Parenting in the Age of Facebook

Yesterday my tiny lady had a meltdown. By meltdown I mean a major, off the scale, shrieking at the top of her voice tsunami of toddler emotion. It was epic. It started with my husband and I coaxing her into her buggy. We managed to get her strapped in but then, as if possessed by a demonic spirit, she began to strain against the straps; yelling as if we were trying to torture her. With tense voices we encouraged each other to stay calm; terse, short sentences were the order of the day. We attempted to carry on as if we couldn’t hear anything while all the world (or so it seemed ) stared at us. Finally I decided to carry her. This didn’t help and the screaming continued. We were on our way to buy some much needed warm weather clothes (neither my husband nor I had quite believed the optimistic Irish heatwave forecast). In the end we decided to divide and conquer. My husband went shopping while I took the toddler into Tesco to buy juice; yes I committed the ultimate parenting sin of bribery. Five minutes later – and trust me it was a very long and brutal five minutes- we were sitting down outside Tesco with a four pack of juice and peace had returned to my world. Yes, yes perhaps I could have solved it without the bribe but sue me I just wanted the shouting to stop.

As we sat there I started thinking how very quick we are to judge each other as parents in this age of Facebook and instant status updates. The looks of some of the customers in Tesco were heavy with disapproval. I caught the odd sympathetic glance but these were few and far between. The majority of people seemed to wonder why on earth my child was so upset. Welcome to the world of parenting a toddler, I thought grimly. I could only imagine the status updates the incident might have sparked off. I am guessing none would have been very supportive.

I have been following the case of the parents whose child recently fell into the gorilla enclosure in Ohio zoo. There has now been an investigation launched to assess whether or not the parents are to blame. While I wholeheartedly wish this majestic creature could have been saved I wonder have we been too quick to point the finger at the parents? How many of us have lost children when in a brief second of inattention we do not have our eyes on them? We are all just human and none of us are perfect.

I remember, as a child, going on a shopping expedition with my parents. My brother, who was only about two at the time, was carefully kept close by means of the controversial toddler harness. My Dad had a tight grip on him while my mum browsed the clothes section of M&S (note – how terribly restrictive for my poor mother to have her whole family follow her around clothes shopping). Suddenly, my brother had somehow gotten free and was racing through the aisles; joyous to be finally let fly. However, his flight of freedom soon ended with a bump to the head and a visit to the hospital.

It got me thinking if this happened today would my family have ended up on Facebook, my father widely criticised for allowing his child to break free? Would my mother have been judged for trying to take five minutes to herself to do some shopping? Would there have been cries of ‘This would never have happened to my child’ or ‘Parents should have watched child more carefully?’ A simple incident like this could have gained my family a level of unwanted internet fame. I wonder are we far less understanding these days or do we just simply have a greater outlet for our disapproval? Access to more ears to pour our judgment into?

I don’t know about you but I do think we are too quick to judge, too quick to update our statuses without thinking and too quick to throw our opinions out there without considering who we might be wounding. Remember, be kind, for everyone you meet is fighting their own hard battle.

Lidless Beakers – now I’ve heard it all!

Today I discovered that Tulsa (the Irish Child and Family Agency) have announced that lidded beakers are no longer allowed for children once they reach the age of 12 months. Any service found to be offering lidded beakers to toddlers aged one and up will be found to be non-compliant. My first thought was – seriously?? With all the issues facing the childcare sector and childcare professionals Tulsa is choosing to focus on this? What’s next? Services will be considered non-compliant for offering bibs to one year olds? This is ignorance at it’s very best! Let’s ignore the real problems here and get rid of those dangerous lidded beakers. Obviously these are having such a detrimental effect on children’s development!

To my mind what is having a worse effect on children’s development is having inspectors who are blind to the real problems faced by childcare staff. The staff who work in these services are under-paid, under-resourced and under-valued. Yet, everyday, they don their uniforms and do their very best for the children in their care. They put themselves under enormous pressure creating exciting yet educational curriculums, introducing new activities and teaching children basic social skills like toilet-training and making friends. They do so much more than their job descriptions would have us believe. Why exactly are Tulsa focusing on lidded beakers while ignoring the very real problems of staff?

Perhaps because they are not really bothered to find a solution? Childcare staff do not have a strong powerful union like Siptu in their corner so their problems can easily be overlooked without too much uproar. Parents are struggling to find money to pay for childcare but staff are struggling to survive on the low wages they are paid. This cannot be allowed to continue. I fear, though, until a strong union of childcare workers is formed things will remain much the same and Tulsa will continue to care more about beakers than staff.

