My name is Sarah, and I like my own kids. There; I’ve said it. Weight off my shoulders that is!
Now you might be thinking that admission is not much of a revelation. But for someone whose calling-card is to rant and swear about how her kids have got her absolutely frigging demented; admitting that I actually bloody love their company is huge.
It has been a slow, creeping realisation which has dawned on me over the long, long, long summer holidays (it’s seven weeks technically not six; just so you know). In this past week while they’ve been back at school and I’ve fully thrown myself back into work; I have been trying to work out what caused this shift. How come I didn’t end up in jail this summer? How come I didn’t ring my husband sobbing whilst hiding in the shed even once? How come I (whisper it) kind of enjoyed the days where we had nothing to do but hang about in the park with a football?
There is a lot of wanky middle-class parenting terminology out there which makes my toes curl…’lovebombing’, ‘playdates’, ‘helicoptering’. I could go on.
There is however; one wanky middle class parenting term which I now totally get. In fact I think it’s the reason I had such a brilliant summer with the kids… Ladies and Gentlemen, I give you ‘Leaning in’.
The concept of leaning in wasn’t originally anything to do with parenting. It came from that famous book by Sheryl Sandberg who was the biggest big cheese at Facebook despite having seventeen children under the age of five (there or thereabouts). The book was designed to help women push through that glass ceiling in their career by ‘not taking their foot off the gas, sitting at the table, pursuing challenges and taking risks.’
Reflecting over the past few days (Ooh that makes me sound good doesn’t it? Reflection indeed!), has made me realise that the sea change came this summer when I ‘leant in’ to my kids. Not consciously you understand… I haven’t had time for any conscious decisions for a good eighteen months.
I think somewhere along the line I must’ve decided I didn’t want to just survive the next ten years while my kids are young (counting down the minutes til wine o’clock every day); I want to actually relish them. This summer I have ‘leant in’ to my boys and in doing so found less stress and more acceptance (which before you say it is different from admitting defeat). Leaning in doesn’t mean waving the white flag when it comes to bad behaviour; it means me kind of meeting them where they are at their happiest, without trying to mould them into something I find more palatable. As much as I’d love to think they will one day lean in to me, say, by getting really into Pilates and shoe shopping; it’s looking unlikely. So if I want a bond, a real relationship, with my sons that is based on more than making packed lunches and telling them off; I need to be the one to do the leaning in.
Things I have accepted this summer:
I accepted that they think wee, poo, bum, butt, Wilson, foof, town halls, boobs (and the recently acquired PENIS and VAGINA) are the funniest words ever. I’ve accepted that all future song lyrics will be adapted to include these words and that they will be sung at full volume in the garden despite what shock it might cause our elderly neighbours. I’m going to allow myself to laugh out loud at all their classics such as ‘You’re just jealous cos you don’t have testicles’ …because I’ll miss them when they’re gone.
I accepted that they like to be dirty, and I don’t mean marks on white tshirts or chocolate round their mouths. I mean deep ingrained green/brown mud which would take a scouring pad and bleach to get rid of (it’s apparently illegal to bleach your kids. Who knew.).
I accepted that they would rather play football than do anything else in the whole world. I’ve realised they are so filled with joy when I play it with them and how shocked they are that their old mother is ‘not actually that bad!’
I’ve accepted it is a catastrophic waste of hard-earned cash to buy them any clothes which are not football strips and a catastrophic waste of time to try to make them wear a matching kit in an effort to make them look less like the dirty hooligans they are. I’ve started to see the charm in their 1980’s style rag-bag appearance. I no longer care if the staff in the Co-op think I dress them from a charity shop which exclusively sells mismatched football paraphernalia.
I’ve accepted that they are not perfectly behaved. I’ve stopped looking at my friends’ kids thinking ‘God I wish mine were that calm/would sit in a restaurant with an iPad like that/would wee in the toilet instead of against the first available wall’.
Instead I’ve actually started thinking ‘God, I bet my friends wish their kids were as fun as mine.’
I have also reflected (seriously I’m on FIRE with this reflection shit!) on all the people who are important to my kids. Especially the women; because let’s face it, I think dads (and males in general) have an easier time leaning into the scruffy football-loving boy-madness (because as we all know men are just tall little boys – yes?). There’s Auntie Siri, who has never once made my kids colour-in but instead turns my house into a complete shit-tip building ‘epic’ dens every time she visits. Auntie Nicola, who has actually had some success in engaging them in craft-type activities…but only because she laughs at their willy jokes while crafting. Then of course there’s my Mam; who doesn’t take any crap from them, but according to Jonah ‘is cracking in net, and also really fun…and you don’t usually get to be both.’
These natural ‘leaner-inners’ are the people who reap the most joy from my kids. I can learn from them and their willingness to embrace the craziness. After all, resistance is futile. It’s taken me a while to see, but now I get it. If I’m leaning out, I’m missing out.