Totally winging it

When I was pregnant with my first daughter over a decade ago, I wrote a birth plan. I approached the task with the same vigour I used to write my dissertation. It looked brilliant. It was the most detailed birth plan ever committed to paper. I remember thinking that I had done my job well and that my completion of this perfect plan meant that I had undoubtedly nailed motherhood. Oh how the midwife must have laughed when I handed it over with my Tigger like exuberance. I even presented it to her professionally stapled and in a plastic wallet. Needless to say nothing went to plan and no one medical ever referred to my endless checklists.

Since that moment there have been countless times where I have had to chuck my original plan out of the window and just wing it. I wake with lofty fantasies of things going to plan and within a few moments things swerve off centre, sometimes totally off-piste and into the bushes. By nature I am not comfortable with the concept of going with the flow and seeing what happens. I like to have structure, a sense of direction and a general idea of whether I am doing the right thing or not – personality traits somewhat incompatible with the parenting of two rapidly growing children.

For anyone searching for general advice on raising well rounded children there is so much guidance out there about the ‘right’ way to do things that it can be totally overwhelming. Whoever coined the phrase “they don’t come with a rulebook” has clearly not recently set foot in the parenting section of Waterstones or Googled medical advice on odd looking childhood rashes in the middle of the night. There are hundreds of thousands of books and websites containing mostly contradictory advice, rules and information. 

 According to the experts, each decision I make every day about the little people that I am responsible for could potentially affect their general satisfaction with life, future credit rating, IQ, ability to get on the property ladder, future career prospects, manual dexterity and whether or not they will actually marry a member of One Direction. Brilliant stuff. No pressure there then, when I am trying to make a split second decision about what to say to a six year old who comes home to find a floating goldfish. What do I say that won’t mean that this is the one defining negative memory of her childhood? Wing it of course and end up in a petrol station in December to buy ice lollies for the wooden sticks so as to appropriately commemorate poor goldfish.

Recently I have felt like I have been totally winging things more and more. There is no time to breathe and think things through. It is in my nature is to sit do my research, to find a perfect solution for every scenario and to have things neatly completed. I was always going to have my work cut out with parenting multiple children with this approach. I have learned, rather slowly that there are no perfect solutions to every scenario or age phase. Far from it, and what works for one child doesn’t work for the other.  I have had no choice but to resign myself to going with the flow, somewhat awkwardly.  These days I try to base my parenting style around a few very simple things which are;

          Try to be nice

          Give your best

          Read as much as you possibly can. Whenever and wherever

          Run about, exercise and stay healthy

          Don’t spend hours on end in front of a screen

That’s it. At the moment, that is my grand plan, a hugely watered down version of my original grand parenting ideals. Around these values I am relying on my gut instincts and definitely winging most of it. I admit I don’t have a clue what is the right decision most of the time and the questions are getting considerably harder to work out. Like a parenting Rubik’s cube;

Child 1 – “Mum! Can I get Skype?”

Me – “Errrr, let me have a think about it”

Child 1 – “All my friends have an account and I’ll let you read my messages”

Me – “Do most of your class have it? Who has it?”

Child 1 – “Everyone does. I’m the only one that hasn’t got it (not quite sure about that one)

Me – “Go on then”

Child 2 – “What about me, can I get Skype?”

Me – “Not a chance. Come back to me in three years”

This kind of conversation happens at least ten times a day at the moment and I know it’s going to get rockier and more complicated as they get older. A Tesco’s cashier took one look at my girls last week as they were bickering about something or other and said “Good luck in the teenage years. I also have two girls.” She then dropped her gaze and I swear I heard her chuckle. So I guess I’m going to have to get to grips with totally winging it and just hope that the majority of the time my instincts are on the money. I suppose that the ultimate test is whether the children are mostly happy and achieving what they are capable of. So far so good –  at least most of the time.

