Category Archives: Parenting

Are people really that mean to parents?

Sometimes I wonder whether, if people actually took the time to read all the stories printed about being a parent in the media, anyone would ever be motivated to procreate again.

If you judge parenthood on the excitable and overhyped stories which creep up on my Facebook feed, it is a constant stream of judgemental Janes, sneering mums and unhelpful shop assistants.

This week my social media accounts have been overwhelmed by stories, blogs and comments about the poor lady who was asked to leave John Lewis because they had received a complaint about her tantrumming toddler. There is no doubt that whoever made that complaint was a thoughtless moron, and the staff member who acted upon it by asking them to leave was naïve and insensitive to say the least. I can guarantee you that no one in that store felt more uncomfortable and put out by that child’s tantrum than the mum, and to be asked to leave in such a way must have been pure humiliation.

Yet we love these stories, because we love to be outraged. We share them with our friends, perpetuating an idea that large swathes of the world are against us mothers, determined to be mean and spiteful just because we have children.

Angry tales about how badly breastfeeding mothers are treated abound. Again, this treatment is completely out of order, but the prevalence of these angry responses paints a skewed view of a world where strangers are lurking in corners just waiting to jump out and shout at anyone who dares to feed their baby anywhere but their own house or the privacy of a dank public toilet.

And if you think the stories paint a bleak picture, just take a look at a parenting forum.

Lonely, exhausted and stressed over my difficulties to feed my son during my first maternity leave, I discovered the horrors of these forums first hand. Desperate for advice on how to feed, I turned to the internet for support and solace but found the exact opposite: page after page of desperate stories and judgemental comments, with only a spattering of kindness to break the misery.

Thankfully, I came to my senses and went out into the real world, only to discover that actually…people are lovely! Random strangers would stop me in the street to talk to me about my baby, passers-by would go out of their way to open doors for me or help me down stairs with the buggy. Having lived for years in London and never managed to exchange more than a few words with a stranger, suddenly I became an actual member of my local community. I’ve breastfed two children and never had more than a handful of funny looks (at least that I’ve noticed!). I’ve dealt with hideous toddler meltdowns in public and only once wanted to punch someone in the face for their unprompted attempts to intervene.

Sadly, there will always be some people who are thoughtless and unhelpful when you are trying to deal with children, and the sleep deprivation that comes with parenthood will inevitably make those moments feel a hundred times worse. But for anyone who begins to feel that the world is against you and your children, let me leave you with this story…

I was having a crap day today. Stressed, sleep deprived, soaking wet, with a whingy baby and having earlier left my son’s beloved scooter on the bus, I boarded the number 73 grumpy and dreading the journey home. When my son suggested singing ‘This old man…’ to cheer me up, I forced myself to join in, hoping the rest of the passengers wouldn’t mind. Then, as we reached ‘he played three’, a jolly old toothless lady on the next seat joined in. Then the lady behind. Then the lady next to her. Before I knew it, half the bottom deck of this busy bus were engaged in a spontaneous flash mob style singsong, before each smiled or told me what a lovely boy I had as they disembarked. It was one of the loveliest moments I have ever experienced.

You see, some people are gits. But most people are lovely.

 

New Year’s Resolutions

I am crap at domesticity. I hate cleaning, I’m massively inefficient at organising my home, I can just about scrape together a meal and anything with ‘homemade’ or ‘craft’ in the title makes my skin crawl. Don’t get me wrong, I’d like to be better at being a traditional homemaker (sort of), I just can’t do it.

Yet even though I know this and accept it, a part of me keeps trying. I guess it’s an attempt to be a good parent. My house should at the very least be clean and tidy, we should always have enough clothes in the drawers (not dumped on the sofa which is where ours seem to spend most of their time) and I should be able to cobble together a reasonably nutritious home cooked meal every night. It’s not too much to ask. Then there’s all the parent admin which no one tells you about before you have kids (because it’s bloody boring) like paying for school meals, applying for school places, coordinating donations for the nursery toy sale (failed – sorry nursery!) and such like. I’m mega-organised at work, but somehow it all falls to pieces at home where organisation counts as keeping paperwork in one big box to be rifled through in a panic any time something important happens.

