Zen and the Art of Extreme Parenting.

In which I wake up crying, and try to put it into words.

As you have been graciously following the inane ramblings of a parent carer, I thought you may like to join me on the next stage – how to stay calm while dealing with extreme  pressure to parent fully and effectively.

I have recently become interested in extreme sports and have been considering amazing feats of daring-do and endurance. Maybe this is an age thing (46 as our local paper was keen to pointlessly share) or maybe it’s a growing awareness that life is short.

I suspect it is more to do with the fact that jumping off the side of a bridge attached to an elastic seems a great deal easier than parenting my three children.

Before I start, can I just say that parenting is difficult. All parenting is difficult. Childcare is difficult. It can be tricky, keeping small people safe let alone moulding them into useful and delightful members of society. It can be boring. Anybody who has watched  a friend who is a party loving wild child turn into an exhausted zombie, unable to stay awake after 7.30pm, will know what a baby can do to a person.

My personal view is that if you get to the end of a day, haven’t killed,maimed or lost anyone and  you’ve all been fed, you are a successful parent. If the house is clean and tidy that’s a bonus. If you have completed an improving craft activity with child/children you deserve a medal. If you have managed to arrange some lemons in a ceramic dish, photograph it and put it on Instagram, you probably need professional help.

Let me tell you what parenting in extremis looks like. In my case, qualifying as an extreme parent, includes a preexisting tendency to depression, which is largely managed with careful monitoring. Add a lack of sleep, and constant physical exertion, so that you no longer have the mental resources to carry that monitoring out.

You will be responsible for a small non verbal person, with physical and some health and behavioural issues. (Let’s call her Pearl) She will be prepubescent and in thrall to hormones that she cannot understand or explain. As well as this you will have a filing cabinet (or two) of information on her to keep up to date and in order. Somehow you will also have the role of coordinating all her care, and communicating across disciplines.You may have a Family Support Worker who has roles that don’t appear to match her title, and both she and you are not certain of what they are. Social care ‘support’ will make you want to cry. You will have to travel across counties and sometimes at short notice to a vast array of appointments. You will absolutely not be able to keep up your professional role, and end up doing your husbands admin with a very bad grace.

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You will also be responsible for a 15 year old male of the species. He will cleverly have been harbouring Asperger’s Syndrome until the age of 11. There will have been many signs of this scattered liberally through his life, but as you are busy  extreme parenting the small person, you haven’t noticed. You will continue not noticing until he becomes suicidal at the age of 11, and is advised to leave school at the age of thirteen. You will be expected to deal with having a very sad stressed person at home for 18 months while receiving minimal support. You will lock up all the knives and medication,and live in a state of hypervigilism, realising that the one thing you want for your children, that they would be happy, is not under your control. You,my friend will have to deal with an extraordinarily unhelpful and overstretched CAMHS department, find a new school and ask for  one of the first EHC in the LA (and country). You will learn about autism, watch him become well adjusted and in tune with himself, and try to hold your nerve while he wants to move back into the very mainstream setting which caused him pain, for his A levels.

You now have to guide an 18 year old female, who has taken it upon herself to be The Glory of the clan, through extreme social anxiety, watch as she refuses all help and begins to spiral downwards into depression. At this stage base jumping looks like a walk in the park. Offering support while also giving her room to make her own choices, pushing her academically while recognising that her mental health being stable is so much more important, will be the most difficult balancing act you have embarked on. Her school will be limited in the support it can offer, counselling will be in short supply and variable, and CAMHS, well you have seen the help they offer already.

When you wake up in the morning wanting to cry, out of touch with your own needs and feeling that you, and you alone have caused this myriad of difficulties take heart. In your dreams you may have been a more, Little House on the Prairie type parent. Remember Laura Ingalls running through a sunny field? Do you also remember the lack of running water, decent sanitation and washing machine?