Weekends before and after children

Typical pre children weekend

Friday Night

Visit a trendy city centre bar with friends straight after work where all the men have big beards.   Discuss important and topical things that are in the news. Know what to order from the bar without having to google it first. Stay out until 4am popping into a house party to finish off the night.  Call a taxi without worrying about the cost. Give the driver a huge tip for getting you home safely.


Wake up at eleven and hit the snooze button because there is no way that you have had enough sleep yet. Rise at midday and watch Saturday kitchen on catch up whilst leisurely drying your hair.

Take a trip to John Lewis with your husband where you discuss how parents can let their children be so unruly with their climbing on things and wailing. Shoot disapproving looks at parents in question. Spend lots of money on things you don’t really need in the pointless kitchen utensils section.  Book a luxury holiday. Fit in a gym session on the way home. Accept a last minute invitation from a friend for a ‘big night out’. Spend three hours getting ready and deciding what to wear.


Read the papers in bed until midday. Clean the whole house from top to bottom. Get yourself down to the gym to do two cardio classes and a fifty length swim followed by a long Jacuzzi and a trip to the steam room. Go to the cinema to see the latest film where you tut at the children making noises in the row in front. Stop off for a Sunday roast at the local pub just because you are passing. Watch Sunday night TV uninterrupted for two hours. Go to bed feeling rested and ready for the week ahead.

Typical weekend after children

Friday Night

Receive a text from school to say that there is a new case of head lice in Child 2’s class. Rush to buy a nit comb and some treatment on your way home from work just in case. Accept the glass of wine offered by your husband as soon you walk through the door at 5.45. Eat a giant pizza followed by the hundredth viewing of ‘Frozen’ whilst combing head lice cream into both Child 1 and Child 2’s hair. Watch husbands eyes roll around in his head whilst children sing ‘Let it Go’ and argue about who has the biggest kneecaps.


Get woken up at 6am by Child 1 who demands that you need to set off immediately for her friends ice skating party at 10am. Husband persuades Child 1 that there is no need to set off yet and negotiates ice skating warm up exercises in the front room but not until 7am. Wash both Child 1 and Child 2’s hair to remove the head lice treatment from the night before.  Empty school bags to discover complicated maths homework and a research based project on Beluga whales that has to be handed in on Monday.  Frantically search for videos on YouTube about how to convert a fraction into a decimal.

Start blow drying both children’s hair to discover that head lice treatment is stronger than tar and needs to be washed at least three times before it actually comes out. Leave the house ten minutes late for the ice skating party. Arrive at party inappropriately dressed to discover there is a spare adult place. Cave into puppy dog eyes from Child 1 and spend the next two hours trying to stand upright and freezing to death. Actually quite enjoy self.

Go home and cook healthy lunch for both Child 1 and Child 2, whilst you eat left over tomato soup, two slices of cucumber and a biscuit. Take Child 2 to ballet class where you are grateful for the warm radiator, an actual hot coffee and some adult conversation.  Think about fractions and Beluga whales whilst realising that Child 2’s ballet shoes are in fact three sizes too small.

Dash into town to buy new school and ballet shoes and get Child 2’s eyes tested. Leave town with appropriate shoes and two pairs of heelies. Cave in and agree that of course it’s a good idea to let children wear shoes with wheels to the opticians’ appointment.  Endure disapproving looks from optician whilst Child 2 skates into the designer glasses. Stop Child 2’s eye test after five minutes as she needs the loo. Skate to the nearest Costa and back again with Child 2 hanging onto your arm for dear life.  Keep coffee upright.

Drive home and get ready for Child 1’s swimming gala presentation evening. Feel smug as no tea needs to be cooked. Spend approximately three minutes getting ready. Clap so loudly when Child 1 receives her medals that everyone stares and Child 1 gets embarrassed. Watch husband hover around Child 2 on the dance floor to stop tights slippage as she no longer sees the point of shoes.  Discover that your children don’t like any of the food on offer apart from rice and mango chutney.  Buy crisps from the bar and negotiate a good breakfast. Find a drawing pin at midnight to help child 1 display her medals.  Worry about fractions and Beluga whales.


