The Secret to Happy Parenting

When I was offered my new teaching job, I was asked to consider how many hours I could do, and when. I was initially just going for evenings, but I thought how nice it would be to do a bit more, perhaps a morning or two as the Boy will be starting pre-school after Christmas.

“Oh,” said a friend of mine with 6 children, “I’ll have your kids for a morning.”

It would never in a million years have occurred to me to ask her – her plate already seemed quite full. But, well, she offered. So I said “great” and now the Boy and the Girl have a wonderful time with her and whichever of her kids are at home on Friday mornings.

I pick them up after lunch and if time allows, linger for a cup of tea.

And I watch and study and try to learn.

How does she do this? How does she have six children who are fed and clothed and in school on time and happy AND have a clean house AND all her marbles? How come she is so calm?

And she is. Like all of us, she can get cross or impatient with bad behaviour, she has busy and stressful days, but generally she is very calm, laid back and most importantly: in control.

“We hide all the mess upstairs” she says. This is one of her secrets, but doesn’t quite seem to cover it.

She has everything organised, has shopping delivered on regular days, plans all the week’s meals ahead in her diary. “I have to,” she says, “you can’t just whip up a meal for 8 people from what you find in the cupboards”.

When I arrive at her house to pick up the kids I usually find her wearing some fetching marigolds. “I was just cleaning up after lunch,” she smiles. “Come in.” I guiltily think back to my own house, where breakfast is still congealing in bowls on the table – that is, if the cats haven’t licked up all the milk by now.

She hoovers regularly throughout the day, the washing machine is always on, her kids don’t sit in front of the TV all day but play together and have fun, she takes them on outings and meets friends. She plans full weeks but also knows her limits and says no if she needs to.

I could pick up her good habits (or try to) and that would improve my life, but they are all things that I try and give up on after a few days or weeks.

Why? What is her secret?

I worked it out the other day while watching her make lunch for five children and two adults while putting away the shopping and checking on the dinner arrangements:


My friend has accepted that motherhood is what she does. When you are a stay at home mum, you clear up each meal after it is eaten. You make sure that there is food in the house to cook dinner every day. You make sure the floor is free of tiny icky things for your one year old to find. You clean your bathroom and fix things that are broken and make sure the kids are happy and healthy and educated. This is what you do, and you get on with it. It is the baseline.

The reason I consistently fall off the wagon with my good intentions is because I haven’t accepted the reality of motherhood. I hate cleaning anyway, so perhaps I have a little further to come in this regard, but I am still resisting the inevitability of it now that I have two small children. My head says: hygiene. The rest of me sticks two fingers up at hygiene and says: I want to have a cup of tea and write poetry and chat to friends on Facebook. I’ll do it later.

Cleaning aside, now that life is very busy with work as well as motherhood, planning and organising has become even more essential than before. I need to plan meals, and then make sure I have the ingredients in the house for us to cook them. When I do, my life is so much better, but still I loiter and linger and prevaricate. Do I really have to?

I do notice that my head-in-the-sand technique just seems to result in more mess and less food in the house, but that doesn’t seem to spur me into action by itself.

Clearly, I need to look at my life and accept it as it is. More than that, perhaps there is some enjoyment to be found in the little details: a clean table after a meal, ready to do craft on; a lovely clean carpet, just for half an hour; the smell of fabric softener on children’s clothes; roast dinner, everything ready at the same time, on the table before the kids get so hungry they start to eat the sofa; toys, tidied away in boxes and hidden upstairs; toys, chosen by excited children and brought downstairs in the morning; post-nap cuddles; middle of the night cuddles that won’t be available in a few years’ time.

It’s a pretty great job, really. Have you accepted that you are a parent? Or is that something you are still working on?


25 responses

  1. I think I’m almost there. I’ve accepted that my house won’t be immaculate, that I HAVE to be organised in spite of being beyond exhausted and I’m getting there. I was fine when I was at home full time, but I’ve struggled since going back to work.

    • Oh well done! Sounds like you’re well on your way. I, on the other hand, am currently on my laptop replying to your comment instead of clearing away breakfast…

  2. Great post. Maybe that is the secret! I think I accepted it when my kids were smaller, but now forever trying to take time back for me – running, blogging and social media – then telling myself that really all the housework (which I hate) takes longer than it does and I’m not skiving!

    • Ooh interesting – I can see that as they get older those more frequent glimpses of freedom/me-time must get both addictive and terribly tantalising. You just want more of it then! I’ll have to watch out for that and try to mentally prepare myself.

