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Friday, 3 February 2012

What stress? I just gave mine to the charity shop.

I went to a parenting workshop. Because, you know, I wasn't putting myself under enough pressure as it was, what with rehabilitating a child through a painful and traumatic surgery. It was important too to call every aspect of my parenting into question, and convince myself that this whole situation would be much easier to bear if I were a better mother.

The decision to attend followed a full week where the main sound in the Coffee House was howling. On one occasion, when both my children were screaming their faces off in different parts of the house, my mother and I could only stand at the foot of the stairs, holding onto a newel post each, shrieking with deranged laughter.

This hysterical heartlessness is not something I have learned from any parenting manual.

The message behind the Simplicity Parenting book on which the workshop was based is that our children are overloaded: with toys, with media, with activities. Decluttering, slowing down, and establishing family rhythms are ways of bringing some calm into family life, and preventing children from becoming overwhelmed. Children need time to be bored, to find their own activities, to enter 'deep play' away from outside stimulation.

The thing is, I agree with all this. But left alone with a Vision Sheet to fill in about what I would be throwing out or giving away, I found myself scribbling "Our stress is nothing to do with the stuff on the shelves." My question about how you can strap a child into a metal frame for an hour and then expect it to autonomously choose its own activities could not be answered. Our 'family rhythms' at home revolve entirely around sessions of physiotherapy.

It turns out that expecting a parenting workshop to solve our family's problems is the equivalent of cleaning the house in order to stop the roof falling in.

Still. I have cleared out some DVDs, and hidden some plastic ponies in a suitcase in the basement. (Whatever the course leader says, children under nine do remember what toys you have decluttered in their absence.) I've sorted the children's clothes into outfits in an attempt to Simplify Choice. A man from the Scope shop came by and I gave him a load of books. I'm trying to keep the house clearer and more quiet, and be mindful of the time things take so we don't overburden ourselves.

But on returning home from the workshop with my Vision Sheet and my new resolve about cutting back on television, I found my family gathered round a film, playing with a new set of tiny plastic dogs. They were calm, and they were happy - and that was a very simple joy indeed.

27 comments:

  1. My mother burnt my Rupert Bear when I started school and I'm not sure I've ever forgiven her. Don't declutter without indepth consultation. Hysterical laughter - absolutely the correct response to most situations, I find. C.x

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  2. you could laugh about it, that's a good sign! parenting courses are all very well, except I think they are run by aliens who have never actually met a child. certainly not one of mine.....

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  3. I'm a declutterer. I think it is a reaction to my mother's habit of keeping all my toys, school books, pieces of artwork etc. I loathed her hanging on to stuff I'd finished with.

    This too shall pass -eventually.

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  4. I fail to see how someone can run a course on parenting when each family has different traditions, ways of being together and, most importantly, personalities. Laughing hysterically was one of my main reactions and we all came out fine. Just be.

    Wishing you peace and tranquillity.

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  5. My children are convinced they can sell anything on ebay and get money insead of 'donating' it to a charity shop. It's hard to convince them that nobody would buy an old teddy for £20 so they can get a new wii game. Sigh. Love (and value) is in the eye of the beholder, but they don't know that!

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  6. My children estimate that they watched 'Shipwrecked' more than 30 times. It didn't harm their academic development, taught them about teamwork and plot development and gave them a shared experience. I commend the TV experience to you.

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  7. I have never forgotten the rabbit holding a carrot which was sent to the children at Dr Barnardos without my permission. Her name was Myfanwy. So now I find it very difficult to throw anything away. No doubt I will have redressed the balance too far in the opposite direction. Laughter is the best child rearing tool.

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    1. My wishes go out to Myfanwy, wherever she may be.

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  8. There is a time and a place for everything including television and pink ponies. I don't disagree with the keep it simple, let them get bored philosophy, but somedays that requires a level of patience from me which is just too high. I am also guilty of decluttering. Some things are hidden away if I suspect they may be very precious. Others make a swift departure for the charity shop so that I can honestly say that I have no idea where they are when asked to produce them. Good luck with the choices you make and don't pay attention to anyone else if it adds to your stress.

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  9. I am all too familiar with the standing at a distance laughing hysterically approach.

    Actually, I liked that book a lot. It's the only parenting book I ever read start to finish (although I really liked Buddhism for Mothers, too). It soothed me, and made a lot of sense. But at the end of the day, getting rhythmical and reducing clutter doesn't solve everything. Sometimes life is just crappy, even if you could shoot a cannon down your hallway and not hit a single stray toy. And if at those times a plastic dog (Scooby in my case) or a video can bring joy and harmony, then I say bring 'em on.

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  10. The stages of parenting courses - stress, desperation, declaring 'something has got to change', finding a course, secret euphoria at the thought that it will provide the answer, making it out of the house to the course on time (small triumph), listening with increasing levels of scepticism that the course will provide the answer, listening to some of the ridiculous questions asked and deciding you're not such a bad parent after all, going home and seeing your family in a new light.

    Mrs Coffee - you are an awesome woman, and a strong parent who is probably in need of a mental health day. If wine and chucking stuff out work as short term substitutes, then go for it. Ditto hysterical laughter.

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  11. Hysterical laughter always worked for me, on a good day the kids might even join in.

    An acquaintance who runs parenting courses said to me a while back "Of course we get all the wrong people, the ones who think they need help are usually doing okay, it's the ones who think they're great parents who have a problem"!

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  12. That's probably my favourite blog post title ever.

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  13. You're adorable.
    You're mad but you're adorable.

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  14. My mum is the Queen of Parenting Advice: 'Love them to bits, and take proper care of yourself.' Sane advice, that.
    I think she thought that leading by example would be enough on the decluttering front, but sadly that has never worked.

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    1. Leading by example only works if it is a bad example, I find. Like losing your temper, or leaving your socks on the floor.

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    2. ... or saying 'HOW many times do I have to tell you that..' Duly came back to me this morning.

      Grin.

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  15. You've heard the expression spitting in the wind? Or there's the cruder version. But you get my point.

    Laugh - what else can you do?

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  16. I think some of us are hoarders and don't mind clutter and some of us aren't - yes it is good to get rid of things but if the process itself becomes stressful then why start on the path of trying to force yourself to get rid of toys that will upset everyone when it is discovered they have gone

    We are trying to gently declutter - one bag a week to the charity shop, it's not a lot but over the course of the year might start to create some space

    That said I just cannot let go of books - I should, especially those that haven't been touched in years and yet...

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  17. I fall in the "I should be a batter mother" category and probably SHOULD go to those meetings.
    I don't.
    I follow my instincts.I think your laughter was legitimate and most probably needed.
    Don't beat yourself. From what I read here you are a Superstar Mum.

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    1. You're very kind, Paola. I wouldn't go so far as Superstar, but I don't do too badly on a good day.

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  18. Hmm. the fact that the course leader thinks anyone over 2 wouldn't miss a toy you've given away makes me deeply suspicious of anything else they might have to say. Hmm.

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  19. How irrelevant that parenting course must have seemed. From where I'm reading, seems like you're doing a pretty good job already - hysterical laughter is entirely the best policy at all times. Oh and children most definitely _do_ remember. My 6 and 8 year old still ask longingly where 'Sharky' is (a very imaginatively named shark toy from Ikea) on a regular basis and he's been gone for almost 5 years.

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