When people tell you about being a parent, they often miss out one of the important pieces of advice of all.
You will spend your whole life feeling guilty.
If they fall over and hurt themselves, you feel guilty that you averted your eyes for a split second or that you didn’t reach them soon enough before they fell. When they are ill you feel guilty, wondering did you not wrap them up warm enough to protect them from the cold, did you not bleach everything within an inch of its life and kill every germ. If they are tired, grumpy, bored, you feel guilty that you over-exerted them, kept them up too late, failed to entertain them throughout the day. It’s just a never ending cycle of guilt which I imagine will last until they are adults themselves and feeling just as guilty about their own children.
But for me, the biggest guilt of all, and I am sure that parents of two or more can relate, is that although there are four children, there is only one Mummy to go around. I feel hugely guilty, particularly with the close age gaps of my youngest three, that they have to share my time and attention and there are occasions when I just simply do not have enough hands or hours in the day.
With Lewis it was very different given that it was just he and I for eight long years. He had my constant love and attention twenty four hours a day and it made a huge difference to the things that we were able to do together. I was able to focus entirely on him, to have days out at the drop of a hat, book last minute holidays or nip out for a meal. One was easy in that way, and yet with hindsight, it was hard in that I was his soul entertainment. Without a sibling to play with, it fell to me to be the blue power ranger to his red ranger, the Bumble Bee to his Optimus Prime or play a painstakingly long game of Monopoly, Hungry Hippos or Connect 4. We spent hours every day colouring together, making a full scale Transformer model from nothing but washing up bottles and toilet roll holders or just watching TV (Transformers of course!!) together and enjoying that precious, quality time.
And it was strange because I thought that I would feel hugely guilty when we had Eva and Lewis now had to share me with a new baby, and yet I didn’t feel as bad as I had expected to. I think for Lewis, he had wanted another sibling for so long that when she finally arrived he was just as happy as we were. And plus he was eight, old enough to understand that babies needed constant care and attention, that they needed feeding, changing, cuddling and that it was only natural that our days would be consumed with caring for his new sister. Plus by that point he had reached an age where he didn’t want to play with me anymore, he would much rather be sat on his play station, his Xbox or playing football at the park with his mates.
But for Eva, when at just 15 months she was promoted to “big sister”, it was very different. I felt SO guilty. She was still very much a baby herself and had no idea what was happening other than there was a new baby in our house who cried, a lot. And it was particularly hard for Eva as, being succeeded by Megan of all babies, brought a whole host of problems. Life was very much all about Megan, as it undoubtedly is when you have a poorly child, and those first six months were spent in and out of hospital, countless doctors appointments, and Eva was left at home.
Many times she would stand and watch me leave for a doctor’s appointment with Megan and ask, “Me come too?” and it was very hard to explain to her why she couldn’t come or why Mummy didn’t have the time to stay at home that day and play. I spent those first few months reminding myself that there are many benefits to small age gaps and larger families, and yet it did feel that it came at a price.
When at just two Eva became a big sister twice over, I felt massively guilty for all four children. For Lewis, who had asked for just one sibling and was now out-numbered by little people. For Eva, who was now twice removed from her position as baby of the family despite just turning two. And poor Megan, who really did get the roughest deal of them all, who at just twelve months and four days old was rudely ousted as the baby of the house and most importantly, missed out on her first birthday party as I was in hospital being induced! And then poor Harry, who was born so absolutely dependent on me but would have to share me with three others.
As any Mum of two, and especially of more, will understand, there are times when I physically cannot give my children the immediate attention they require. When Eva comes to me and asks, “Read me this book?” or, “Look at my drawing!” there are times when I have to tell her, “One minute I’m just changing a nappy” and sometimes the dejected look on her little face tears me in two. When Megan screams at me for a cuddle and claws her way up my legs, I have to tell her, “Wait a moment, I’m just giving Harry his bottle” and she will cry and tantrum at my feet while I curse myself for not having more hands. When Lewis asks me to help with his homework I often find myself telling him, “Ask Gaz, I’m just doing the childrens tea”, or he asks for a lift and I have to tell him to walk as I can’t wake a sleeping Harry. And as he goes off out, hood up in the rain, I feel nothing but guilt at the sacrifices they have all had to make.
