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A mom and her two sins

Photo courtesy of Shutterstock

It's 7 am on a Wednesday.

My five-year-old bursts into our room like a whirlwind, and I blearily say good morning and remind him that he's going into school dressed in his onesie and wellies for a "wild rumpus day."

He replied, "Yes, I know. Don't forget we need to bring in sausages for the party".

Suddenly I'm wide awake and interrogating him; "What sausages? What party? What do you mean we're bringing sausages?!" I have a vague memory of going into school as a kid with sausage rolls or cheese and pineapple sticks for end-of-year parties, but I didn't think that was still a thing.

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bauble balls hang on christmas tree
Photo by Rodion Kutsaev on Unsplash

The countdown to Christmas is here.

In Christmases past, I've spent the week before Christmas Day frantically buying gifts for the kids and family and wrapping up presents on Christmas Eve when I could be chilling with a Prosecco and a festive movie.

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Clutter in the nursery.

Photo courtesy of Tatyana Dzemileva/Shutterstock

When you become a parent, you suddenly embark on several careers for which you have had little or no training. And you have no choice in the matter.

Sure, some parenting jobs are fun; tickle monster, a backup singer in their band, biscuit proprietor, actor (mainly superheroes in our house).

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This week we took the boys down to our local farm for overpriced pumpkins and instagram-worthy pictures. It was a lovely afternoon but after looking through our pictures and then loads from everyone else across Facebook and Instagram, it got me thinking about why pumpkin patch pictures seem to be so obligatory. And that behind every perfect photo is another story; of parents snapping at each other, grumpy kids, fights over who gets to hold the wheelbarrow, and endless requests for snacks.

At one point in the pumpkin field my three year old decided to bolt for the carpark, and upon seeing me chasing him and calling his name he just laughed and ran faster. I managed to stop him before he reached the steady stream of cars milling around but I was scared, cross, and extremely sweaty by the time I got to him. I told him off and he said he hated me. Shockingly, that little interaction wasn't featured in my Instagram post later that evening. Later a family member took a lovely photo of the four of us, although our threenager refused to look at the camera, but what isn't decipherable from that snapshot is the argument my husband and I had before we got in the car and trundled over to farm (nothing too serious but enough for me to pout the entire thirty minute drive). The danger with the superficial, image-based side of social media is that often it doesn't portray an accurate representation of someone's life, or in this case – their day out.

When it comes to children and parenting we seem reluctant to share anything problematic about our offspring. Every picture of them will be an idyllic version of the truth; everyone is smiling, siblings hugging, clean faces, and rosy cheeks. People who see these pictures may think that these kids are always in excellent moods and behaving perfectly, which is almost always untrue. The life we paint on social media is often very different from the reality, and the reasons why we do this are unclear. On some level maybe we portray the life we want to have. Or perhaps we fear that honesty could result in people thinking less of us, or judging us or our children. I know that if I complain about the more difficult parts of motherhood, it doesn't mean that I don't love them fiercely and unconditionally. But I do worry that if I put anything negative on those social media platforms it will seem as though I don't appreciate how lucky I am.

When my youngest was a baby he got up in the night a lot and I was exhausted and grumpy during those months. When I look back on pictures and posts from the time though, all I have are endless snaps of his perfect little face, and all I can think about is how little he was, and remember those lovely newborn cuddles. We often look back fondly on the good parts and let our memory drift over the horrors of multiple night time feeds and 3am despair. I wish I'd taken a few photos of the dark circles under my eyes, or taken a late night breastfeeding selfie. He's only three and already I am glossing over how hard that time was.

I love taking photos of my boys and sharing them; but I'm also very aware that social media can make me feel guilty or inadequate when I see other parents posting things I haven't done with them. If I spot a kid the same age as my eldest age reading books he can't yet, or see someone's kids seemingly behaving impeccably in the pub, I start to worry. This is when I remind myself that firstly – every child is different and developing at their own pace, and secondly – pictures are deceiving and don't tell the whole story. If scrolling through a steady stream of perfect Instagram kids is making you feel a like a bad parent, tuck your phone away for a while and make yourself a cuppa (or pour yourself a large wine!). The perfect family doesn't exist in the real world, I promise.

Photo courtesy of Lauren Nolan

Being a parent can be rough.

This week alone, I've faced homework deadlines, a sickness bug, multiple tantrums, a nasty smash on the head (their head, not mine). I've been yelled at for breaking character when I was supposed to be Wolverine, and I've read The Gruffalo about a thousand times (feels like).

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Everyone is a perfect parent with the best intentions, until you actually have kids, and then you realise how incredibly naive you were. I often look back at my idealised version of the mum I'd be; clean and stylish, calm, patient, organic healthy snacks in my changing bag, and I laugh and laugh because clearly that wasn't going to be the case. I wasn't like that as an adult pre-kids so I'm not sure why I imagined I'd have a personality overhaul. In reality it's more like; milky way bars in my handbag, creased T-shirt, cereal on my jeans, patience level dangerously close to zero and already thinking about my post-bedtime wine even though it's only 10am. So here's my top seven things I planned not to do as a parent that I quickly did a U-turn on faster than our dear old PM.

