I feel somewhat exposed writing this, mainly because it means admitting that I have not been able to achieve at least one of my parenting goals. “A little respect (just a little bit)”, powered Queen of Soul, Aretha Franklin. “Give a little respect to-o-o-o me”, warbled King of Camp, Andy Bell. That’s all I want. No, not a guaranteed karaoke hit. Just a little bit of respect.
So I concede: my girls are less afraid of the consequences of pissing me off than they are of the consequences of pissing their father off. Somehow, they have worked out that if they tilt their heads slightly to the left and give me a wry smile, I will let them get away with having 5 custard cream biscuits or with (over)staying at their friend’s house when I have told them to get their shoes on because we need to leave, while they wouldn’t broach either subject with daddy. How did this happen?
I always thought that ours would be a parentship of equals. I didn’t ever want to have to have to pull the “wait till your father gets home” card with the kids. That’s super lame. So, instead, I repeat myself a billion times and then I shout (yep, still doing that) at them when they ignore my requests to do something. I recite those three powerful words in my head: choose your battles. I tell myself that it’s just not that important. But it is. To me. I don’t want to have to shout before I am taken seriously. I just want to, wait for it, ask for something reasonable to be done, be listened to and have it be done. Am I asking for too much? Well, no, I’m not, because it often seems that as soon as they hear daddy’s key turn in the door, they buck up their ideas and start conforming. What the actual f*ck?! Frustration ensues and The Photographer usually advises me that I need to be firmer with the kids. Erm, excuse me, but I am being firm thank you very much…or at least as firm as I can be.
I have observed a number of parents since becoming one myself. I have talked to other mum-friends, mums who adopt a range of discipline styles, about this, and am often surprised that some very badass, high-powered, career women are complete pussys when it comes to disciplining their kids. So, I have convinced myself that it must be a mummy thing. There must be something physiological that prevents us from being harsh with our kids. Like that whole fight-or-flight response to a crying baby thingy.
I know all that stuff about kids needing to have boundaries and I do believe that my kids know how far they can push me. I shout at my kids. I tell them off. I punish them by taking things away from them and sending them to their rooms to sit in silence. True, they get on my last nerve at times. True, I want to grab them by the scruff of their necks sometimes, look them straight in the eyes and just ask them “why?” But, when I look in the mirror at the end of the day, I know that the fault lies with me. I do all these things, and my heart breaks everytime I look at their sad and shocked little faces; their faces that say, “Mummy, how could you? I thought we were cool? You’ve changed…” I remember the 40-plus weeks that I carried them in me. I remember the trauma of their births and how I so nearly lost both of them. I remember the first year of their lives that we spent together, full-time, and how we bonded over third-degree tears, c-section slashes, colic and mastitis. Oh. Em. Gee. I am a complete Pussy Mum.
As a mummy, I don’t think I can be genuinely angry at my kids, and kids are all about authenticity. They can tell if your heart isn’t really in it when you are asking them to get to bed, so they don’t go to bed. They know when you’re just going through the motions when you tell them “5 more minutes and then we’re going”, so they continue to play beyond 5 minutes and probably closer to 20 minutes.
But, then I have a bit more of a think about it and I realise that it doesn’t have to be like this. Growing up, my parents were both very loving, and I’m not sure I would change much about my life back then, but my mum was definitely the disciplinarian. She doled out the punishments, sometimes with the aid of a wooden spoon (she was old school). My dad rarely raised his voice to me, but I knew not to mess with him and gave both of them the respect that they were due as my parents. I may not have liked being asked to go and get the remote control from the other side of the room, and I may possibly have muttered something not very nice under my breath, but I did as I was asked. I don’t want to have to use my wooden spoons for anything other than food preparation, and I know that there has to be another way. But, these girls have the ability to wrap me around their little fingers…all three of us know that.
So, what do I do about it? Or is it too late? Have the roles been set now? Must I resign myself to being a Pussy Mum? How many of you mamas and papas have been able to establish and maintain respect from day one? And how many of you are, like me, fighting to get your respect back?