The rhetorical question that strikes fear into a parent’s heart, and one which I have been asked a handful of times since our five year old Dylan started school. As husband and I sat on the miniscule chairs which could not contain more than one adult bum cheek, we wondered what Dylan had done this time. It turns out he had spat on a reception child, tripped a fellow year 1 pupil up and generally made some “bad choices”. Dylan maintained he had only spat on the child accidentally whilst talking (you have to admire the excuses), the one he had tripped had pushed in front of him in a queue at some point (so clearly the tripping was justified in Dylan’s view), but there was a listless resignation to the “bad decision-making”. He then proceeded to turn bright read and collapse into me in a heap of tears.
So why do I feel like I am being told of?
Of course the teacher outlines what Dylan has done very calmly and succinctly, and his misdemeanours do warrant the invitation to talk. I have no misgivings about the school’s handling of such things, but somehow it feels like you are being told off; you are the one who has raised this child who has done these things and I can’t help feeling his behaviour reflects on my parenting style. I don’t know if anyone else has felt like this when called in to talk about some bad choices their child has made (I hope I’m not alone here). It might be because I have general low self-esteem and always feel that anything that goes wrong is my fault (woe is me!), but I spent the evening afterwards thinking long and hard about what we as parents might be doing/not-doing to have contributed to several bad behaviour incidents.
Does he get enough attention from us?
My husband and I both work (him part-time, me full-time the majority of the time) and we also have a three year old, Charlie. Not an unusual situation I’d wager. Charlie is very demanding as most three year olds probably are, but attending to his frequent end-of-the-world tantrums over too much cheese on his beans or the batteries in his train running out does take attention and time away from Dylan. Of course there are two of us here at the end of the work day to theoretically split parenting between us, but somehow we always both get whipped into these cataclysmic melt-downs. So Dylan does have to fend for himself sometimes, but why not I hear you say? What is the harm in that? Not too much I don’t think, as obviously we do want to raise two self-sufficient and resourceful children (and we have taught him to use the remote which helps!).
Actually that isn’t the main issue, and here is where I am going to be very honest and perhaps a bit controversial (always in the hope that actually others feel the same as me deep down). Whenever Dylan comes up to me full of hope and asks “can you play cars with me mummy?” my heart sinks. I just hate playing with the kids with their toys. There, I’ve said it and await my stoning from the holistic mummy brigade. I just do not find it easy to play with my child, something which we are made to feel I think is the most natural thing in the world (along with bleeding nipples from failed breastfeeding attempts and eating one’s own rotting placenta in a cake, to give a few examples). Something inside me just vehemently resists the thought of running a tiny bit of plastic up and down the arms of the sofa for an hour whilst dribbling through brum brum noises. I’m sorry, failure of a mother that I am.
So how does this link to my son’s behaviour?
Well, obviously any time I respond to his hopeful question that I can’t play with him at the moment because I need to cook dinner/cut my nails/scroll through Facebook/do anything else which doesn’t involve such mundanity he might be interpreting this in a bad way (shock!). He may think he isn’t as important as other things, that mummy doesn’t want to spend time with him or that, heaven-forbid, I don’t actually love him. Because I think that is how dramatic things can be in children’s internal worlds, where they are trying to make sense of everything and interpret things literally. Just for the record I do love my son (and the other one), I just hate playing. I would rather do school work or colouring with him, but I just can’t stand moving small bits of plastic around the house. Clearly I have lost touch with my imagination capabilities, which is more about me than Dylan, but I’m trying to not give myself too much of a hard time about it as I think (hope) there are other parents out there who feel the same. Sometimes I do just suck it up and get on with it by the way, I would just rather be spending time with him in different ways.
Anyway, all that being said, I think this might be reflected in some of his behaviour at school; perhaps he is seeking attention elsewhere. I also do think he is really struggling at school; reading is painstaking and he never wants to do any school work at home, so coaxing him to do this is an ordeal from start to finish. I think his frustration with school also manifests as the aforementioned poor choices, resulting in mum and dad sitting precariously on the tiny chairs, sans one bum cheek, thinking they’ve got this parenting thing all wrong. It’s bloody hard though this parenting lark isn’t it?