A sense of perspective needed.

This week I got given some forms to fill in by school because the boy has an appointment with the educational psychologist at the beginning of June. Two pages, one for the boy to answer, one for us.

Before I talked to him about his questions, I needed to tell him about the educational psychologist. He may well talk to someone face to face without questioning it (after all, he likes to meet new people), but he wouldnt answer written questions without knowing why. I wasn’t sure school had said anything, we certainly hadn’t. (We’re trying to keep a balance between keeping him informed and not potentially confusing/worrying him with our speculations on any diagnosis he might get, so we’ve decided to tell him about things as they happen). I started by reminding him that everyone has things they’re good at and things they need help with and we had a little talk about who’s good at or needs extra help with reading and maths and behavoir in his class. I mentioned that his teachers had been trying different things recently with him, like letting him do his writing work in a quieter side room or on the computer. I said that we (his parents) talked to the teachers sometimes to swap idea’s of ways to help him. And then I told him that an educational psychologist was coming to school to see if she had any other ideas of ways the teachers could help him with the things he finds difficult.

He wanted to know what a psychologist was (he already knew the word “education”) so I said they knew about how people’s brains work. Anyway, it seemed to go down ok and we started discussing the questions.

What he liked doing and what he was good at were easy. His answer for what he found difficult surprised me “making decisions”. I know he has trouble making decisions, but I didn’t expect him to say that.

Then either the questions got harder for him or he had had enough, probably both, because he started getting more and more fidgety (does rolling from side to side waving your legs in the air count as fidgety?) and harder to talk to. I’m not sure he quite got the point of “What’s going well at school”, but I got an answer (we get to play lots). He couldn’t answer “what’s not going so well at school”, but I managed to get him to answer a (hopefully) related question I made up of “What would a bad day at school be like” (just having to write, having just 10 minutes to finish your story and then having to start another one). “Is there anything else you’d like to tell us about you” didn’t get answered at all.

Of course what he wanted to talk about was why the sheet had a number 6 at the bottom (a page number). I showed him our sheet had a number 5 at the bottom and much speculation on what was on sheets 1 – 4 (which presumably are for the school) ensued. He was also quite concerned that there was a space for filling in his name and the psychologists name at the top that had been left blank – I had to fill those in before we could start.

Anyway, I’ve got distracted. We filled in his form together, just about. After he was in bed we discussed what to put on our form. I took notes, we agreed wording and I wrote it down. In small neat handwriting because we had a lot to say and there wasn’t much space. Then, of course, I felt bad that we’d written so much, that we had so many concerns about our lovely son (mother guilt again).

And I gave the forms in. And then I worried a little more, had we written too much, had we written the wrong things, how would we come accross, would the teachers read them. Why were we doing this? Is it all a fuss over nothing? He managed to write a page and a half of A4 one day this week (sometimes he struggles to complete a sentence) and his teacher commented he’d been a lot better recently. Maybe we’re just overreacting and wasting the psychologists time. I don’t actually believe this, because the Special Needs Coordinator wouldn’t have referred him if she wasn’t concerned too, and that piece of work where he wrote so much, my husband found out he planned it with support during the intervention sessions he’s having. But the worries are still there, bouncing around my brain.

I realised today, what I want from the educational psychologist (which was one of our questions) is a sense of perspective. What is normal 7 year old boy behaviour. What is unusual, uncommon even but still within the range of normal. And are some of these things beyond normal. What should I chalk up to the general experience of being a parent and get on with. And what should concern me. Which behaviours are avoidable, and what can we do about those that aren’t. Some things surely are down to bad handling on my part (this isn’t low self esteem on my behalf, everyone gets things wrong sometimes, like earlier this week when I was goaded into justifying my behaviour and we ended up arguing all the way to school and by the time we got there he was in a complete state – not my finest parenting hour) – but how much?

For example, I know that fraught trips to school in the morning are not uncommon. That rushing doesn’t bring out the best in anyone and children sometimes get cross at their parents over things that are important to them, but less so to adults. So is a tantrum over a hat that lasts all the way to school normal or not?

This is a roundabout way of saying I have doubts. But today, I didn’t. This afternoon we had 2 parents and just one child afterschool for a couple of hours. Luxury. Plenty of opportunity to help him pack for the camp he’s going on tomorrow and get dinner cooked. Lots of attention for him, tasks done, no little sister to disrupt anyone. All was going well for a whole 5 minutes when we got to the item “strong boots or (preferably) wellies for walking, with walking socks”. He didn’t know what was meant by strong boots and he doesn’t have any so he can’t choose what is best. He has wellies, in my mind this is easy, there are two options of things to pack, you only own one, and that is the preferred option, no brainer, we pack it. But in his mind this was a problem. He was upset. It was not logical. And then I added insult to injury by suggesting he put his wellie socks in. Because, wellie socks are not walking socks, they are wellie socks, and what are walking socks anyway?