I keep trying. And I keep failing. And I get fed up and think ‘what’s the point?’ and stop trying. Then it gets worse so I try again. And fail. Repeat ad infinitum.

So this year I made possibly the best and most achievable New Year’s Resolution I’ve ever come up with: to care less about the state of the house and spend more time playing!

Bloody genius.

I bet I am the only person on the planet who has stuck to their New Year’s Resolution this far into January. I am on a losing streak with Snakes and Ladders, me and the three year old are currently at a draw with the Ladybird Game and yesterday I invented two new verses of Old Macdonald involving both my sons’ names which made the baby belly chuckle repeatedly for the first time.

Unfortunately it does mean my house looks like it’s been ransacked, I haven’t vacuumed properly in weeks (yuk, that’s actually quite disgusting – might have to rectify that one) and my post-Christmas clean-up is so poor that I’ve only just discovered a Toblerone from someone’s stocking hiding underneath the sofa bed (finders keepers!). I’m also not sure how much my husband will appreciate it when he discovers the mound of ironing he spent 3 hours doing last night after a full day’s work is still sitting on the sofa waiting to be put away.

Ah well. Nothing to be done about that. It was a resolution, so I have to stick to it!

 

The secret to stress free parenting (as if I know!)

While in many ways, motherhood has completely taken over my life, easily the biggest and most important part of my day, I am deeply aware that I am still in the relatively early days of this parenting malarkey. I still have lots to learn.
However, I am going to risk saying something stupid. Only 3 years and 2 children in, I reckon I’ve cracked it. I’ve found the ever illusive secret to enjoying parenthood and living a happy and relatively stress free family life (if there could ever be such a thing!)
Have low expectations.
Very low expectations.
Bottom of the ocean, as deep as you can go, barely visible they are so hidden in the depths, low expectations.      
How many of you parents reading this went into it expecting it to be all smiles and loveliness? Come on, be honest. No matter how much people warned you about sleepless nights and explosive poos, you never really appreciated it did you? You knew you’d get woken up but you thought you’d be like the mums in the soft focus ads, gazing adoringly at your darling child as they smiled up at you, not stumbling into their room, bleary eyed and swearing as they scream so loudly you think your eardrums might explode. You never thought you’d be scraping poo from within a baby’s neck folds at 3am while choking back your gag reflex. But it happened.
Being a parent is a shock to the system. It hits you like a freight train, then drags you along for the ride. No matter how many warnings you get, you’ll never know what to expect when you have a baby.
Until you’ve had one.
The advantage of being a second time mum is you know all the perils.
When will the baby sleep through the night? Not for bloody ages! Sod Gina Ford. Don’t even bother. First time round I grumbled any time I was woken up. Second time round, if I get 3 hours in a row I feel bloody invincible! 
First time round, feeding the baby felt like an endless, exhausting task. Now, I know to appreciate it for what it is: an excuse to sit down. Never try to plan around how long it will take. Assume it will take ages and enjoy the rest while you can.
Trips out should be seen as a success if everyone returns alive and unharmed
The house will never be clean. As long as no one is going to contract some kind of disease, that’s good enough!
Cooking? There’s absolutely nothing wrong with eating only food that can be bunged in the oven or pinged in a microwave. And cherry tomatoes thrown onto a plate definitely count as enough vegetables!     
As for anything else, if  all you mange in an entire day is to ram some washing in the machine, you’re doing grand.

It’s not pessimistic. It’s realistic. It’s going easy on yourself. If I could go back to myself in those first days of motherhood and give myself some advice, it would be this:
Calm down, lower your expectations and enjoy the little things. Your house will be a tip and you’ll never complete your to do list, no matter how small. Aim for a nothing and anything you achieve will  feel amazing. You’ll be so much happier for it, and that’s all that really matters!

