Last week, my husband came home late from work one night and walked in on a scene straight out of a horror film. Before him, a creepy trail of abandoned baby paraphernalia. Above him, an unearthly wailing. And all around him, beeping robot toys and something on the walls that might have been blood*. Gingerly, he climbed the stairs and entered the darkness of our toddler’s bedroom to find, huddled on the bed, not a banshee or a possessed doll, but me, our toddler and our newborn, all of us red-faced, shrieking and inconsolable. And me with breast milk flowing freely down my dress, too.
Honestly, props to my husband for not turning on his heel and starting a new life in Argentina.
The evening had started decently enough – I wasn’t too fazed by the prospect of solo parenting. Our newborn tends to sleep through the day, have a period of fussy wakefulness just when we’re about to sit down to dinner, then dozes again after our son’s gone to bed – so I just figured that if I delayed everything by an hour we’d be just peachy.
Reader, we were not peachy. The baby would not go to sleep. He wouldn’t sleep, and he wouldn’t go to sleep, and he wouldn’t sleep again. He suctioned on to my boob at 4pm, then screamed bloody murder every time I tried to put him down. My C section wound is healing wonkily and I’m not allowed to wear a baby carrier, so all I could do was frantically click around the kids’ section of Netflix while the sky darkened outside and my toddler made polite noises about dinner.
My toddler was good as gold. He did not complain when dinner was eventually served alongside a baby tantrum at 9pm, and bath time was serenaded by baby screams. But eventually, when he couldn’t cuddle up to me at storytime because the baby was thrashing on my lap, he lost it. “Mummy!” he screamed, throwing his arms around my neck. “I’m your baby, too, Mummy!” Which is when I broke down, too. And when my husband came home.
“You know,” my husband whispered later that night, like some sort of bastard. “I’m going away again next week, remember.”
My toddler was good as gold. He did not complain when dinner was eventually served alongside a baby tantrum at 9pm, and bath time was serenaded by baby screams
Last night was that night, and my only objective was to prevent the Unearthly Wailing. Let my son eat his spaghetti bolognese on the sofa, with his fingers, while I tended to his baby brother. I congratulated him as he ground some beef into a cushion. I cooed when he hid his spaghetti under the ottoman. I gave him iced gems and lollipops when he asked for them, simply because it meant he wouldn’t complain. Finally, when his gaze was getting too long and the shadows under his eyes too deep, I took him upstairs and began the bedtime ritual – pointedly ignoring the newborn, who was shrieking, heartbroken but safe, in his rocker downstairs.
I’ve written before about how, as a parent, you need to let go of perfectionism. Unless you’re very lucky, have staff or are psychotically Type A, your house won’t always be a spotless monochrome wonderland, your parenting won’t be straight out of Enid Blyton and you won’t always feel sane. Embrace low-standard parenting, I have always advised, and don’t sweat the small stuff.
But now I have two kids – two kids in the neediest phases of their lives – I’m having to lower my standards even further. When I’m solo parenting, it’s not enough to embrace “crap parenting”, in order to survive I have to fully enter the world of Bad Parenting. I have to neglect each of my kids in turn just to get through the night.
That’s what I did last night. On one hand, I’m not proud. On the other hand, everyone was asleep by 11pm and – most importantly – I didn’t end up in tears. Out of all the parenting styles I have tried to adopt – attachment, permissive, authoritarian – I have to say that Bad Parenting has been the most effective.
*but was actually chilli con carne