I am constantly asking my children to wear their slippers in the house, as our floors are hard and easy to slip on in socks. It doesn’t matter how many times I ask, it always seems to be surprising news to them. Here is a typical daily conversation with my daughter:
Me: Where are your slippers?
Her (in a joyful, sing-songy voice): I have no idea, mummy.
Me: When did you last have them?
Her: I don’t remember.
Me (getting irate): How can you not remember? Go and look!
(Off she goes and returns merrily some minutes later)
Her: Good news, mummy, I found one of them!
This would all seem like normal child/parent behaviour, only I end up having a little pang of guilt as I say the words. The reason? Because more often than I would like to admit, I end up saying to myself (away from children’s earshot, naturally) “where the f*** are my slippers?” And I have absolutely no idea where they are, or even any recollection of where I last had them. Replace ‘slippers’ with ‘mobile phone’, ‘handbag’, ‘car keys’ and you get a pretty good gist of how I spend my days, not to mention how organised I am.
Once again I am aware that I have turned into a hypocrite. It turns out that everything I get fed up with my children for doing, are the very frustrating behaviours I have myself. Even worse, they are the behaviours I remember my mother complaining about when I was young. I lose things. I get distracted. I eat slowly. I avoid tasks I don’t like doing. I don’t tidy things away. The list goes on.
Of course the worst part is the knowledge that children can sniff out hypocrisy like bloodhounds. So I end up with three options:
- Try to hide my not-so-good behaviours from my children
- Try to improve my behaviours
- Care less about their not-so-good behaviours.
The first one is not an option. They are going to notice that I am hunting around for car keys while they are waiting at the door, or that I’m wearing socks when I’m telling them to look for their slippers. The second one is clearly the best, noblest option. But I know that I am simply not going to turn into someone who keeps an immaculately tidy house, who never procrastinates and who knows where everything is at any one time. In fact, I think I would find someone who was capable of all that a little bit frightening.
So that leads on to number 3. Obviously, as a parent, I want my children to be the best little people they can be. But part of that is recognising that they will never be perfect, or rather, that it is their ‘imperfections’ that make them the wonderful little people they are. My daughter’s head is often in the clouds. In her mind it makes perfect sense to wear just the one slipper, and have the other one stuffed down the back of the sofa. It’s what makes her so imaginative. My son wants to do everything as carefully as he can, which is why cutting up his food or getting dressed can take an eternity. It’s also what makes him so precise with his drawings and so honest when he’s done something he shouldn’t have.
On the other hand, I still have a duty to get them to improve certain behaviours, but I just need to keep in mind that my expectations should be compatible with their personality. My daughter will probably always be a little disorganised, so trying to turn her into an organised person is probably impossible (especially as she doesn’t have the best example to follow!) The best I can hope is to help her be more organised. My son will probably always have a preference for precision over speed, but I can help him balance the two a little more. I need to become a little more accepting of their strengths and weaknesses, and realise that while I may have influence over these, it is limited.
As for me? I am going to become more accepting of my own weaknesses. I have come up with another option:
- Accept hypocrisy as a natural part of parenthood.