I try so hard to make the time to spend with my children one on one and yet it isn’t always an option. Without Gaz being home on a weekend or Grandparents helping out in the week, there is no opportunity for that quality time. And I appreciate that it is so important to celebrate each of my childrens little quirks, to explore their differences, their likes and dislikes and cater to all of their wishes but some days, it feels impossible. But when I do find the time, those precious moments when I can take just one child and give them everything that they want and need without any compromise, any interruptions and my undivided attention, it reminds me that I am doing my best as a Mummy and it eases my guilt for a few moments at least.
And so on Friday, after a very hard week, we decided that it would be Evas turn for what we called a, “Mummy and Me day”. I allowed Eva to choose where we would go and naturally, she chose the seaside which is her favourite place right now. She was ridiculously excited, mainly for the sandcastles and paddling in the water, but also to escape Megans clutches for one day as poor Eva bears the brunt of most of Megans tantrums right now which isn’t fun for anyone.
But the thing is, the guilt is never ending and easing the guilt in one way simply fuels the guilt in others. While I took Eva out for her day, and Lewis was out having a day with his friends, I felt terribly guilty for the youngest two who were stuck at home with the Grandparents! I had to constantly remind myself that their turn will come and actually, they had an amazing day just the two of them!
So off we went to Blackpool, which surprised me as I haven’t been there for a good few years and had no idea that it had been done up so nicely. My memories of Blackpool had always been a bit run-down, a bit grotty and full of wayward characters. And other than the couple next to me on the beach ploughing their way through an eight pack of Stella, it was a definite improvement!
And so we set out our blanket, ate our ice creams, and we talked and laughed and I relished every second of the wonderful little character that she has become.
We made sandcastles, which Eva took great delight in jumping on or bashing down with her spade, “I’m a big giant and I squash all of your castles!!”, and built sand volcanos and made lava with the sea water, carefully collected with her little bucket, “Volcano erupt!!!” she shouted every time.
We splashed in the sea, jumped waves and Eva flailed around in the water while I tried not to think too much about sewage and sea pollution.
We dug a giant moat around our castles, the same way that my Dad had done for us when we were little, and Evas face as the water kept disappearing was a picture. “Where did all my water go?? Naughty sand you’ve stole it!!” she said, stomping off to fill up her water bucket, stripped off to her Peppa pig knickers in the sunshine. And I sat there, watching her from the short distance, wondering how my little baby had grown up so fast, when did my little shadow become so confident and so fiercely independent?
Afterwards, when the tide began to come in, flattening our volcano and finally filling our moat, we found a little spot in the sunshine and ate our fish and chips from the wrapper, barefoot with sand between our toes. We sat there, side by side, Eva swinging her little legs beside my long ones, her head resting on my shoulder as she ate and she said, “Mummy, today has been a good fun day”. And I struggled to swallow my fish and chips past the lump in my throat.
Before we left for home I allowed her to choose a treat, anything at all that she would like, and she told me that she would like a toy unicorn (of all the toys to try and find!!). So off we went and, thank god that Blackpool is the world of tacky toys, we found a soft toy unicorn that she wanted. “And Megan would like….that one!” Eva said, pointing to an equally ugly florescent pony, looking at me expectantly until I handed over the cash. “Meggy will like this,” she told me as we walked back to the car, “And tomorrow you can take her to the park, just Meggy and Mummy!”. And I realised that although my children may have to share me, perhaps they understand it far more than I give them credit for.
I have no regrets about having a larger family, nor the ridiculously small age gaps between the youngest three, and although the guilt will always get the better of me, I expect that I would have that guilt whether there are two children or ten. I love seeing my children play together, watching their relationships grow and the way that they interact. I love the fact that they will never be lonely,that when Lewis leaves home the younger three will still have eachother, that they will grow up close and hopefully, stay that way.
And I am positive that actually, when they are older, they wont remember the times when I said, “Just wait a moment”, “Hang on a minute”, “Not now, I’m busy” and they will simply remember the lovely memories that we made, individually and as a family. Because being a mummy is the hardest job in the world and I think, as most of us parents do, you just do what you have to do to get through each day with your sanity intact, your children in one piece and the knowledge that you are doing the very best that you can do.