On becoming a mum of two

9am. So far I’ve been thrown up on, dealt with a toddler weeing on the floor, and cleaned up a disgusting leaking newborn nappy, only to have said newborn wee all over me and himself the minute his nappy was removed.
If being a mum lacks glamour, being a mum of two can be downright undignified. When I said I’d been thrown up on, I meant I’d been thrown up on. Not my clothes. Me! The boy didn’t even finish swallowing or move his head away before he spewed his breakfast back up all over my boob. What a charmer!
If the end of my pregnancy was marked by the constant refrain, ‘Sorry darling, mummy’s too tired/sore/big to do that’, my new motto seems to be ‘Just a minute love. Let me finish dealing with your brother’. Doesn’t matter which brother, and to be honest I call them by each other’s names half the time already! Looking after two small children certainly does keep you very busy.
With no work until the summer, this messy, disorganised existence is my life for the next nine months. 
But, without sounding too soppy and sickening, I’ve never been happier.
There may be twice the poo, twice the wee and twice the crying, but there’s twice the love and ten times the cuteness!

  
I haven’t the time or brain power to even try to write a cleverly structured or witty blog post right now (I’m writing this on my phone as I feed the baby and watch yet another dinosaur film with his brother!), but this may be my favourite blog yet.
Because it’s my first as a mum of two. A scruffy, sick-covered, surrounded by mess, undignified mum of two. 
And I bloody love it!

Sorry for being pregnant: an open letter to my little boy

Dear little man,

At this moment, you are tucked up in bed. You are almost certainly not asleep. Partly because you’re a stubborn little so-and-so, partly because when I left you had grabbed yourself yet another book to read (which both infuriates me and makes me a little proud!), and partly because it’s nearly an hour before your normal bedtime. Sorry about that. I made the stupid decision to skip naptime today. You were probably fine, but I was not. That’s what being 38 weeks pregnant does to you.

I guess you’ve had to put up with a lot of this sort of thing since I got pregnant. I try my hardest to continue being a fun, lively, energetic mum, but I know I’m failing. When I was at work, I put so much of my energy into trying to stay professional during the day, by the time I got home I tended to crash on the sofa in a heap of emotional exhaustion. You got fed and cleaned, but for a few weeks that was about it. Now I’m no longer at work, we can go back to having fun. Except I’m huge now, and that hardly makes for the world’s greatest playmate. We have fun days out, but they’re regularly punctuated by ‘Sorry darling, mummy can’t really run at the moment’, and ‘Sorry sweetheart, mummy can’t fit down the slide anymore’. Try as I might, I can’t stop pregnancy getting in the way.

It’s marginally easier when we’re at home, but my heart broke a little last week when you said you’d rather do jigsaws with Daddy because ‘Mummy can’t sit on the floor anymore’.

I’ve recognised my limits and asked other relatives to take you out for the fun-filled days I can no longer manage. I should welcome you back from these days fully rested and refreshed, ready to play with all the vigour you deserve. But all too often I’m overcome by my nesting urge, trying to make everything in the house as perfect as I can before our lovely family existence is interrupted by a new recruit. By the time you come home I’m more physically exhausted and useless than I was before you left.

Thankfully, you’ve made it easy. You’ve moaned only once: that ‘the baby has been in your tummy for aaaaages!’ Your only frustration is your impatience to meet them.

You have accepted becoming the ‘big boy’ of the house with a grace and excitement I could only have wished for. Of course, this is largely because we bribed you with a brand new dinosaur themed bedroom, but thanks for being so easily manipulated!

Little do you realise how much this baby will turn your world upside down. Not only will it have nicked your old room and toys and books, it will get in the way of all your favourite games; destroying every train set you build up and banishing your marble run to the top shelf, to be used only when baby is asleep and well out of the way. No, you have no idea. You are actually excited, and have even decided that we should name the baby ‘Lovely’.

Therein lies the problem. If, in years to come, you ever look back and find yourself resentful of the playtime you lost with mummy when she was too big to run around or too busy feeding the baby to play Froggy Frenzy, remember: it’s your fault. If you hadn’t been so amazing in the first place, we probably wouldn’t have wanted to have another.

