names, parents that aren’t called Mum or Dad and several generations of partner. Something else you don’t need to feel guilty about; the fluidity of human interactions is an outcome of modern life, not a fault of yours.
So if life is less like The Walton’s and more like P. T. Barnum’s Circus, make sure it’s the best damn circus ever. And remember, if your child calls to you as you lock the car door, it’s worth checking behind you…just to make sure you haven’t accidentally locked their thumb in the door.