Four days ago I made an important decision. I decided to put my children first. Yes, yes I know as parents most of us would jump up and down and exclaim in horror that of course we do, if anyone were to dare claim that we didn’t. But do we? Really? I mean in every moment of every day consciously and deliberately put our children above anything else. Above watching TV, above folding laundry, washing dishes, checking emails or Facebook or any of the other thousands of little things that make up a day. How many times a day are we guilty of saying “wait” or “in a minute”, “not now” or “can you please get off me I am trying to…”
I know I am guilty of all the above and so many more and I want to stop.
I am not sure there is any single thing that started this change for me but I can point to a few specific occurrences that have contributed.
I was beginning to feel guilty. I was feeling overwhelmed and tired and wanting nothing more than just 30 minutes of time out from my squabbling, attention seeking, in-your-face children and I hated myself for it. My children are not naughty, or even overly loud but they are insistent and I just wanted out, even if only for a few minutes at a time. After sneaking out the back door for what seemed the millionth time that day I stood at the washing line, taking as long as I possibly could to hang the meager load and I wondered what it would be like to have children who didn’t insist on bouncing all over me every time I am in the same room as them. To have children that went to bed at a reasonable hour and woke happy in the morning and didn’t feel the need to start fighting the minute they saw each other. I felt that even though I seemed to be doing ok (my children are smart, polite and reach all the standard milestones months earlier than the average) I must, in fact, be doing something wrong.
Then I started noticing so many updates on Facebook, blog posts and pinterest pins on happiness and how to find it. They all said the same thing. Be thankful for what you have and live in the present. Be thankful, be present. Over and over, be thankful, be present.
Finally I read a collection of heart-wrenchingly beautiful letters written by a grieving couple to their child who died in the womb. It got me thinking, as I gazed at my own children through the haze of my own tears, how very lucky I am.
You see I never thought I would have children, was always led, by doctors, to believe that I couldn’t. Amazed barely covers how my husband and I felt when we found out I was pregnant with Danger. Actually we had an argument that morning and had gone our separate ways to work not speaking to each other. At work I felt, well, odd, and realising I had felt odd for a couple of weeks I took a pregnancy test in the public toilets in the mall. I thought nothing of it as I discretely hid the test in my pocket to read when I got back to my store, after all I couldn’t be pregnant could I? I was merely positively eliminating a possible cause for my feeling different. I honestly thought I was imagining things when the test revealed a little pink cross confirming what I had, til then, believed impossible. At once numb and exhilarated I called Action Man and, ignoring the terse “what?” that he answered with, I told him our good news. I could hear his smile before he even uttered a word. Immediately the argument of that morning was forgotten, he was shouting his joy for all of his unit mates to hear and they, in response, were cheering their congratulations. And my whole world shifted focus.
Suddenly I was terrified! What if I did something wrong? What if some careless or ignorant move on my part caused something to happen to this tiny, impossible, desperately wanted, miracle little argument ender? My baby, possibly my one chance at a complete family. Thankfully I found a fabulous midwife as the last months of my pregnancy were anything but smooth. The delivery, worse, much much worse, though that deserves a post all of its own.
By the time I got to hold my little man for the first time though nothing that had come before it mattered at all. My happiness was complete.
Then when Danger was 9 months old, and growing into such a funny and handsome little character, I fell pregnant again. Sunshine’s birth was the polar opposite of my previous experience. Returning to the same midwife, I had an ally and an advocate who fought hard to make sure that the same mistakes were not made this time around. Sunshine arrived on a calm and relaxed, sunny Tuesday morning. Her ready smile, cheeky blue eyes and flame red hair have brought light and love into our lives ever since. I am lucky, so very lucky.
So as I blinked at my children through those tears of grief for these parents I have never met, for their child they will always love but never again hold, that I thought how unfair it was of me to give my precious babies anything less than my everything when these unknown people would give anything to be able to do the same.
Please don’t misunderstand me here, I don’t mean that I intend to give up all other pursuits in my life and spend all my time just playing with my children (though that would be nice). I am also not suggesting that I will give them everything they want, I want to raise happy children not demanding, entitled little monsters. I am also not saying that I will sacrifice my personal needs in favour of the demands of my children, sometimes the only way to put them first is to take the time to recharge your own batteries.
How can I explain this? It occurred to me that so much of my time was spent physically in the same room as my children while my mind was elsewhere. What’s for dinner tonight, where did I put that box of batteries, will the courier finally deliver that thing I ordered today? My hands were busy, sorting, folding, typing, and because my children were playing around my feet, and I was on hand to separate them when they started fighting, I was deluding myself into thinking I was ‘parenting’ them. It finally occurred to me that all of this bouncing on me, wailing at each other, late bed times and destructive behaviour was nothing more than a plea for my attention. Well Duh! Only every parenting book ever written could have told me that but some things you need to learn on your own.
So I made my decision. I am lucky enough that we can afford for me to stay home and raise our children and that is exactly what I will do. I will still be wondering what is for dinner and where those batteries are, I will still sort and fold and type but as I am doing it I will be present for my children. I will acknowledge them every time they try to get my attention and I will stop what I am doing (even if only briefly) to see what it is they want to tell me. I will not step over or dodge my little girl as she ambles toward me but pause for a cuddle or a tickle. Now when my little boy calls for my attention with his usual “Mummy, Mummy” I smile and say “yes Darling?” and really listen to what he has to say and when my little girl waddles up to me I stop and let her hug my legs while I stroke her hair and rub her back.
In 4 days I have made 2 tiny changes in the way I interact with my charges.
In 4 days my children have stopped fighting with each other.
In 4 days I have seen more smiles, heard more giggles than I can recall in the last 4 weeks.
In 4 days my son has told me some wonderfully creative stories.
In 4 days my daughter has shown me she loves to dance.
In 4 days bed times have gotten earlier, sleeps deeper and mornings calmer.
In 4 days my house has become a little messier, my children a lot happier.
In 4 days I have become a better mother.