All my love,

Mummy x

How to survive potty training: a REAL parents’ guide

Potty training is a pain in the arse. Everyone knows that. If you’ve read my blog before, you’ll know I take particular umbrage with it. But the good news is, we’ve finally cracked it and emerged through the other side relatively unscathed. Having struggled before I found my feet, I thought it only fair to pass on the wisdom of my experience. I’m not going to tell you all that practical ‘when to start, where to place your potty, how to praise your child’ stuff. There’s already far too much of that about. No. This is about YOU and how YOU survive one of the shittiest parts of being a parent (literally!)

aquarium1. Get creative.

Unless you’re willing to get on your hands and knees in public to clear up out urine from the deepest recesses of the soft play, you’re going to be stuck indoors for a good few days (or weeks!). You need some stuff to do. Stock up on paper, glue and glitter and make sure you have a really good internet connection to get some ideas. I’m no Neil Buchanan, but it’s amazing what you can achieve when cabin fever sets in.

2. Embrace technology.

You may be a bit of a control freak with the remote, determined to limit ‘screen time’ for your kids, but if you’re going to survive a whole week indoors you need to chill out and embrace the screen! Regular CBeebies breaks may well be the only way you get any ‘me time’, so learn to love Mr Tumble for the sake of your sanity.

3. Get a good book.

Wee and poo will quickly become your world, but no matter how proud you are of the day’s achievements, no one else gives a s**t. Even your partner will only feign interest as you describe each success and accident in detail. Sneak off with a good book, newspaper or podcast during those CBeebies breaks. You need some intellectual stimulation so you have something to talk when you finally regain contact with the adult world.

4. Have a reward system.rewards

Not for the kid. Surely being able to live without defecating in your own clothes is enough of a reward in itself?! You’re the one putting in the hard work, you deserve the treats. Stock up on wine, sweets and chocolate and reward yourself for a solid day’s hard work as soon as the critter is in bed (or during the day if you can sneak away from prying eyes!).

5. Plan and prepare all you want; know that the kid is always The Boss!

You’ll be tempted to read up on potty training and gather advice (you’re reading this blog after all!), but little good ever comes of listening to other people – it generally only serves to panic you or make you feel you’re doing a crap job. If only I had stuck to my own parenting mantra (never read parenting advice: trust only the NHS and my mum) perhaps I wouldn’t have found myself nearly in tears on the floor of a public park toilet all those months ago, convinced I was failing where everyone else had succeeded. Fate intervened and I was forced to ignore the ‘NEVER go back to nappies once you’ve introduced pants, especially with boys’ rule (can’t remember where I read this but, like most things on the internet, it’s RUBBISH!) and give up on potty training completely. Forced to wait until much later, I discovered that there is only one potty training expert in our lives – the boy himself. As soon as he wanted to and he could be bothered, he started using the potty. No fuss, no bother and no crying on the toilet floor.

I should have remembered: he is always the one in charge, he just lets me think I am.

Pregnancy Yoga: Why I still struggle with dodgy visualisations, back passages and trapped wind!

I have recently discovered the joys of pregnancy yoga. It remained a well hidden secret from me throughout the whole of my first pregnancy, so that I never discovered it was possible to actually feel comfortable and get a good night’s sleep at least once a week.

Let me say up front, I am a total convert. I love it. I look forward to it all day on a Monday and return home feeling refreshed and revitalised.

HOWEVER…

Attending these classes has reminded me how cynical I am. It has brought back all the feelings that led me to start my Sceptical Mum blog in the first place.

Is there something wrong with me? Why can’t I just accept the strange nuances of modern pregnancy and motherhood? Why is it that while other parents or mums-to-be nod and smile and welcome whatever weird fads come their way, I can’t help but grimace and smirk?

While the stretching is great and the relaxation is amazing (let’s be honest, any excuse to lie down and do nothing without any risk of someone interrupting you is always amazing!), I find my mind wandering and my inner sceptic creeping into my consciousness.

