Apocalypse Now: Battles on the domestic front

I’ve been a pretty laid-back parent on the whole. I’ve operated on the principle, if my kid wants something, he can have it, or do it, if I can see no reason why not. I’ve regulated screen-time, but not much else. He could choose about almost everything; I saw decision-making as a learning process. I thought freedom would teach him responsibility.

Maybe it did. Up till now, he’s done pretty much everything required of him and then some. He’s made me proud, far more often than embarrassed. Oh, he’s not the quickest off the mark with his pleases, thank yous and sorrys. If a toy, anything, attracts him, he’d head for it first, ask “May I?” later, if at all. He assumes his right to assert his preferences all the time, about what to eat, where to go, what to buy, where to sit in the bus. I’ve frequently imagined, accurately I am sure, observers’ disapproval of such self-importance in such a small person; and when I read the above, he sounds like a right little pain in the arse, even to me.

But he’s not, at all. He’s gentle, alert, considerate, popular across a range of social backgrounds. His behaviour at school has been close to exemplary since reception. I’ve been told he has a fine sense of justice and the best kind of manners; “thoughtful and diplomatic” were the words our head-teacher used. So I’ve assumed that basically I must have been doing something right.

But then we hit Year 3. Homework has tripled, other expectations similarly magnified. Suddenly, his weekly schedule is such that fairly strict home routines are inevitable. It’s still all do-able, with plenty of time left over, but only if my little free-spirit is prepared, for the first time, to get down to it when and how I say. No ifs, buts and other prevarications. No two-hour long, quite cute displacement of 10 minutes’ work. In fact, the displacement activity is not cute any more. Homework, music practice, getting ready, has got to happen, like we agreed, now.

Trouble is my strong-willed boy isn’t used to it. Neither am I, though my soft-touch exterior conceals a determination to match his own. The result is, battles that last all weekend, tantrums that last all night. A house that looks like a bombsite ten minutes after he walks in from school; two parents perpetually cowering as books, pencils and other missiles are hurled about the room in fury.

I didn’t do Supernanny, Gina Ford or Controlled Crying when he was little; I concluded smugly that on the whole I could manage without their advice. As parents, his dad and I inhabited mainly separate spheres, with me taking virtually full responsibility for childcare, feeding, organising and entertainment. Oh, I grumbled, could have done with a lot more time off. My partner grumbled, accusing me of monopolising our son. But basically, we accepted the situation because it more or less worked; we managed, the kid seemed fine.

But I need Supernanny now. I also need his dad, every single evening and throughout the weekend. I need Dad to be up-to-date with his screen and junk food allowance, and with what school work remains. I need him to accept without querying my new imposed conditions. And I need his sheer muscle-power, to back up my tactical skills. We need to be a closer-knit team than we ever have before.

Last night my child, aged 7, cried himself to sleep for the first time in his life. Somewhat shell-shocked, without raising our voices, we shut him in his room, because he wouldn’t stop attacking us (because we took away the i-phone, because we said it’s time for bed). He started attacking his room then, until I removed every toy and book he was using as a hammer and put them in the recycling bag. At half past 11, he lay, finally, on his elevated bed, whimpering, defeated.

I unlocked the door, waded through the debris, climbed up onto the bed to hug him, cover him, and turn off the light.

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About marytuda

An accidental first time mum in her fifties reflects on all things maternal from position of perpetual outsider and prolonged state of shock. An urban odessy through parenthood plus from one who thought she'd never go there.
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3 Responses to Apocalypse Now: Battles on the domestic front

  1. Jo says:

    You don’t need Supernanny – avoid at all costs. You need Dr Laura Markham.
    http://www.ahaparenting.com/parenting-tools/Discipline
    Does the routine have to be quite so packed? Can anything give? If it’s stressing him out…….
    Kids this age still need lots of time for free play and quality time with you. Unfortunately schools and education secretaries don’t realise that……

  2. marytuda says:

    Thanks Jo some very useful stuff there, I’m already familiar with some of it.
    The point about our schedule is there is still plenty of free time if we are properly organised, and that’s really first and foremost a learning process for me. We’re in a process of transformation as a family, I believe, perhaps overdue, in response to the fact that our boy is no longer a cute little kid but old enough to take some responsibility for what he has to do. I don’t regret – yet – the extent to which I have indulged him in the past, though I was always aware it was a luxury not available to those a) with other children and/or b) with other day jobs, which would make, for instance, sleeping through the night from an early age essential. And I’m in two minds too about the necessity of so much homework. But I think there’s a good chance that in the process of meeting this challenge, we will all end up a whole lot more insight and perspective.
    The truth is, my boy is proud to find himself in the hardest-homework group (I am too, of course) and he really doesn’t want to be the only child who doesn’t complete it. He also loves his music lessons, though practising is another boring chore (funny, though, how when he finally gets started he becomes completely absorbed, often going off-programme in quite an inventive way. A weird instinct that tells me it’s this absorption he’s actually a little afraid of. But that’s me going way off-topic now.).
    I’m confident we will find a solution that suits us all. . . We’re not giving up yet!

  3. Wow, great post! It is so hard being a parent! And it is so hard knowing what is the right thing to do and when to do it! I personally don’t have a clue and there are days when i think i’m doing it all wrong and days when I think it might have been ok! Loved your honest account. Hope he adapts to the new routine soon xxx

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