Do you feel life revolves around your children - your life squeezed in between their arrangements? You're not alone.
Take this scene: sitting around the dinner table the other night and while I had the attention of the whole family, I attempted to pinpoint a weekend date - preferably before Christmas - when we could have some friends and their children over for a catch-up and a bite to eat.
These are good friends of my husband and mine, and their children, roughly the same age as two of ours, are equally delightful. I suggested we could all eat together, and then the kids could watch "Strictly" and/or "The X Factor" whilst we adults caught up in the kitchen. However from the reaction we had from our own children, you'd have thought I was asking them to eat raw tripe.
"I'm playing golf, whatever the date," said our eldest. The middle one protested she'd have too much homework that weekend and if not was bound to be at a birthday party, whilst throughout the conversation the baby of the family was chanting "boring, boring, boring".
Since when was my social life ruled by my children?
No matter the children weren't keen on the idea from the start, it was also proving tricky to pinpoint a date – what with ferrying them to various weekend activities (including drama school, sports fixtures, both as spectators and participants, numerous party invites and the like, not to mention fitting in my husband's frequent golf tournaments) there just didn't seem to be a date we could settle on.
Suddenly, I saw red. "How come I'm good enough to give up vast amounts of my weekend, every weekend, dropping off and picking up you lot, not to mention all the after-school activities you all profess to have to do or else you'll die, and yet when I ask for one measley slot of time for us to see our friends no-one can reciprocate gracefully?
"I'm sick of it," I screamed, warming to my theme, as everyone else glazed over. "I'm sick of running everyone else around – not to mention picking up various lost friends along the way – and nearly always with a smile upon my face, and now it appears that's not enough: I can't even have a social life of my own anymore."
My friend Cathy is in pretty much the same boat – with four children and a husband working abroad, she dreads the weekend. "Everyone else loves that Friday feeling – I loathe it," she confesses. "Saturday mornings start at the crack of dawn with football or rugby for my son, and then it's a round of ballet and swimming for the girls. Often there'll be a birthday party for one or two of them in the afternoon, and then before I know it there's Sunday church, another party drop-off or collection and usually a sporting fixture thrown in for my son again.
"The way I see it, Monday morning is my favourite time of the week – I get back from the school run and close the front door behind me and just breathe in the quiet."
Anyway, this latest outburst of mine has resulted in a bit of a breakthrough. Everyone has agreed that actually mum does have a point. So we hit upon a date when our friends and their children could come for a visit, and the children all promised to be welcoming and non-sulky. And then my husband waded in – "I can't do that date, I've just remembered it's the rugby lads on tour weekend – 'been in the diary all year."
Top tips for how not to devote the entire weekend or week to running everyone else around:
1. Agree a strict eye for an eye, tooth for a tooth arrangement – if I drop you to football, you have to hang out the washing first.
2. Do not over-commit. Either your son goes to football and enjoys that, or he goes to the party later on and enjoys that – no you are not prepared to pick-him up from footie and hand him a clean set of clothes whilst he changes out of his muddy boots and shin pads in your car and you incur the wrath of the parking attendant as you try to slow your car down and throw him out at the party venue. And then go back and pick him up.
3. Agree with your child they can do no more than two after school activities a week, unless you can find another parent to share the drop-offs and pick-ups.
4.Sometimes when you are taking or picking up from an activity, take a book or the paper and instead of haring back home to do a couple of jobs and then dashing back to collect them, take the opportunity to give yourself a break. Of course this only works if you don't have a cranky 11-month-old in tow and/or another sibling who wants to be somewhere else/anywhere else.
5 .Learn to say "no" sometimes. It does no harm – in fact it can do a lot of a good when a child realises that, shock horror, the world doesn't actually revolve around them.