I see you, fellow extreme parents. I see you and weep for you, for your situation, and for the poor and patchy support you are receiving in your taxing, thankless dirty, painful jobs. I have had coffee with some of you, and railed against the system and your situations. I have lost sleep over a country that prioritises academic achievement over the good mental health of its children, and who makes accessing support so difficult that some of you just give up asking.

An older woman of my aquaintance told me that love covers everything, and smooths out any parenting mistakes you may make. I hope she’s right.

So, if you like me have accidentally become an extreme parent what do you do? I expect you are waiting for the Zen moment? I’ll let you know.In the meantime I’ll try to practice Pearlfulness TM and be grateful for Gilmour Girls on Netflix.

 

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If like me you are struggling with extreme parenting take a look at this graphic from Carer’s UK.

 

Note to Self.

Mornings. Generally I love them. I am the most irritating of people, a morning person.

Today however I  woke up to find depression attempting to sneak under the bedroom door and floor me before I even got started. I will be having words.

The rational, fabulous, experienced menopausal woman would like to address you, default teenager who has appeared unannounced, so sit down, shut up and listen!

You can do it!  Yes, you can write, pitch ideas, speak eloquently in public and (whisper it quietly) keep going with the novel. It’s possible you could make  fair fist of running the country given a chance, you certainly have enough opinions. You don’t however have to do it all today. Actually, just make a cup of tea and sit down. Worlds will still be there to be conquered tomorrow.

People like you. You have friends. Make time for them, they are an investment.These friends think well of you, remember you and even pray for you. If they speak about you behind your back it’s because they are concerned,or possibly because those shoes really don’t go with everything. You are actually quite likeable.

Medication. Not a sign of weakness. Yes I know you just watched the BBC programme about overprescribing but you have a sensible GP who knows you and your circumstances. Some people have not been so lucky. Some people don’t make it. Thank Science, God and Big Pharma for synthetic serotonin.

You cannot second guess what other people are thinking about you. Further, you can’t control it and it’s none of your damn business. Some people don’t like you. That’s OK. You do not  have to be universally liked. It’s life, not Miss Congeniality . What would Mrs Pankhurst say ?

Being the universal fixer is a thankless task. Think carefully before taking it on. Just because you can, doesn’t mean you should. Remember being Chair of Governors? Just that. The immigration crisis? Probably not your problem. Brexit? Definitely not your fault. That tax return however…

Other peoples success is not a reflection on you and your ability. It does not make you an abject failure. You think this is the case because today, and only today your self esteem has dried up. Oh and you’re British you have been bred to mistrust confidence and success. Just get over it already. “Rejoice with those that rejoiceth”

The drive to be internationally recognised? May be this is slightly irrational?  Ambition is good, but  not be completely beneficial in this case.The sad truth is you will die one day. People tend to. Enjoy now. Go to galleries and auctions. Read about ceramics. Argue about politics. Run in the fields. Squeeze your children. Make improper suggestions to your husband. Smell everything especially the coffee. This is it. Now. Just this.

Laugh, laugh and laugh again. Watch a comedy a day. Meet up with people who get you. Drink coffee, eat cake and laugh some more. Try to meet up at least once a year with the geographically distant friends who make you laugh so much wine comes out of your nose. Embarrass your teenagers by mispronouncing pinterest, loudly,in public. Swear randomly at your husband, to shock him. Tickle your smallest child until she can’t breathe and then roll around on the floor laughing with her.

Truly some days will be hideous and some glorious. This sadly is the human condition, and no amount of railing  at the sky is going to change it. Roll with the punches and don’t beat yourself (or anyone else) up when you’re just not feeling it. As Mrs O’Hara said “tomorrow is another day” and you have to believe a woman who looks good in vintage curtains.

 

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Take your own advice. Take care of you. Be kind to yourself. How many people have you said that to this week? Wise words for any day of the week. Listen to them, feel them and breathe them in. You are not immune from this advice-in fact you have followed it in the past and it has worked. Remember?

Give yourself a good hard shake. Put the kettle on. Grab a book and put your feet up.

Normal service resumes after the break.

 

 

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