Repeat much of Saturday this time with a bowling party, swimming training and a two dancing exams.

Spend the rest of the day justifying the amount of time the children spend on their iPad’s by choosing clips of Beluga whales and fraction conversions. Kiss both Child 1 and 2 good night whilst dodging potential head lice. Marvel at their beauty whilst they sleep. Stupidly wake them up to tell them you love them. End the weekend frazzled and wondering what on earth you did with your weekends before you had children.

Playdough and apple pie

For at least the first five years of being a mum I felt pretty inadequate. All the skills that had served me well in my life up to the point of me taking my teeny tiny screaming bundle of determined energy home suddenly completely redundant. My daughter didn’t care if I could write a good report, hold my own in a meeting or make a cracking to do list.

 In those early years, it felt like the things that I needed to be able to do to be ‘good’ at being a mum was the ability to make my own play dough, squish a vat full of vegetables into an ice cube tray, remember the words and actions to ‘see the sleeping bunnies’ without wetting myself laughing, set up some sort of activity involving paint and possibly even dry pasta without completely losing my marbles and occasionally bake a cake that at least appeared edible. I was definitely at the back of the line when these abilities were being given out. I was probably not even in the queue; I was walking past it, forgetting what I went in for in the first place.

I dutifully tried my best to be better at the practicalities of being a mum, copying others who seemed to have been born for the role. As my daughter grew I decided I should try to develop both our creative skills so I went to buy some plastic sheeting for the table, the kind with child friendly patterns that turn an ordinary table into a Practical Parenting photo shoot. I convinced myself it would turn me into a Domestic Goddess. I would emerge from Dunelm Mill a brand new woman. I would make my own play dough; my daughter would play with sand and water all afternoon on the newly covered table whilst I donned an apron and baked an apple pie. The reality was that I got so distracted by my mini Houdini trying to propel herself out of her pushchair and into the picture display that I accidently ordered seven metres of the stuff.  Epic fail.

As I had my second daughter things got more chaotic and I had much less time to worry about plastic tablecloths and play dough. I relaxed my own rules and started to take my daughters to places where people who were good at the things that I wasn’t could take the lead. It was such a relief to take them to a playgroup where there were arts and crafts already laid out. I could participate from the sidelines nursing coffee that was still hot and there was always someone to ask when I wasn’t sure where to stick the googly eyes onto the paper plate.

I soon realised that neither I nor the girls would spontaneously combust if I took a step back and didn’t take on all the responsibility for developing their abilities in absolutely everything. Yes the things I did with them would shape their experiences of life; however they were never going to learn how to do the things that I’m not naturally good at from me. They needed to learn and experiment with those who knew what they were doing and not their mother who could be found cowering in a corner if someone whispered the words papier and mache.

I didn’t walk out of the maternity unit with a sudden ability to do all the things I’d never been able to do (I was the girl who once made a pair of shorts in textiles at school with only one leg and accidently sewed my embroidery onto my skirt) I’m not good at that sort of stuff but other people are.  I’m very lucky to live in a place where my daughters can develop the skills that I don’t have from others.

 I am grateful for the woman who taught my eldest to skip at after school club as I didn’t have a clue where to start teaching her, to the awe inspiring mums at school who are brilliantly capable of rustling up cakes for a charity bake sale at a moment’s notice, to those who are willing and able to entertain thirty boisterous seven year olds relying only on a massive parachute and a plastic ball, to those that can have a house full of children after school at a moment’s notice and to those that can create beautiful French plaits that would stay put through a hurricane. All things I cannot do easily.  

Practical skills are not my forte however I know what I am good at and I try to focus on that. If they need abstract conversations about anything and everything, I can do that; getting them to places on time and organising their social life, I’m the right person (those to do lists finally came in handy). Going to work, I can do that. Silly dances in the kitchen, my personal favourite.  Skills equally important as the things that come less easily to me.