As the rest of the mums-to-be practice their ‘ocean breaths’ (imagine trying really hard to fog up a mirror) with a steadfast determination, I am permanently bewildered. Hasn’t anyone else noticed how much it sounds like Darth Vader? Is no one else picturing a room full of evil villains, storm clouds rolling over the sky ready for some kind of apocalypse? I join in, but half-heartedly, wondering how pretending to be a cartoon ghost is going to help keep me calm during labour.

Then there are the ‘visualisations’. The moment our teacher instructs us to ‘remove all distractions from our mind’, I know I’m in trouble. I can’t do it. Tell me not to think and my mind is suddenly teeming with information. Just as we’re asked to visualise an empty boat in a peaceful lagoon, the music blaring in the bar below seeps into my consciousness and my visualisation is immediately accompanied by the sound track of ‘You’re Gorgeous’. My mind is off… I loved that song! Who sang it? Baby something? I think he was blonde and had a beard. Baby Bird, that’s it! But why can I only picture Kenneth Brannagh?… Five minutes later, I realise that while everyone has gradually pushed their boat across the lake with their conscious breathing, I’m busy cataloguing 90s one hit wonders in a boat captained by Vanilla Ice. Oops.

I have a little more luck in the physical activities. With something practical to do, my mind has less chance to wander. I’m fine, and getting on with it like everyone else, until she utters those three fatal words: pelvic floor exercises.

Clearly these are important, and the first time she mentioned it I thought ‘Good. I’ve never known how to do these, and God knows I’ve never recovered from my first childbirth’. Only seconds later, and I’m biting my lip to keep from guffawing every time she instructs us to ‘focus on our back passage’ and wondering when I regressed to have the sense of humour of a pre-teenage boy. I silently thank God I don’t know anyone else in the class, and that we do these exercises on all fours so no one can see my face.

Of course, I haven’t even mentioned the indignity of trying to lean forward with a giant bump in the way, the hilarious sight of 15 women who look like they’re smuggling bowling balls up their tops balancing and wobbling into squat positions and the constant fear that any time you bend over could release a massive onslaught of trapped wind! No one ever said pregnancy was glamorous.

Finally, and what worries me most, is the fact that no one else sees this side of it. The rest of the class seem to take everything so seriously. Either they’re far more sensible than me, or much better at hiding it. Some are so focussed it makes me feel guilty for even thinking such subversive thoughts, and every week I worry that ‘scary heavy breathing lady’ is going to pass out from treating her relaxation with such intensity. I’d giggle at her cartoonish puffed out cheeks if I didn’t think she might come over and sit on me as punishment!

Three years after giving birth to my son, I had started to feel I’d found my place in motherhood, and perhaps I wasn’t so sceptical after all. But I had clearly forgotten that strange world of the expectant and new parent, where all social norms are abandoned and things which would once have seemed ridiculous are accepted as totally sensible, while I and a few hidden others watch on bemused.

Oh well, at least it might provide some good blogging material…

Pregnancy: The Second Time Round

Pregnancy: the second time round

You may have noticed that I haven’t blogged in quite some time. You may not.

I haven’t given up and have no intention to – I still have plenty of parent related issues to moan about and critique. The simple reason I haven’t blogged is because I’ve been too tired. No, not tired. Exhausted. Fatigued. Completely, totally and utterly knackered!

Work is crazy, family life is busy and there always seems to be something to do, but that I can just about manage.

The reason I’m so exhausted is that my energy is being slowly but surely drained and stolen by a parasite, sucking the very life out of me.

That’s right – I’m pregnant!

It’s wonderful news. We were lucky enough to get one healthy little baby and now we’ll be blessed with two. I’m grateful, and wouldn’t want to ever take for granted how fortunate we’ve been – loads of people would love to be in our situation and I know we don’t necessarily deserve it.

