I made three new year’s resolutions this year; one for work, one for running, and one for home – this is the home one: “fix afternoons with the kids so they’re less chaotic.”
But unlike my work and running goals, the home goal isn’t specific, nor is it measurable, and it didn’t come with any kind of smart plan. But I had a similar goal in 2015 and also in 2014, so it’s definitely time to fix this, just as soon as I work out how.
Having three in school has been a watershed moment in parenting for me – a tipping point. Three tired kids to feed, three lots of homework to supervise and sign, three voices all looking to be heard, and hurt looks when I can’t give each one my full attention. I used to be able to get other things done on weekday afternoons – bits of work stuff, bits of house stuff – but with three in school, not anymore.
I don’t know if it’s because I’m disorganised, or if I’m expecting too much, or if my kids are harder work than other kids, and mostly, it’s too chaotic to work that out. All I know is when they go to bed each night, I worry that we let another afternoon slip by in a flurry of spellings and snacks and requests and demands, and we didn’t really live.
So I started looking at my new resolution last week and decided that as with any good goal, you have to know what your problem is before you can find your solution. I decided to keep a log (mentally – there’s no time for an actual log) of what’s happening when, who does what, and why it all falls apart.
On Monday, they came out of school and we chatted in the car and I made them food and they did their homework. Then they played and I ran around trying to sign homework, make dinner, reply to emails, and get someone’s PE tracksuit in and out of the wash on time for Wednesday.
On Tuesday, they did something similar and I did something similar, except this time it was a phone interview instead of a PE tracksuit.
And Wednesday and Thursday ran along the same lines too – the homework varies, as do the snacks, and the games they play afterwards are different every day, but the routine itself doesn’t change.
I watched and noticed that when they finish their homework, they pick up whatever book or toy is nearby and start to play. They’re mostly content, and rarely ask me for something to do. They sometimes play together, sometimes alone. Occasionally they fight, but not often – perhaps the window between homework and dinner is too short to waste on squabbles.
I watched and spotted that although we don’t bake, or paint, or do anything constructive at all, we do chat. Last week we chatted about my eldest becoming a vegetarian – she was very keen until presented with her first vegetable curry, at which point she immediately gave up being a vegetarian. We chatted about how I was a great eater when I was a baby and tried everything – did you brag about it a lot when you were a baby too asked the seven-year-old. Ouch. And we chatted mostly about time machines, because my youngest is building one. It’s so that he can go into the future and see what he’s called his kids – and then he’ll know what to call his kids when they’re born. Of course.
I watched all week and the overriding realisation is that the kids are pretty content. I don’t mean amazingly happy or wonderfully fulfilled. But mostly content.
I’m the one for whom afternoons are chaotic, and once I look past the fog of my own elevated stress levels, I can see that. Until this week, I didn’t stop to take stock, and I suspect I projected my own feelings onto the kids. Happily, they appear to be mostly oblivious to the fact that I’m running around half-doing everything and achieving nothing, and then giving in to five minutes with Facebook and a cup of tea before picking it all up again. Which is exactly how it should be. So I need to change my goal – or even better, reduce my expectations. The kids are alright it seems, and maybe I can let myself off the hook a little too.
And last week may have been an anomaly – I might be back at the end of this week to tell you it’s a disaster after all. But at least now that I’ve written it down, I know it happened once.