The other day a conversation with another parent, about TV, led me to the most liberating piece of parenting advice I've heard in my eight short years as a mother.
I haven't read a parenting book since 2009.
I'm not bragging about this. I should probably be reading loads. Especially now that my seven year old is almost eight and having emotions I don't really know what to do with. If this is a warm-up for the teenage years then I CANNOT WAIT. Tip for parents navigating conversations about kids feeling left out: don't have this conversation when you're tired and basically tell your child, 'This is life and you need to get used to it.' Then watch their face crumble as they realise their mother has no better handling on this thing called life, than they do.
So far, I've picked up everything I know (or don't know) about being a mother from those around me. Friends. Other mums (and dads). My own parents.
I take all the different snippets that I like and piece them together into some wonderfully chaotic bespoke jigsaw puzzle that fits my family.
And I ditch the pieces that don't.
Take everything with a pinch of salt.
Other parents, especially ones going through the same shizzle as you are, are a brilliant resource. They will have discovered stuff you haven't thought of. They will inspire you. And motivate you. Occasionally, though, they will scare the bejeezus out of you, cause complete panic and make you do crazy stuff like COPY THEM.
When this happens, take a step back, evaluate and breathe.
Because every piece of advice you come across as a parent must be taken with a pinch of salt. We all parent differently. We all have different circumstances. So it can never be one size fits all.
You are always going to need to adjust the seams a little.
The end of Netflix.
Take the other day, for example, when someone mentioned their kids never watch TV. Like EVER. 'Oh mine don't watch TV either,' I said smugly. 'They watch Netflix. That's different, right?'
Er, no. Apparently it's not different. F***. Who knew? (Clever Netflix convincing me that you are a cultural institution.)
The timing of this conversation was uncanny. It came, unprompted, at the end of a week where I was feeling really guilty about how much Netflix my kids had watched that week. Because I was tired and lacking in energy to do anything else with them.
Before you also start to feel guilty and stop reading, this post ends really happily, with TV AND you having a rest.
Make it work for you.
Like the next parent, I am brilliant at beating myself up about the stuff I don't do and ignoring all the stuff I have managed to do. And some weeks I forget that it is just impossible for everyone to have clean pants, a hot meal AND everything else.
But in my already guilt-ridden state, I obviously needed to take action. So I instantly banned Netflix and then spent the next 36 hours wanting to kill myself.
Because I had (stupidly) forgotten to assess all the pieces of the puzzle and ditch the ones that didn't fit. With mostly sole responsibility for three kids and work, it is simply not feasible for me to live in a world without Netflix. And anyway, my kids enjoy the downtime and, as long as they are doing other stuff as well, they mostly don't turn into monsters.
Kids have to learn to amuse themselves.
BUT. It wasn't so much the conversation about TV, as the conversation it led to.
Because when I asked the other parent, 'How on earth do you entertain them ALL day?' they said, 'We don't. It's not our job to amuse them all of the time. They have to learn to amuse themselves. Out of boredom comes creativity. And when there's no media kids have to find other stuff to do.'
And there it was. The most liberating piece of parenting 'advice' I have ever heard.
'Kids have to learn to amuse themselves.'
It's good for kids to feel bored.
I think this is something that has really changed since I was a kid. The feeling now that we need to be our kids' playmates.
When I was young, I never remember my mum and dad playing with me ALL of the time. Nor did I watch tons of TV. I remember going off to my room. Playing make-believe. Scribbling and writing. Inventing imaginary clubs with no members (sad but true haha).
And yet so many of us feel we should be our kids' primary source of entertainment. I know I always have done. I'm not alone. When I once asked other mums what they felt most guilty about, 'Not playing with our kids enough' topped the list. I would hazard a guess that's why so many of us use TV and other media as a crutch.
Because we're scared of what we would do with them otherwise.
A final thought.
But now, since having that conversation, when one of my kids tells me they're bored, I don't feel guilty or that it's my responsibility to relieve this instantly. I suddenly have the confidence to suggest lots of things they could do before leaving them to figure the rest out for themselves.
Because actually? Kids are kids and play comes instinctively to them. Much more so than it does to us. My two year old and five year do role play constantly and are fully capable of enjoying this without me. And my seven year old is happiest when she's writing and doodling in her notebook without me. All that the small act of turning the TV off every now and again is doing is breaking some habits we've accidentally fallen into and making room for new ones.
There is NO WAY ON EARTH we are ever going to have a TV free household. We like films. We enjoy watching them together. And there is the small matter of me going completely insane if me and Netflix went our separate ways. We might just be soulmates.
But I am so glad that I had the opportunity, again, to learn from another parent's perspective. Listen to their reasons. To their insight. And then take from it the piece that works for us.
To add to our wonderfully chaotic family jigsaw.
This is NOT a post to make anyone feel guilty and if it does then I've written it badly! I just found it really liberating realising that our kids are fully capable of entertaining themselves. May I also add that if you have a baby/and other small children, TV is your friend and you must do whatever (and as much of it as) you need to, to get through the day. No guilt. More of me over on the blog, The New Mum's Notebook, Instagram and in our lovely Facebook community.