A friend of mine, possibly suffering from the same kind of parenting guilt that plagues us all from time to time, recently asked on an online forum…
What do other stay at home parents do with their children all day?
If she was looking to be reassured (as I was) that leaving the house with two children under three deserves a medal in itself, let alone attending scheduled activities, then she would have been sorely disappointed.
The responses did not make me feel particularly worthy as a parent.
The majority of mums who chimed in said that they took their children out every day, rain or shine. Some did soft play, playgroups, sports or other classes multiple times a week, with noble pursuits such as park visits, feeding the ducks, going to the zoo, and a plethora of playdates and lunches with friends and visits to grandparents to fill up the time.
My routine is fairly predictable.
We do have ‘exciting’ trips out to the farm or the zoo on occasion, but these things get expensive and are inevitably stressful and disappointing, so most days (particularly when it is cold and wet, for I am most certainly a fair weather parent) it goes something like this:
All night: Don’t get nearly enough sleep.
5am: Get woken by the baby (again). He is not going back to sleep. Swear a lot in my head. Feed baby. Get puked on. Promise to change sheets later. Can’t quite bring myself to open my eyes despite baby poking and pinching me with his Wolverine talons. Resolve to cut them when I am a bit more awake and won’t take off his fingertips.
7am: Baby falls asleep in my bed. Try to go back to sleep, and fail. Rather than getting up and getting dressed like I promised I would do from now on, stay in bed and look at Facebook.
Around 8am: Realise the toddler is up and probably has been for some time. Eventually sneak away from the baby and go in to see her. Baby wakes up. Change nappies amid protests. Go downstairs for breakfast in our pyjamas.
8.30am: Try and tempt my toddler upstairs to get washed and dressed. She is now playing and doesn’t want to. Wish I’d done this before breakfast. Relent and bring down clothes with the intention of getting her changed downstairs. Baby does a big poo, take him upstairs to get changed. He is now the only family member wearing actual clothes.
9am: If I have an activity planned for this morning, usually (shudder) soft play, start to panic that I’m not dressed and therefore I’m probably going to be late. Get dressed. If we have no plans, fleetingly consider getting dressed and taking kids to the park or garden centre. Ask toddler if she wants to go out, knowing it is likely she will say no.
10am: Either go out just in time to be about 15 minutes late, or put the baby down for a nap. Maybe do some housework. Try and lure the toddler into the garden because that seems better than sitting in the same room all day but she throws a tantrum so we stay indoors and play Happyland or kitchens while I mentally create lists of things I will never have the time or inclination to do, and try to sleep with my eyes open.
12pm: Baby is usually awake by now. Feed the children (or more accurately, throw some food their way and let them feed themselves. It’s lazier, although infinitely messier).
1pm: If we’ve not left the house yet, go out. Probably to a playgroup or the park, maybe to a friend’s house for a toddler playdate if I fancy refereeing an exciting game of ‘MINES’, ‘NO, MINES!’ over a cold cup of tea. Immediately regret decision.
3pm: Most groups and activities finish around now. Calculate time until bedtime. Realise it’s quite a long time. Attempt to get the baby to take his second nap. He is not keen. Stick toddler in front of some godawful children’s TV programme whilst I try and persuade the baby to sleep.
3:30pm: Play. This could be one of a number of exciting activities; perhaps ruining play doh, counting to twenty slightly inaccurately many, many times over, colouring, reading books we both already know all the words to, singing LETITGO repeatedly, the toddler version of hide and seek (sitting on the sofa with a cushion on your head and giggling) or something that means I have a lot of tidying up to do.
4.30pm: If he’s actually gone to sleep at all in the first place, baby wakes up (this is quite an optimistic best case scenario). Almost dinner time. Wish I’d been proactive and cooked something at the weekend in readiness. Baby is unhappy and tired. Listen to the toddler shouting READY YET, READY YET on repeat until dinner is ready.
6pm: Bathtime, and all the fun that goes with it. On the home stretch now.
6:30pm: husband arrives home. Exhale. If he’s not home yet, start mentally berating him with each minute that goes by. It’s definitely his fault the trains are shit.
7pm: Put children to bed, usually against their will. Say I’m going to bed at 9pm to catch up on sleep. Get wine.
8pm: Eat dinner, drink wine even though I promised myself I wasn’t going to do this during the week any more, watch TV and intend on having an early night.
9pm: Don’t go to bed.
10pm: Don’t go to bed.
10:30pm: Fall asleep on my iPad and admit defeat.
11pm: Can’t sleep. Remember I did not cut the baby’s nails. Wish I’d changed the sheets.
Maybe there is still time for me to become a Pinterest-style ‘stimulating their senses every waking moment’ type of mum.
Maybe. But even when (let’s be optimistic here!) I’m getting a decent amount of sleep at night, I fear it’s unlikely.
I do try. But for every successful trip out, there are many more like the last time we went to the park, when it took us 45 minutes to leave the house. By the time we arrived, the toddler, having walked all of ten minutes, was tired and stroppy.
Having bundled the kids up like eskimo children I had neglected to put on a suitable coat myself and I was shivering from the cold, and the baby had fallen asleep in the sling.
The toddler didn’t want to get her Peppa Pig wellies muddy so I had to carry her screaming across the park to get to the swings, trying not to crush the baby.
It was fabulous. The kind of bonding experience new parents must dream of.
I think I am probably just much better suited to my signature lackadaisical attitude towards parenting.
I may never win mother of the year (I’m not as good as Kerry Katona, obviously!) and I guess I never will get that medal, but hey – they’re happy, they’re bright, they’re loved and they’re clearly not doing too badly… So neither am I.