  3. I love the part of motherhood that involves playing with my toddler, but I can get a little lazy when it comes to cleaning, even though I somehow manage to do it. One of the things I have to learn to do is plan meals. I think you’re friend is a real-life hero, because I could never have managed to stay sane with six kids! Kudos to her!

    • She is a bit! I find it hard to juggle the playing and the cleaning. I find that either I do the cleaning and get constantly annoyed at my kids interrupting me, or I do the playing and spend my time stressing at them not to touch dirty things or venture into dangerously untidy corners or eat stuff off the floor…

  4. I think you have articulated it very well. I struggle with the monotony and boredom of motherhood as much as I relish the joys. I haven’t quite found the balance even after 10 years. I prioritise being a mother above all things and make most decisions based on what is best for the children but these decisions often are not what I would choose for myself. I chose to have children and I do make the best of it but I hate doing the same thing over and over and over and over again! So I guess that I haven’t “accepted” that I am a mother yet, I don’t plan meals very well, meal times often come as a surprise to me (even though I am regimented about them!) and find me unprepared, dishes are often left which means I am too embarrassed to invite people round to my house. It would appear that I have a way to go before I fully accept motherhood.

    • Sounds just exactly like me! Mealtimes always catch me by surprise as well, although I should be wise to them by now as they come round at the same time every day. And I always leave the dishes and don’t invite people round!

  5. I’m very happy being a mum first and everything else second. That came almost straight away to be honest, but it wasn’t something I thought about other than I consciously wanted to enjoy being a parent. That’s not to say I don’t have moments and I want to pursue things for me too, but more with an eye for the future-I want to have something to develop for me as the children grow up. It’s all about finding the right balance, and that will be different for everyone.

  6. Great post, and a great friend you have there. I think you’re spot on. I know that the days/weeks when I’m on top of everything allow me to enjoy my time more with the children, so I do get slicker and more organised. I have a routine and I try to stick with it, and generally, I’ve accepted it. It’s the days when I don’t want to do the chores and monotonous things that actually put me in a worse mood, as I hate being inefficient, and then I get mad as I’ve got dull tasks building up, and it’s only ever my own fault!

  7. I read your post this morning and thought you really nailed it! Yes, it is all about accepting the stage we are at in life and making the most of it, isn’t it? I confess, I still struggle and fail most days at being content. #PoCoLo

  8. This is so true. When I try to do to too much that isn’t mothering I find myself getting frustrated. It’s such a difficult line, trying to get the balance right. Finding time to be yourself (write your blog, learn catalan, learn spanish, any other project) and being a mother. #PoCoLo

  9. Don’t think I’m there yet – always trying to juggle between different roles. Having said that we do have a dumping room upstairs for all the clutter from downstairs – our house tidying is a little sporadic to say the least (usually when I know people are coming round!) #pocolo

  10. Great post! I go through stages where I’m fanatical about planning the week’s meals and then another week I’ll be completely disorganised. After a long full time career I love being home for my kids as a mother but I can’t accept that this is meant to include housework. I grumble and mutter and pout whenever I do the latter!

  11. What a fantastic post! Yes, you’re right, it’s the accepting that’s hard. I think I’m still under the impression that magic pixies are going to come round during the night and sort everything out, so that I can just spend the next day playing with the children. It ain’t going to happen, so I need to get on with the boring bits….

  12. I just wrote a post on a similar theme but looking at the concept of living life with the philosophy of ‘the Slow Movement’ – slowing down, being more mindful, etc. but I feel it’s almost impossible to slow down as a mum because it would involve dropping something from your life – whether that be time for planning, actual cleaning or ‘me’ time in order to always be ‘in the moment’ with your children and I know that would only make me miserable because it’s that semblance of order that keeps me sane. On the subject of acceptance and your friend’s serene attitude to motherhood, I can’t help but feel that this is very much down to personality – as soon as I hear that someone has more than two (and certainly more than three!) children I immediately conclude that that person has the ‘mothering’ gene – what they were born to do above all else! Personally I think it would be hard for me to learn a lesson from someone like this – as difficult as a cat trying to be more like a bird – by nature we will just never be the same!

    • I think you are right and motherhood is her vocation. But it did strike me that accepting my chosen path is something I can do, regardless of whether I have the mothering gene or not! There is simply no point being in denial about the fact that you need to keep your house clean and that you have a family to feed – it just makes life more difficult.

  13. Pingback: Time Management for Manic Mums (by Allison Mitchell): A review | And then the fun began...

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