There followed about an hour of screaming and shouting. A lot of shouting. Very loud shouting. Mainly at me. For interrupting him, for telling him what to do, for ignoring him, for walking off, for not helping him, for making him cross. Whatever I did was wrong, whatever I said was wrong. I calmly explained many many times that I couldn’t help someone who was shouting at me, that he needed to calm down before I could help him pack. My husband explained. We tried ignoring him, reasoning with him (only a little), distracting him, suggesting ways he could calm down. Nothing worked, except time and dinner. (After dinner a calm boy and I had fun packing together).

I am fairly certain that was not “normal” behaviour, that I am not just being a pushy parent. And I know that he’s in bed I feel exhausted and drained, physically and emotionally. Fingers crossed tonight is not one of those nights when they don’t settle and keep having to be put back to bed. (But with new bedside lights installed today, I don’t think I’m going to be lucky).

Listening

Whilst yesterday was mainly good, I did end up staying up far too late in the end messing on the internet and I have been tired today.

The reason I stayed up too late was because I was sulking. Whilst I’m not sulking now, I’ve been mulling over the reason all day in the background. Trying to tease out what is actually going on.

Before I expound, I want to say that my family is great. I have two lovely kids, who are generally well behaved but have their moments, like most infant school kids. And a wonderful supportive husband who does more than his share, what with working full time, being a hands on Dad, putting up with me obsessively sewing until midnight and coping with me when I’m feeling stressed and picking up the slack around the house.

So, you guessed it, the reason that I was sulking was to do with my family. Like all family, we sometimes rub each other up the wrong way. Last night I was frustrated that hubby hadn’t heard a couple of things I said, in particular that Yes I would like him to cut me some bread too (after my answer he cut two pieces, buttered them and then ate them in front of me) and please don’t put the laptop away as part of your tidying up (I wanted to use it) – he then put it away.

Now, these things on there own are rather minor. But I had a narrative in my head of not being listened to by anyone and I felt extremely frustrated. There is some basis for that narrative. For instance earlier husband and I had had to rehave a conversation and remake a decision – I clearly remembered doing this before (not least as I was surprised at hubby’s proposed solution) and he was adamant we’d not previously discussed it. This is not really surprising, we have two small children and don’t get that much time to talk to each other without being interrupted, plus he has had a very busy few months at work and done lots of overtime, which puts more strain on our communication system (amongst other things). It doesn’t mean that he doesn’t value what I have to say. It means that we need to make more time to talk to each other and get better at listening.

That’s another thing, as a household we’re not very good at listening. There’s always a lot going on and people are shouting reminders (“Have you brushed your teeth yet?”) and moving about whilst continuing conversations, so you find someone starts talking to you and then walks away mid sentance so you can’t hear them. Or walks off instead of answering you. And generally we’re a pretty talkative bunch with a tendency to interrupt each other.

And of course my kids are not always good at listening to me which is not surprising as often I’m giving them things to do and checking up on them. And when they do hear me, I can’t tell, because they’re fiddling with something and staring in the other direction and don’t answer (or answer in a mumble I can’t hear) and then immediately start a new topic of conversation.

All this is fairly normal with kids, and I think maybe a little worse than normal with our two as one has a tendency to retreat into a daydream and block us out and the other one is easily distracted and his teachers have recently told me how frustrated they get saying his name over and over again all day to get his attention.

But as a full time parent, the majority of my interactions in a day are often with my family, so that feeds into me taking it so personally. It can feel like I spend my life being ignored by the rest of the people I live with and that no matter what I say nobody is listening and that is very frustrating and can end up with me feeling like a second class citizen in my own home. Hence the sulking.

Of course, how I’m feeling in general affects how well I cope. When I’m feeling on top of things I’m calmer, I take things less personally, I have more patience and I find it easier to think of different strategies to try to get my children to do what I want. When I’m not feeling so great I have less patience, I’m quicker to anger, I don’t want to compromise (it’s My Way or the High Way), so I start battles with my children instead of changing tactics. And then I get frustrated at how much effort everything is taking. (Hmm, I think I maybe starting to open a bigger can of worms here than just the listening problem, that last paragraph is more how good I am in general at parenting depending on how good I feel in general, and of course they feed into each other.)

So, what next with the listening? Well, first I want to sit with my mulling. I have tried to discern what is going on in my head and I think just acknowledging it is a start. I don’t want to leap into solutions mode (I find it frustrating when someone that I want to listen to me leaps straight into giving me answers of what I can do about it, when I don’t want answers, I just want someone to listen). And I need to be aware of how I’m listening to others, I need to try and make sure I’m paying my family proper attention and model how I want them to behave.