Unfortunately, it’s sometimes difficult to remember that because the old wife’s tale – that if you remembered how tough it all was to have a baby, you’d never do it again – turns out to be true. Being pregnant second time round is crap. And here’s why…

  1. The exhaustion

Before I became a mum, I thought I had a busy life. Then I had a baby and wondered what the hell I’d been moaning about. Then I got pregnant again and wanted to travel back in time and punch my twenty-something childless self in the face. The early months of pregnancy must be some form of natural endurance test to make sure you’re up to motherhood, making you constantly shattered and confused, but adding in the awkward fact that no one understands why. At least when you have a baby you can excuse the giant bags under your eyes with the simple phrase ‘night feeds’ or ‘teething!’, but when you haven’t yet had your scan and are trying to keep it quiet, you just look like you’re falling apart. It’s all bad enough the first time round, but when you have to go through it while working full time and coming home to a toddler demanding that you do jigsaws, play racing games, let him help with the cooking and entertain a small stuffed monkey, all while you continue to run a semi-functional household, it’s all you can do not to fall asleep flat on your face in the middle of the street and allow worried passers-by to carry you to the nearest hospital just for a bit of a rest!

  1. Everyone knows

While you put all your energy into hiding your sickness, baby-brain and total exhaustion, it’s all a massive waste of time. Turns out since you last popped out a sprog everyone’s been desperately waiting and anticipating the next arrival. While revealing the news that you’re about to be a parent first time round is one of the loveliest and most heart-warming experiences you can have – greeted by surprised shrieks, happy sobs and ecstatic hugs – second time round you’re more likely to be met by smug smiles, knowing shrugs and comments like ‘I had a feeling’, or ‘We wondered when you’d tell us’, or worst of all ‘Oh, we’ve all known for ages!’ as if through some magical prescience your friends and family were able to foretell the arrival of your next child from the very moment of conception. Why you ever bothered putting on a brave face through those early months is now a total mystery.

  1. Being massive!

Of course hiding your pregnancy is hardly made easier by the fact that your body has already been well and truly ruined by your first child. While first time mums wander around with neat little bumps gradually poking out as the later months approach, your existing sprog has already stretched your muscles to buggery so even though the baby itself is only the size of a pea you’re walking around looking like you’ve shoved a cushion up your jumper from the day after the test showed up positive.

  1. You hate all your clothes

The problem with getting big so soon is you are quickly faced with the prospect of maternity clothes. If your friends are anything like mine they’ll have offered helpful advice during your first pregnancy like ‘Don’t waste money on maternity clothes you’ll only wear for a couple of months – just buy bigger clothes from Primark and a couple of really cheap maternity dresses’. Great advice, thanks. It was bad enough feeling so frumpy for a few weeks back then, but now I’m faced with months and months (because who knows when you get your figure back after a second when you don’t have the pressure of an OK magazine cover to spur you on!) of looking like I’ve escaped from my shackles at the kitchen sink and crawled through a bargain basement reject clothes sale.

  1. No wine!

Enough said.

The shining light at the end of the tunnel – apart from the vague recollection that there is a period of pregnancy respite before the horrendous heartburn and permanent discomfort of a giant bump begins – is that all the rubbish is worth it to get the baby at the end. In a feat of what I can only assume is a rare moment of nature’s kindness, my psyche is currently shielding me from remembering how hard that bit is.

Home Alone

As December approaches, I am faced with my annual Herculean task of enthusing my other half about the festive season. It is the time of year it becomes most apparent that we are totally and completely incompatible. While I run around covering everything with tinsel, blaring out Nat King Cole day and night and scheduling in a visit to every vaguely Christmas-themed event from the moment I open the first door of my advent calendar, my husband all but sits in a corner mumbling ‘Bah Humbug’. He leaves all his shopping until Christmas Eve and then moans that the true tragedy of the demise of the high street is that you can no longer just run and buy everything in Woolworths.

Luckily, I have a secret weapon: Macaulay Culkin. For some unfathomable reason, even my husband’s Grinch-like demeanour is thawed the moment Home Alone appears on the TV and renders him, momentarily, susceptible to the festive jollities. I’d like to think it’s because of the heart-warming message about the importance of family, love and not judging by appearances. In reality, it’s probably far more to do with Joe Pesci being whacked repeatedly in the face with large metal objects.

