Despite being a mother of three children I have never considered myself to be particularly maternal. I have enjoyed every stage of my children’s lives and feel hugely privileged that I have been able to devote my time to raising them, but I have found that the older they get the more I enjoy their company. Giving birth to the three of them within a three and a half year time span has helped. The sleepless nights lasted for years and coping with the demands of two toddlers and a newborn challenged me, but they are close enough in age to have had the same needs and enjoyments as they have grown. We have been able to have a lot of shared fun as a family.
My husband and I came to live in our village while we were still young, working professionals. We moved into our newly built house and looked forward to getting to know our neighbours, many of whom were also young professionals. This met with mixed success. When the majority of one’s time is spent at work and there are no children to make demands at the weekend (thereby allowing great flexibility to get up and go when the mood takes) it can be a challenge to be around enough to get to know anyone new. There were some great organisers amongst our new neighbours and we joined in with the occasional meals out and street barbeques to which we were invited. It was my husband though who succeeded in socialising regularly with the local men as he was willing to go to the village pub once a week and stay out very late. Even then I didn’t have the stamina or the will to join in with the similar, regular outings organised by the ladies.
As the year’s passed the young couples of our acquaintance started to have babies. This was of interest but I have never been one to wish to cuddle a newborn however cute. If I am honest, I don’t really find babies cute. Neighbourly nights out for all were now confined to a Christmas meal and a summer barbeque. Over time I stopped going to even these. Cliques had been formed and I found trying to make small talk with virtual strangers, who all seemed to know each other well, exhausting.
When I left my job to have my own babies I found that life became very lonely. I did not have a car and had got to know very few people in the village. I tried to join the various groups that existed – Mums and Tots, Playgroup and children’s church organisations – but never felt that I fitted in. The mums all seemed to know each other so well and to be confident around each other’s children. I discovered that other people’s young children terrified me; I had no idea how to play with them or to make them behave. I came to dread my slots on the parent help rotas and was much happier hiding in the kitchen doing the washing up than trying to interact with the small people.
By the time my children had moved up to the village primary school I knew a good proportion of the young mothers by sight and name but had still made few friends. It was not until my youngest child started school that I began to socialise with a friendly group of mums with children in the same year groups as my three. After seven years of lonely parenthood I had finally managed to join a clique. It was a good feeling to be a part of a lively social scene and I enjoyed many events and get togethers with these ladies and their families until our children moved on to secondary school. By this time most of the mums had returned to work and the balance of our lives had once again changed.
When one has children at school it can be hard to find suitable, paid employment. It is possible to hire a nanny or book a child into a day nursery, but by far the most popular type of job amongst the ladies of my acquaintance was working with children. I know a surprisingly large number of teachers, teaching assistants, nursery workers and child minders. I could not do these jobs. I still have no idea how to make other peoples children behave. These ladies, on the other hand, are more than confident about admonishing any child they deem to have behaved in an unacceptable way. I don’t know how the kids feel, but they scare me!
The young people that I was required to look after probably sensed that I was out of my depth. One cannot have children without allowing them to have friends round for play dates so the responsibility could not be avoided. It can be so easy to ensure that one’s own child behaves; treats can be removed, trips cancelled, favours withdrawn to get them to respond to requests. Just as adults are paid to do a job, children can be bribed to behave in a certain way. Other people’s children can run riot and the worst that can be done is refuse to have them back to play. I have done this on a fair few occasions.
Of course I recognise that, as the adult, it is I who am responsible for the child. They will take their cues from me and test the boundaries with abandon. I was a hopeless case. The worst experience I had was a children’s party when one boy decided to dance on the table during feeding time and several others followed suit. So much noise was being made that my admonishments may not even have been heard; the children were undoubtedly well out of my control. I am glad to say that my son, whose party it was, did not join in, but he has not been allowed a party since. With friends like that I could not trust him to distribute invitations wisely.
Having done my share of welcoming young children to our house and garden for my three to play with over the years it has come as a great relief that they are now old enough not to need my constant supervision. We still have plenty of visitors but they sort themselves out; I do not need to feel responsible for their behaviour and can trust them to be sensible in my home. If a child is invited round who does not act appropriately then I will still ban their return. I have not had to do this for some time.
We each raise our children in the best way we know how and, as parents, can see the many good traits in our offspring. It has always perplexed me that so many parents do not seem to be able to see that their little darlings also have negative behaviours. After a few, failed attempts at discussing issues with a child’s parent I gave up mentioning them as it seemed to result in nothing but bad feeling between the adults. I now try to avoid other people’s children when I can.
My three have chosen their enduring friends wisely and I am happy to interact with those who appear at our house from time to time. I am quite relieved that my children do not choose to socialise with the youngsters whom I failed so miserably to control on their early play dates. They may well have grown into sensible and responsible young adults but, if not, I would probably still struggle to know how to react. If I can treat them as equals, as adults, then I am fine. The only children that I seem to be able to properly understand are my own.