And I need to talk to husband about this, I know he finds it frustrating too, and check our informal policy of promoting good listening and see if we can improve it any.

And I think I need to acknowledge that one of my children in particular has difficulty listening, for various reasons, and that it’s ok to find this frustrating, but I shouldn’t take it personally. And maybe I need to reasses my definition of what good listening and answering looks like and compromise a somewhere a little more acheivable for my children (who like many children don’t always want to make eye contact for instance).

Insanity is hereditary, you get it from your kids.

That flippant headline is a favourite quip of my big brothers. Some thoughts about my mental well being and my children and being a parent have been bouncing around in my head for a few days, despite my best efforts to ignore them and I’d like to get them straight.

This is quite hard for me. Firstly, like most people, I like to split my subjects into seperate boxes and rootle through them seperately. This is a natural human tendency, we simplify thing to make sense of them. Thinking about more than one thing at once is hard. Thinking about the links, relationships, interractions, causes and effects between two or more things is really hard, it adds several orders of complication. Now I have loopy knotted strings, like a spaghetti fight in the London Underground Map, joining up and going around and through my seperate subject boxes. Taking a step back from myself and trying to think about these things in a way approaching impartial, well lets just say it’s a worthy if impossible aim.

But those things are true to some extent about any bunch of subjects. My mental health, my children and being a parent are not any old subjects, they’re biggies.

Thinking about my mental health is difficult for me, full stop. Who am I kidding, thinking “me” and “mental health” at the same time is really is hard, let alone writing them in the same sentance. Lets just call this a work in progress.

Then there is what my husband termed “Mother Guilt”. I’m sure it’s not exclusive to mothers, but in my experience they seem to be it’s natural breeding ground. It has many manisfestations, some more subtle than others, and many sources, internal,peers, professionals, media, but it boils down to a feeling that you’re not doing it good enough,that you should do better, that you’re letting the children down.

I’m not saying I condone it, I’m all for “Good Enough” parenting, but it is endemic in the atmosphere and for now I’m just acknowledging that it’s there and it makes thinking about this topic harder.

So, with all those problems in mind, what do I think about my mental state and my children? Firstly, I’m very lucky, I did not have Post Natal Depression with either of my two. I found having a baby relatively easy, if with all the expected drawbacks of lack of sleep etc. It came with basic instructions, if it cried you changed what you were doing until stopped. And I’m lucky enough to live in a society where I was allowed, expected and encouraged to focus on doing just that, keeping the baby happy.

Two very small children is harder than one, but doable, although my job plus two children under 3 quickly failed the cost benefit analysis, but enough of that for now.

I guess what I’m skirting around / building up to is how much does my relationship with my children effect my mental health and visa versa.

A few weeks ago This is How it Feels by the Inspiral Carpets came on the radio. I guess I was familiar with the song, a blast from the past, but had never really thought about the lyrics. The tune is even quite upbeat. But as I heard the opening lines “Husband don’t know what he’s done. Kids don’t know what’s wrong with mum. She can’t say, they can’t see,” I burst into tears. I don’t know what they’re intended to mean, but they summed up me on a bad day.

I don’t want to contemplate what my kids percieve about my mental health though. Oh the worrying implications and Mother Guilt there. Nope, not ready for that. Hmm, this post is turning into a list of things I’m not even going to think about, let alone write about, at the moment.

I think that I am ready to admit that sometimes it feels like my kids drive me crazy. I don’t know how much their behavoir triggers mine (she types bravely resisting the Guilt at the implication her children may in some way be partly responsible for her problems) and how much my mental state impairs my ability to cope with their behavoir. I suspect it’s a bit of both.

I was wittering on before about babies being relatively easy. It’s not that infant school kids are any easier or harder necerssarrily (different granted), but expectations change. Others expectations change for a start. It is generally expected that babies are tiring and hard work and people ask how you are, offer sympathy and unsolicited advice and if you’re lucky bring you a meal or some chocolate. By the time they’re at school it’s generally expected that you should be able to cope with them. After all you’ve had several years experience. Sure you get asked about how they’re coping with school etc and are expected to moan about a few things, but it’s no longer expected to be an exhausting potentially ovetwhelming task. And now, if they have undesirable behavoir such as sleep issues, there’s a bit less sympathy and acceptence that that is the bad hand fate has given you and a bit more of a feeling that it’s your own fault for not dealing with it properly, for letting it happen. The honeymoon period is over, the novelty has worn off, the sympathy has run out.

Your own expectations change too. I think most people realise when their baby is due that things will be different, that it will take over their life. But slowly you aquire a small personn with growing independence and you start to want some payback for all your hardwork. Once someone can get themselves dressed you expect them too. Unfortunately small children have a different agenda and being reasonable isn’t on it. It’s so much more frustrating doing things for someone who could do it themselves but chooses not to than for someone who can’t.

