These are just my own personal essential parenting tools – they’re not by any means universal – but without them, I suspect I’d be in some kind of institution at this stage. In no particular order:
1. Kids’ TV
TV saves my life every evening. Take yesterday for example. There were fourteen children running around my kitchen – sorry, I mean three children, it just sounded like fourteen – then one found an old toy cash register at the bottom of a toy box and suddenly all three desperately, absolutely, utterly needed to play with the cash register. The noise levels went from “hide in another room for a minute and take a few deep breaths” straight up to “plan apology letter to neighbours” and someone was singing Can’t Stop That Feeling in the middle of it all. Dinner was about five minutes away so turning on the TV made no sense but Oh Dear God I needed that five minutes peace.
“Telly time!” I announced, and the cash register was dropped, the singing stopped, and all three threw themselves onto the rug in complete and utter blissful silence. They adore TV – more than anything. It’s a sad and beautiful thing to witness. They all like the same programmes – Jessie, Liv and Maddie, Bizaardvark – the poor five-year-old has never seen an episode of Paw Patrol or Peppa Pig in his life.
Meanwhile, I was in the kitchen, relishing the silence, and wondering how best to use my five minutes, which brings me nicely to my next parenting tool:
Oh, that six o’clock cup of tea when they’re all watching TV and how it revives me every day – I can literally feel it fixing me as I drink. It needs to be just the right temperature, not stewed, not weak, just right. (I’ve stopped taking milk in tea because pouring a tiny drop from a huge 3 litre carton of was just too much extra work, so making tea is also extremely efficient now – another benefit.) But yes, in terms of revival properties, tea is what gets me from dinnertime to bedtime in one piece.
Cake has many functions in my parenting toolbox. First and foremost, it is an activity. When we have no plans on a Sunday afternoon, and it’s too wet to go for a walk, my first suggestion is always coffee and cake. Proper cake though – homemade cake that’s worth the indulgence. (Our favourites are The Mellow Fig and Vanilla Pod in Blackrock, Kilruddery House and Gardens, and Avoca Kilmacanogue. I’m always on the lookout for really good homemade cake – let me know if you have any suggestions.)
Another cake function is the kind of cake you bake – an activity with an outcome. Baking is of course an extremely stressful thing to do with small children so I usually announce that it’s telly time half-way through, but it keeps them happy, and we all get to eat the output.
Cake is also a reward for the grown-ups – Wednesday night is cake night, so when things are going badly at around 5.30pm and I don’t think I can keep going, I picture the big slice of coffee cake that’s ahead, and all is good in the world again. And I’m a better parent for it – truly.
Not the dried fruit but one-on-one time with the kids. Whenever something big happens or someone has a tough week or if I need to bribe my way out of a tricky spot, I suggest a date with the child in question. It might be a walk on the pier with a coffee (for me) and a smoothie (for her), or a trip to the shops, or to a café for ice-cream or cake. There is nothing like the chat we have during one-on-one time and nothing like the sheer delight on the upturned face of the child who is skipping along beside me. Bonding with ice-cream thrown in – you can’t lose.
5. More dates
When you have no time, or nobody to mind your children, or no energy, or no money for a babysitter, there’s nothing more annoying than being told to have a date night with your other half. But having come out of the foggy baby years and having summoned the energy to go out on the odd Saturday night, I’ve realised how great it is to go out with my husband – not because we should, but because it’s fun. And because it’s the only time we get to have a proper conversation. Also, we usually sort out all our plans for the future, our finances, where the kids will go to school and what countries we’ll visit when they’re more sensible. (Unfortunately we forget it all the following morning.)
6. The library
Free books! A place to go where kids are welcome! It’s indoors! It’s not a playground! There are so many reasons I love the library – even when I’m rushing around the house trying to find 27 books and swearing that this time they’re only getting two each. There is nothing like the silence that follows a return from the library, when all three hunker down with their new books (and I can get back to parenting tool number 2 above).
7. The shops
A trip to the shops on my own or with whichever child needs some one-on-one time is what I promise myself during the toughest parts of the week. It’s like a reward chart for grown-ups – if I can just get through two more school runs, I can have a new nail varnish. Or if things are going very badly, new shoes.
8. Routine and breaks from routine
It’s boring by definition, but my kids (and I’m guessing lots of kids) like routine. They like knowing what happens when we get home from school, and I like having some semblance of structure, so that even when it’s not going very well, I know what we’re supposed to be doing.
But breaks from routine are I suppose the exception that prove the rule. The kids crave structure, but shaking it up every now and then is what keeps them (and us) going – a hot chocolate on a rainy afternoon when everyone’s in tears with tiredness, or a bagels in Dun Laoghaire on a Saturday instead of the same-ole-same-ole toasted sandwiches at home.
9. Something that’s just for me
I don’t think I’d be able to parent if I didn’t have time not being a parent. Work and blogging and running give me the fuel I need to keep me going through the parenting bits.
The smell of the first cup gets me out of bed in the morning and the promise of the second cup gets me through the school-run. My kids regularly ask me if I had to give up all but one of coffee, tea, cheese or cake forever, which one would I definitely keep – it’s coffee. I’m glad they don’t add number 11 to this quiz – that would be a worrying sign. And a dilemma.
This one needs no explanation.