It’s taken me a long time to realise that I don’t have to be superwoman to be a good mum, what I am is good enough, and strangely enough, at ten and seven, both of my daughters are already showing talents in the areas that have me running for cover. Funny that. So to those have helped them along the way and shared the responsibility. Thank you. You know who you are. Just don’t be expecting a homemade apple pie anytime soon.


Time off for good behaviour

Last week my children slept over at their Grandma’s house for a whole week. I didn’t see them from Sunday night until Saturday morning. They didn’t stay over because I had some important work to do that couldn’t wait, they stayed over because I was dancing and singing in a local amateur production.  I’m thirty-seven and I chose to give up precious time with my growing children so I could tread the boards and relive some of my youth whilst prancing about in a colourful selection of costumes that I am probably far too old to be wearing.  I didn’t have a big part; the show certainly didn’t revolve around my modest dancing ability and I mostly just pretended to sing the harmonies that I had been patiently taught. I spent my week at the theatre for one reason only and that was because I wanted to be there.

When I told people that the girls were being looked after by my mum for a week because I was in a show, I had a mixed response. Mostly I got bemused looks. For those outside theatre land I know it might seem like a frivolous, completely random way for a grown up woman to spend their time.  Some seemed envious of the fact that I had the support to be able to leave the girls in capable hands (I know that I’m extremely lucky to have the option) However one person said that they didn’t know how I could leave them for a whole week and clearly expressed their disapproval.  Initially I felt guilty, I’d had confirmation I was a selfish parent. In the back of my mind I started to think that perhaps they were right and that I should give it up and grow up into a much more responsible and well ‘motherly type’ of mum . Because being a good parent means being there one hundred percent of the time for your children and giving up your own sanity and individuality on the altar of self sacrifice right?

Well no, not quite. Or at least I don’t think so. Being a parent is tough enough without carving a little bit of time for being just you every now and again. The other fifty-one weeks of the year revolve completely around my children and their activities; school, dancing, swimming, brownies, homework and running to name just a few.  Through their own volition they take part in something almost every night of the week and as much as I can I try to be there cheering them on enthusiastically from the sidelines. In reality this means a lot of time sat about in waiting rooms or sweating at the side of a swimming pool for hours on end after a full day at work. It also requires a lot of mental energy to figure out the complicated organisation required about where they need to be and when and I don’t have a logistical bone in my body.   I give it my all as much as I know how to do. I do my own version of trying to get being a mum right and hope that I am succeeding as much as I undoubtedly get it wrong. I love watching them work hard and succeed and I adore being a mum but there’s no getting away from the fact that it’s totally and utterly relentless. By the end of the week I can barely see straight before its Sunday again and it’s time to tackle another week. And breathe!

Last week was my indulgent time off for good behaviour. A week where I could just be me again (well mostly – in- between checking every five seconds to make sure that everything was okay) my girls are babies no longer and they don’t need me to be there every minute of the day. This leaves me a little more space to be able to think about what I like to do as well as what activities they would like to do. At close to forty, I’ve not got many dancing years left in me yet my love for it didn’t disappear at the point the umbilical cord was cut. Underneath my mum and professional persona the girl who spent years at the back of the dance class is still in there somewhere.

It did me good to have a break. I picked the girls up once the week was over with a bit more of a spring in my step. I’d had fun. I had been absorbed in the experience and I forgot myself. There was also an unexpected benefit from the girl’s perspective. Although they were amused and a little mortified to see me on stage in over the top makeup and a fake ponytail, they also saw me in a different light. They took in the whole show with interest and asked endless questions. Despite their jokes they seemed just a tiny bit impressed.  I’m not going to be on Strictly Come Dancing anytime soon, however they seemed genuinely intrigued to see me in a different role than just being their mum.  I really hope that when and if they are mothers themselves that they too find the time for the things that they uniquely enjoy and see it as an opportunity to recharge rather than yet another opportunity to feel guilty. There are plenty of those. I sincerely hope that they carve out a corner of their lives that’s just for them and protect it.