Whatever your feelings about Christmas, or Macaulay Culkin, there’s no doubting that Home Alone a great family film, albeit riddled with plot holes and unresolved issues. Top of the list: where the hell are social services? If they don’t see fit to intervene in this hapless and disorganised family’s clear neglect when they leave their 8 year old home alone at Christmas (even when they call the police to tell them they’ve done it!) surely alarm bells should start ringing by the sequel?

Taking a far stricter stance than the movie makers on parental responsibilities, this week a YouGov poll found that two thirds of parents think that the government should set a clear minimum age at which parents can legally leave their children home alone. It was generally agreed that 12 was a sensible age for this limit.

Telling people how to parent their children is always going to be controversial. There are so many mitigating factors, so many issues to be taken into consideration.

What if your 11 year old is especially mature and sensible? What if your 13 year old is reckless and you wouldn’t trust them alone for a minute? What if you have younger children whose primary school is in one direction, but the elder’s high school is in the other? Surely at the age of 11 they are old enough and sensible enough to let themselves in and out of the house and grab themselves a biscuit until you can get home safely with the ones who really need looking after? What if you’re a lone, working parent to several children and just can’t watch all of them all the time? If it’s ok for 10 minutes, does that mean it’s ok for 1 hour or 3? Does it make a difference if it’s an hour on a Tuesday afternoon in the summer holidays versus an hour on a Friday night in winter? Considering all the factors as well as age, where do we draw the boundaries?

In reality, the vast majority of parents can be trusted to make sensible decisions about their own children. Many of them are probably panicking and stressing so much about little decisions there’s no way they’d ever put their child in danger. I live on the second floor of a flat block with no lift and when my boy was a tiny baby I would drive myself to distraction wondering if it was ok to run down and put the rubbish out while he was asleep, or go to set the buggy up outside while he was strapped into the base in the kitchen rather than attempting to carry both downstairs. I would spend a good ten minutes rearranging everything in the room in case there was an unexpected earthquake which shook everything within a 2 foot radius so it all inexplicably jumped off the shelves and directly on top of the boy. Even when I had done this, I would spend the entire time I had left him (a total of about one minute) preparing my defence in case a health visitor turned up unexpectedly and threatened to take him away as a result of my neglect.

This insane panic is probably a feature of much parenting and, though often ridiculous, ensures most people make reasoned and very safe judgements when it comes to their children.

Still, there are instances where people do make potentially unsafe judgements, and guidance is needed. But is potential criminalisation the answer?

If parents really are making decisions which put their children in danger, then surely safeguarding procedures would immediately be put in place the moment those dangerous actions were discovered. It would concern me that by adding an extra layer of prosecution into this mix you are simply complicating the problem, potentially alienating the parents further from a system which should be helping them, or adding work to a system which is already extremely busy dealing with children at risk.

Where decisions to leave under 12s may be seen not to be enough of a risk to warrant ongoing child protection intervention, where then is the benefit in putting a parent through the justice system? You would almost certainly teach that parent a lesson and they are unlikely to do it again – assuming they had a choice in the first place – but at what cost? Both to that family and the justice system?

There is already clear, simple guidance from the government and NSPCC on when it is appropriate to leave children at home. If some parents feel this needs to be made law, perhaps they were unaware of the guidance to start with. If parents don’t want to leave young children at home but feel they have no choice, perhaps they need more support and the money which would be spent on passing and enforcing a change in the law would be better spent on helping those who are struggling, or subsidising childcare to support working parents.

Surely, as is most often the case in society, education and support is a far better option than arbitrary criminalisation.

The Great In the Night Garden conspiracy

It’s that time of year when normally rational and intelligent people suddenly become bumbling idiots, unable to comprehend events which have happened, without fail, year in year out throughout their entire lives.

“I can’t believe how dark it is!”
“It’s weird because it’s six o’clock, but really it’s five o’clock. But really, it’s like six o’clock”
“I guess I’m hungry because really, it’s sort of tea time in my world.”
“I know why it’s light, but I just don’t really believe it. You know?”

