One of my constant concerns before embarking on this journey was how we would all cope in a confined space.
Whereas a house provides many rooms in which to escape from one another other (if you so wish) – here there is no such luxury. Colin is approximately five strides long from the cabin to the rear bed. There is no sanctuary to hide when you feel tired, stressed or hormonal.
I have always been someone who likes some ‘alone time’. Every now and again, I selfishly retreat to enjoy my own company, to sew or throw myself wholeheartedly into a new project or challenge. Chris is similar; whether reading, cycling or pottering about in his ‘man shed’. There has always been a quiet acceptance, understanding and respect for this basic need. Often one would return from such activities much calmer and at ease with life. It was a necessity to recharge our batteries and ensure that we remained pleasant and agreeable to be around.
Whilst we have the great outdoors here, the weather has not been too kind this past week and there are obvious safety considerations for just venturing off alone in unfamiliar territory. Shamefully, we have probably spent more time together this past fortnight than we have in the last 12 months.
Work, school, after-school clubs, social commitments, housework….they all have the ability to steel sacred family time – But equally, they also encourage independence. These distractions enable you to live a life that balances the ‘your and our’ moments. As much as we moan about going to work, or doing the laundry, I wonder how much we quietly need these responsibilities to help us feel autonomous.
This trip has already stripped us of these responsibilities and our independence. Other than our basic errands and chores, we have nowhere to be; nothing to do. Our time is spent together, with very little time apart.
As much as we all wish for a life like this, and begrudge life’s distractions from allowing us to spend more time with our loved ones – How often do we stop to think about the reality of 24/7 family life? Could the reality actually reveal a flaw in our 21st Century families?
Our experience has been quite a shock to the system…
Although it is only early days, the actuality of 24/7 living for us, has involved enduring one another for the majority of the time. As harsh as that sounds, it is only with the benefit of time and close proximity that you really start to know the people you love and live with – for the good, and the bad.
At the Cottage we all had the opportunity to retreat to another room – much for our own sanity as well as to dissolve tensions – Here due to the confined space, our hurt, anger, frustrations, intolerance and upset are all magnified and fully exposed to be scrutinised or over-analysed by equally tired and emotional kith and kin.
After 10 days on the road – of which 5 have been cooped up inside Colin (due to bad weather) we hit some turbulence….My own frayed emotions and irritability seemed to be interlinked with the spiralling behaviour of our kids, who seemed impossible to please for any extended period of time.
I had spent the majority of the week repeating ‘Don’t do that!’, ‘Watch where you are standing’, ‘Don’t walk mud into the van’, ‘Stop bickering’, ‘Mind the dog’, ‘Put it away’, ‘No…..No…..No….’
I didn’t like the person I had become – I was certainly not the mother and wife I thought I would be on this adventure. I had visions of laughter, child-like fun and light-heartedness – not a misery carrying a constant cloud of negativity.
The crushing blow came late one evening as both Lola and Jonah were mid flow of a gargantuan strop. I remember looking at them and thinking ‘I don’t like you’.
As a mother, those words are incredibly hard to write down. To admit that, at times, I don’t like my children’, is really tough. Don’t get me wrong, I love them dearly – I just found that in this microscopic environment, their individual oddities were exposed and there wasn’t a lot to like.
I found them to be constantly unsatisfied, ungrateful, unwilling, uncooperative, unforgiving and in short, bloody hard work.
But writing the words and acknowledging how I feel was a huge leap forward in accepting responsibility for my children and the mini people they have become.
With so much time apart over the years, the sad truth is that Chris and I have had a ‘get out of jail free’ card when it comes to parenting our children. We have been fairly inconsistent. We have allowed certain behaviours to pass because it was easier to do so. We have bought them gifts because we denied them time. We laughed when we should have chastised. We walked away when we should have stayed. We shouted when we should have hugged. We relented when we should have shown fortitude. We acted the child when we should have been the parent. We were absent when we should have been present…all with the best of intentions of course!
Admittedly, the same life distractions we blamed for keeping us away from our cherished children, we also blamed for not allowing us to parent them in the way we wanted i.e. investing in their behaviours, values, morals and principles.
So what excuse do we have now? Now that we have no distractions/responsibilities? None.
After some soul-searching honest reflection as parents – and with no more excuses to hide behind – Chris and I took the decision not to penalise them, but to apologise to our children; to be honest about our failings and to set the boundaries by which we hope to move forward….but first, we felt it was imperative to say the all-important, hard-to-hear, never-to-be-said-aloud words “At times, I don’t like you when…’.
As we sat around the table in the fading light, we talked about the importance of honesty and that some things need to be said so that we can learn, understand, process and then improve (if necessary) before we can move on.
We began by telling them what we loved about them – in great detail. We wanted them to know that nothing goes unnoticed, especially their lovable bits – And then we followed by telling them the things we didn’t like. For some reason this was far more palatable after hearing the great stuff. They accepted the hard truths with open innocence and appropriate regret. I then invited them to do the same for us.
At times the honesty was brutal – I won’t bore you with the details but suffice to say, kids have great insight and comprehension!
A fine example of this was when they told me that they do not like the way I take responsibility away from them. They explained that I often mistake a question for an order e.g. When asked where something goes I assume they are asking me to put it away – and as such, usually moan about it. They also hate it when I move things.
Chris agreed and added that he doesn’t like it when I am not ‘In the moment’ – juggling a hundred jobs at once and not doing any of them successfully.
The greatest bit about honesty is that an opportunity unfolds for discussion and reasoning. I was given the unique chance to validate my shortcomings…
So I talked about ‘Default Parents’. I explained that in every family there is a default parent…the ‘go to’ parent for all questions/requests. In our family I am the default parent (although Chris is my default). Every day I hear a hundred requests; “Mum, where are my pyjama shorts? Mum, can you pass me the crayon? Mum, my shoes are wet. Mum, can you scratch my back? Mum, where is Dad? Mum, can I have a drink of water? Mum, can you mend this? Mum, can you wash the table down? Mum, we need more paper. Mum, have you fed Buddy? Quick Mum, get the bat, there’s a mozzie!”…
Add to that “Love, have you seen my screwdriver? Love, have you come across an orange and black knobbly thing? Love, can you just hold that? Love, just throw that in the bin for me? Love, have you moved my coat?”…
I spend my days turning circles, trying in vain to respond to the myriad of requests – until I almost explode.
I move things – not purposely – but because I am distracted. Chris finds random items in the fridge as a direct consequence of me ‘not being in the moment’. I have a trillion things going through my head at any given moment.
As I explained what it feels like to be ‘Mum’, so they began to understand how their behaviour and actions have a direct impact on my mood, and vice versa.
By airing our dislikes; explaining them, defending them and apologising for them, we have learned to like one another again – this past week has been a huge turning point for us. We have acknowledged our flaws as a 21st Century family and made a commitment to do better.
We still have a long way to go. As I said, it is only early days. We always knew that we would all have to change as people in order for this adventure to succeed; but on the whole, I have found my family to be thoroughly enjoyable this past few days.
It seems, that when we are in full receipt of the truth, and are open to honest communication, we are capable of progressing from ‘enduring’ to ‘enjoying’ 24/7 living – even when cooped up in a 10ft space in the rain!