1.Tablets at restaurants (the electronic kind)

Screen time gets a bad reputation but it's so effective at keeping them from causing havoc in a restaurant that I quickly abandoned any pretence I had of keeping them away from screens in public. Now I whip out their Amazon fires the second their tiny bums hit the seats, and you best believe I made sure they were fully charged so I can drink my pint in peace. I do wrestle the rectangular robot babysitters away from their (surprisingly strong) hands when their food arrives, partly because I don't want chicken nugget grease on them, and partly to give myself some guilt alleviation; they weren't actually eating with the screens on so it's fine, right? RIGHT?! As a quick aside, there are some amazing educational, problem solving, and creative games out there; so even though we might receive a withering glance from the boomers at the table opposite - not all screen time is bad. And I guarantee that the table with the judgmental glances would be begging me to switch them back on if I let my kids roam about; they will steal your chips, and they will ask you if you have a "winky dink" or not.

2. Bribery

In an ideal world your children would be behave impeccably with no incentive other then their own innate goodness, and unquestioning obedience, but unfortunately this is not the case. Sometimes a little bribe is needed. For example; they don't want to leave the park, but maybe there's a snack in the car. Or they don't want to eat their broccoli but there's cheesecake in the fridge for pudding. Or they don't want to do their homework but there might be a treat on Friday if they try their best all week. Maybe bribery is a bit strong; lets call it incentives instead. Good practice for when they join the workforce, probably.

3.Happy meals/ Takeaways

I'm not a big fan of the golden arches and resisted giving the boys a happy meal for as long as I could, but when they did have one they predictably loved it. It's alright as a treat; especially if you're heading home after a day out and it's already tea time.

4. Dummies / Pacifiers / Soothers (whatever you call them. Plastic nipples basically)

I had way too many cocktails and had a bit of a rant at my friend about how much I despise dummies recently; but that was ridiculous of me because my eldest did have a dummy for a while, and as parents we just do what we can to get through the day (or night, as is probably the case). I only dislike them because of seeing kids way too old wandering around with them, but again - who am I to judge, it's not as if my parenting is beyond reproach (as this whole blog post will testify). We said we weren't going to use a dummy and then we did, for a bit, if only to give my poor nipples a break during the breastfeeding days, and to keep him from screaming in the supermarket when I felt overwhelmed and like I was doing a terrible job. When the dummy started falling out during the night it lost it's usefulness and they went in the bin. No dummy fairy, no ceremony - just straight in the black bin like a half-eaten fish finger. (Full disclosure - I don't bin half-eaten fish fingers I eat them, that's why my diet isn't going so well. I might edit this bit out later).

5. Shouting

I didn't want to shout, I still don't - but I do. The worst thing is that it rarely seems to work; so on top of feeling rubbish about losing my temper, I also usually find myself in a worse position then before the shouting. With the exception of "watch out!" kind of shouts, of course, which do their job well. The rest of the time shouting just makes us all miserable. But in the moment when my reservoir of patience is all dried up and one of them does something infuriating, I can't seem to help it. It's usually a sign I'm getting a bit frazzled and need a cup of tea and a few deep breaths, rather than anything the boys have done that's spectacularly awful. I live in hope that the amount of shouting I'm doing will decrease.

6. Sugar

When Francis was born we kept him away from sugar until well after his first birthday, except for fruit of course. William, being the second child, was well accustomed to chocolate and sweets by age one and enjoyed an entire packet of chocolate buttons after his first year jabs. I'm surprised we lasted so long with Frank, who is now a huge fan of anything sugary. They both are, and they hang around the birthday cake at parties like a couple of hyenas. Sugar is addictive and unhealthy, but it's basically unavoidable. I just try to limit it and make sure they know it's a treat. The idea that I could keep them away from sugar for an extended period of time was just unachievable.

7. Lies

When I was an expectant mother I thought I wouldn't lie to my child, ever. But of course I do. Firstly; you can style it however you like but the Tooth Fairy and Father Christmas are lies. Magical, wonderful lies. And then there are the mundane everyday lies, like when you eat their leftover birthday cake with a glass of wine and then pretend you have no clue what happened to it. There's also lies we tell to protect their innocence and ensure they have a childhood for as long as possible, and all these lies come from a place of love. I read something once that said big, life-changing lies can be really damaging, as children do pick up that there's something that is being kept from them. I guess that's a judgement thing. But in terms of saying "I will never lie to my children" - my assertion is that you probably will.

The reality of being a parent is often wildly different to how we imagined it would be. Perhaps we put too much pressure on ourselves to become an idealised version of a mother or father; something we can strive to be but never fully become. As parents we are flawed just like everyone else, and although you may not live up to the expectations you had, the chances are that your kid thinks you're pretty great. And that is simply wonderful.