If you you haven’t heard variations on the above phrases, you must live in a hole. A really deep hole which is not penetrated by light. A hole in which time does not exist.

There is, however, one group who remain largely unaffected by the clocks going back: parents. Specifically, parents of young children. While the rest of the world lazed around in their PJs on Sunday morning, enjoying the benefits of that extra hour in bed, we were up as normal. Toddlers could not care less about that extra hour, if anything they take the opportunity to get up even earlier. If the whole country can mess around with time just to suit itself, why not children? Sod 6am – why not get up at 5? Or even 4? Not that this will have any impact on bed time of course. No self respecting toddler would go to bed at 8pm if they could stay up dancing until midnight (oh habits of our twenties, how you come back to bite us on the ass!)

If you find yourself up with your offspring in the ungodly hours of the morning, while the rest of the world snoozes on oblivious, there is only one answer: TV. More specifically: In the Night Garden. Other TV may well suffice, but only In The Night Garden, with it’s soothing plinky plonky noises and the deep chocolate tones of Derek Jacobi will both entertain the little one while allowing you to peacefully doze through the mind bogglingly dull adventures of a group of oversized stuffed toys.

So, last week, I found myself sprawled face down on the sofa while my two year old hit me repeatedly on the back screeching ‘Look Mummy! Tombliboos!’ with a level of noise and enthusiasm which should surely be illegal before 8am.

Peering up to deliver the cursory ‘oh yeah’ I realised something. Through my bleary, barely conscious eyes, with just a one second glance, I knew I had seen this episode before. It was the one where one of the Tombliboos steals all the Pinky Ponk juice.

I bloody hate that episode. This selfish, irresponsible little wretch wanders around happily thieving from all of his friends while they innocently play, unaware of his criminal shenanigans. Eventually, the self-serving little blighter drinks so much of everyone else’s Pinky Ponk Juice that he becomes ill. Once he is discovered, rather than being reprimanded or punished or left to suffer the illness he has inflicted upon himself, the others prance around him, desperately trying to cheer him up. He learns no lessons about theft, gets free entertainment and presumably doesn’t even have to wash up the cups. What kind of message is this sending to our children? Especially ones like mine whose lazy, slovenly parents allow them to watch this exact episode on a seemingly regular basis?

Annoyed, I dragged my carcass into a sitting position to watch and see what other morally questionable lessons Derek Jacobi and the Night Garden residents were teaching my son.

Then there it was. The ending, and the clue as to the cause of all my sleep deprived nights.

“Somebody’s not in bed.
Who’s not in bed?
Iggle Piggle’s not in bed.”

Here, in a programme ostensibly designed to help send young children off to sleep, was the central character charging around well after story time, hiding behind trees and refusing to go to bed.

Once spotted, Iggle Piggle flops to the ground where he stands and is told softly by Jacobi’s satin tones: ‘Don’t worry Iggle Piggle’ as he too, gets away with whatever he wants.

Suddenly, it all made sense. The bed time antics. The sneaking around after dark. Regularly finding my son sleeping in corridors and on bedroom floors, clutching toys, water bottles and blankets; basically collapsing unwillingly into sleep anywhere other than the warm, comfortable bed we had spent time and money putting together for him.

I turned to him slowly, regarded his delighted grin with mistrust and said:

“Iggle Piggle doesn’t go to bed, does he?”
“No!” he replied with glee.
“Is this where you learned it from?” I asked outright.
He turned to me, slowly drew his fingers from where they had been stuffed in his mouth, grinned a cheeky, slobbery grin and screeched:
“Yes!”

And so it was that I discovered the great CBeebies conspiracy. Children’s entertainment? Public Service Broadcasting? I’ve seen through you and your game. Make a programme to get kids off to sleep, teach them bad sleep habits, then tired, desperate, sleep deprived parents will sit them right back in front of the very programme which caused it all in the first place just to get a few moments peace! The irony. It’s genius!

Well Jacobi, you may have fooled us before, but I’ve seen through you now, and there’ll be no more Pinky Ponk Juice in our house!