These days, the idea of carpe diem seems to have influenced most things, including parenting styles. I have nothing against seizing the day or living in the present. In fact, I am often star-struck by people who can scoff at tomorrow and enjoy every moment of their lives, as if it was their last. But both my upbringing and temperament have made me lock up the carpe diem dream in an aspirational box, which I hope to open sometime in the future.
Well-meaning friends and popular lifestyle bloggers suggest that life is about jumping in muddy puddles with my child and not so much in stressing about responsibilities and chores. That the dirty dishes, the work email, the family commitments, all the “grown-up” things can wait. What can’t wait are the pillow fights, the chasing of seagulls and the bubble blowing. Because, before we blink, our children will grow up, and won’t need the extra cuddles or even want to hang out with us anymore. While that may be true, it is not the only truth.
What makes people think that our children will only remember us for all the things we didn’t do with them? Why would they remember us for every time we got back late from work and missed kissing them good night or chose to clean the house over playing peek-a-boo or ignored their demands because we had to attend to an ailing grandparent? And why won’t they have any memory of how we were able to go on that holiday only because Daddy worked extra hours over a few weekends or how lovely the clean sheets smelled because Mummy always used a lavender fabric conditioner in the laundry, or how we would sit on the floor sorting bills and make paper planes out of the junk mail?
And even if we did nothing fun while getting chores done, what’s the big deal about them having to do their own thing while mum and dad get some mundane (but necessary) work done? Why do our children need to be entertained all the time? What’s wrong with getting bored, once in a while? Boredom and solitude are often the proud parents of imagination and creativity. I remember those school holiday afternoons in the balcony, when I pretended I was a bus conductor and demanded tickets from all the potted plants, who were the passengers in my bus.
And what’s so wrong about exposing our vulnerabilities to our children? So what if they see me frazzled and stressed once in a while? Why do I have to be this picture of patience, with nerves of steel? Apart from the sheer exhaustion I’d feel in knowing that I’m always “being watched”, would I not be setting unreal standards of behaviour that they would then expect from other people? Not everyone is going to hide their anger, frustration or anxiety just because “the kids are around”. Not pleasant to witness, perhaps, but these are real emotions that I’d rather not cocoon them from. I’d like them to know that it’s perfectly normal for Mummy and Daddy to have arguments. It’s quite okay if parents sometimes don’t talk to each other when they are angry. But that usually does not last long as there is too much to do, discuss and laugh about together.
I am fascinated by the different parenting styles I come across every day. Some leave me so “noticeably” inspired that the family jokes how “I must have been reading those blogs that advocate a laid-back, stress-free style of parenting”. One in which a mum’s messy hair and the family’s messy home are often signs of how much fun the children are having. One in which the mum must be cheerful and take everything in her stride. One in which the children are forever in Disneyland.
Does that make me sound like an uptight person who has no sense of humour? Trust me, I do not run a military regime at home. There are a few routines, but none that can’t be broken. Every now and then, we let go and join the madness: have ice cream for breakfast, let the dishes pile up, have movie nights with an overdose of junk food, turn the music up, switch the phones off to “concentrate” on Lego, go off route chasing a rainbow (and get late for work).
Childhood is precious, and we all want it to be the best for our children. But is it all about dancing and playing in the rain? Isn’t childhood also about learning that every action has a consequence? That if a work doesn’t get done one day, it will still need to be done the next day, or the next? That our emotions need to be expressed, whether good or bad (as long as we are not harming anyone)?
The fact that I care about these things doesn’t mean I’m not having fun with my little girl. I do care about a tidy home (sure, I sometimes cheat and tuck the dirty dishes into the oven when people drop in without notice). But I also have pillow fights in unmade beds until she squeals with joy. So, if she will remember me for losing it once in a while and being particular about certain things, I am sure she will remember me for all the fun and frolic too.
Deblina Sen is a mother and a learning solutions designer based in Australia.