On a less serious but no less important note it is surely parents who decide what type of beaker they want their child to drink from. It is not Tulsa’s place to tell us what type of cup our child should be using. As the parent of a wobbly toddler I would  not approve of her using a lidless beaker – my laundry hamper is full enough than you very much! If a Tulsa inspector would like to do my extra laundry for me work away but this announcement has made me very grateful my daughter is attending a childminder once a week and not a crèche. I can only hope parents who do have children in creches do not feel obligated or forced to comply with this ridiculous new rule.

The reality of ‘me time’

Today my very kind mother sent me off for a few precious hours of ‘me time’. Anyone who looks after their child full time will appreciate that this is like winning the fabled Golden Ticket, you feel like it’s Christmas morning and your birthday all rolled into one. Whenever I am home my mom always gives me as much breaks as she can so big thank you mum!

So there I was on my way to have a coffee in the local shopping centre. As I walked in the door my eye snagged on one of Those Machines. Parents will know what exactly what I am referring to. For those of you who have not had the luxury of losing half a day’s pay on one of these babies I will explain. You the parent insert money into the machine while your little monkey clambers aboard to drive beside Bob the Builder, Fireman Sam or God Forbid the infamous Peppa Pig. This ride will last barely a minute and before you know it said child will be pleading with you to part with more of the grocery money (they always have these devil machines just outside your local supermarket so you can’t avoid them when you desperately need nappies and milk). Like the mug that you have become since this child’s arrival you reach again for your wallet/purse. The sensible partner will then be forced to intervene leading to a major meltdown and one of those marital rows which make other couples more smug about their own relationship.

My husband and I recently discovered that by pretending these machines are ‘broken’  we can avoid all the extra drama of shopping with a toddler and little lady is quite happy to remain being wheeled around in the trolley – standing in with the groceries rather than in the appropriate seat but we will take what we can get.

Rant aside, I passed one of these machines this morning and found myself turning around to say ‘broken’. It was on the tip of my tongue when I noticed the very confused looking older gentleman beside me. I smiled weakly before fleeing the building, using the freezing wind to calm my red cheeks.

There are lots of perks to being the main person my tiny lady spends her days with but one of them isn’t appearing like a crazy lady in public shopping centres – neither is reaching for a hand that isn’t there when crossing the street or turning when someone else’s child screams out ‘mama’. Worst than all of these, however, is inexplicably missing her all of a sudden when you finally get some precious alone time. Typical.

The hard part to being grateful

This morning I read yet another article cajoling us to be grateful with our lot as parents.  I must admit that sometimes I get heartily tired of reading this claptrap. I’m sorry but to be brutally honest sometimes its bloody hard to be grateful…there are the moments when you have been awake since 3am and its now 6am and you know, you just know you aren’t going to get any sleep and if someone tells you be grateful for this time in life well you might just scream! Be grateful for sticky hands (thanks that was my new top), the sleepless nights (that no concealer can quite conceal) and the fact you don’t have five minutes to yourself.

Attached to this article was a poem that when I first read it (a few months ago) made me well up and hug my rugrat even tighter. Since then I’ve read it on numerous occasions in various moods. Today I read it and thought oh what utter crap! That was the mood I was in. It’s called ‘Once Last Time’ and it is basically about how children are only small for a very short time and that one day it will be the last time you rock them to sleep, the last time you hold their hand and the last time you wipe their s***** bottom (okay I made that last bit up). Essentially the perfect poem to read when you are close to tears and feel like a bad mother. Worry no more this poem will make you feel like one.

Just for the record I know my tiny lady won’t be tiny forever and I am so grateful for her and I would never want this time to just fly by me, unacknowledged and unappreciated. But I can’t pretend I am grateful for every moment or that in the midst of wiping wee off the carpet that I thank my lucky stars. Sometimes it sucks to be a parent. Yes it just sucks. It is like being tortured by a very small, very cute master villain who knows all your weak spots and can bring you to your knees in mere minutes. And sometimes you might want to run very, very far away.

You are not a bad parent for wishing this. You are not a bad parent to long for the day your child can wipe their own s***** bum! Nostalgia can be a dangerous thing. In the midst of whatever our current situation of course you will look back (through rose-tinted glasses) and think oh how I wish I knew how lucky I was back then. This poem is nostalgia at its worst. You may well look back, as an older person, and wish for these days again. But that’s because you will have long forgotten the vomit-filled days and tear-stained nights.

Now if you should read this poem I suggest you mentally tear it up. Don’t attach it to your fridge or burn the words into your brain. Yes we will have lots of ‘one last times’ as parents but we will also have so may firsts. Aren’t these worth celebrating and focusing on instead? They also come with the positive addition of not making you feel guilty!

So give yourself a break, don’t feel guilty that you aren’t ms. or mr. grateful one hundred per cent of the time. None of us are.