And then their expectations develope and change and get expressed better and louder.

I realise I’ve gone all third personey and vague. Back to my house. One of my main problems is listening. Our family is bad at it. People walk off as you’re talking to them. They don’t answer. They mumble and when asked to repeat themselves they shout angrily. They interrupt you mid sentance, regardless of if you’re talking to them or someone else. They answer for someone else. And it all drives me to distraction.

I have figured out some of the reason why. I am trying to project manage and team manage and yet I’m not allowed to communicate effectively. Maybe that sounds a bit grand. But enter our house after breakfast on a school day. I have to get 3 people out of the house on time. First I have to remember what tasks this involves. Most of it is rather basic, each of us need to clean our teeth and put our shoes and coats on etc. Then there’s the extras like remembering child A needs to take a packed lunch and child B needs to take their library book. Ok, so far so good. But I have to tell them what they need to do. In theory they should know most of it but in practise they are very far from reliable. So, I have 3 seperate task lists in my head, I have to jiggle the orders round (so 2 people aren’t trying to go to the toilet at the same time, but I’m there to supervise teeth brushing etc), and give them their orders one at a time (as they can’t reliably remember more than that), keep track of whose supposed to be doing what, check they haven’t got distracted, remind them if they have and do what I’m suppose to be doing at the same time. Is it starting to sound more complicated yet? I can’t do this sequentially, it has to be in parallel as a), we simply wouldn’t have time and b), they don’t sit still and do nothing whilst you’re dealing with a different one. So, as I’m trying to do this everytime I need to tell them what to do next or check they’re doing it I have to repeat myself several times, get interrupted and struggle to get answers. It really hampers me. I lose my place in my complicated to do list. I lose my ability to think straight. And unlike a stressful job I don’t get to go home after a shift, this is home. After a while it builds up and underminds my ability to cope (or maybe my unability to cope lets it build up?).

And then there’s the noise. If you know Dr Seuess’s One Fish Two Fish Red Fish Blue Fish you may remember “I do not like this one so well, all he does is yell yell yell. I do not like this one about. When he comes in I put him out.

Yell Yell Yell by Dr Seuess

Well, that’s my son. Wherever he is and whatever he is doing I can hear him. Shouting, stamping, banging, yeodelling, asking questions, screaming, tapping, etc.  He’s less, “I think therefore I am” more “I am heard therefore I am”. And it takes up all the space in my head for thinking and I struggle to hold my 3 task lists in my head, let alone to try the difficult job of communicating.

So, that is me on a bad day. But also, my kids keep me sane, they really do. Because as well as all the soppy reasons about how much they mean to me and how I enjoy their company, when I am stressed and anxious and avoiding things that all melts away when I’m with them. Because they live in the moment I can too. And I can cope with the moment. My dread is the future and what might be and dealing with adults and phone calls and emails and they don’t expect me to do that. I can help with lego and do up buttons and read stories just fine, I’m quite good at that sort of thing.

One thing I have realised recently is that in the past, i.e. before kids, I had a tendency to impulsively get away from it all from time to time. Whether it be hoping on a train to stay with a friend for the weekend after a quick phone call (in my pre husband days), or going for a walk at 9.30pm, I could “run away” when I felt like it (within reason and job/money constraints etc). I’m not aware that I was running away from issues as such, but looking back I think I used it as a safety valve to stop things getting to much. And of course with two small ones it is very hard to find some time for myself, let alone spontaneous crazy running away time for myself. There are too many constraints of school pick ups and bed times and not leaving them alone and all the other things.

I’m not sure this post has a conclusion. I don’t think I’m even trying to look for answers. I’m more trying to understand and accept how things are. I think that is enough for now.

Lines

I must not take internet devices to bed

I must not take internet devices to bed

I must not take internet devices to bed

I must not take internet devices to bed

I must not take internet devices to bed

I must not take internet devices to bed

I must not take internet devices to bed

I must not take internet devices to bed

I must not take internet devices to bed

I must not take internet devices to bed

 

I am clearly an idiot. It was 2am when I turned the light out. And then, of course, I was too wired to sleep straight away. 

***warning, description of life with small children follows, avert your eyes if you’re sensitive to bodily functions***

Never a good start to the week, depletes all you reserves, so, if say, some small person creeps into your bed at 5am and fidgets disturbing your sleep,  then wets themselves in your bed at 5.30am, is sick all over their bunk bed ladder at 6 am and has diahrea at 6.30am, you are really staggering around on empty. They of course are now at home and hyper.  

Thanks be for amazing husbands.

I really am an idiot.