Parenting more about things that go wrong than successes

Dr Anna Campbell
Dr Anna Campbell
Parenting can be a lonely place. I remember when my children were irascible toddlers, people would say to me "Oh it goes so fast, enjoy every moment" and I remember looking at them thinking "Well today is going flaming slow".

Now I have three teenagers and like many parents we are navigating social media, alcohol, schoolwork (or lack of) and oh, I can’t put that in print. My husband laughingly sighs and says "Ahhh my children find a new way to disappoint me every week!"

Of course, being a parent can be joyous and we love sharing photos of our children’s successes — a lot of hard work has gone into those moments. Social media for parents has become a vehicle for this — trophies, birthdays, family gatherings — don’t we look successful and put together?

Wouldn’t it be great though, if we could be more honest about what really happens in families because ironically, often it’s the sharing of the not-so-great moments that really pull us together.

Both of my brothers live in the UK, which means, unfortunately, we don’t get together very often. The last time we did was last September when we met up at the "Moreton on Marsh Agricultural Show".

As usual, our behaviour regressed over the afternoon — I am told we are quite painful to be around. We tend to tell the same stories over and over again (they get funnier every year) and those stories are usually the ones where we stuffed up or managed to get away with something outrageous or one of us was simply a plonker. When all three of us are together, we never discuss our successes, our professional lives or our milestones. What actually brings us together is me reminding my younger brother of the time when I tried to sneak him past Mum and Dad’s room when he had snuck out on the turps — I don’t believe they could ever have slept through the banging, crashing and giggling and they would have been horrified at the "chunks of food" on his clothing!

We get great joy out of reminding my older brother of Dad, standing on the sideline watching him play rugby as another father stood there hurling abuse about the fact that my older brother could never catch the ball — Dad, who was rather sporty himself, had to slink away before he imploded. My brothers remind me of the time I decided to make a hut under our house with friends, we made the not-so-smart decision to light a fire, about a metre away from the electric works. My mum came home with her friends as smoke billowed up through the floorboards, we were evacuated en masse — Mum’s friends never visited again.

In another incident when I was borrowing Dad’s car, I couldn’t get it to start, so I decided to back it out of the garage. I didn’t think to close the car door and it caught the garage wall with a great screech. I managed to ram it shut but it didn’t quite close in the way it should. A couple of weeks later, Dad was telling us at dinner that he had taken his car into a carwash and "his door must have caught the wind as all the water came rushing through and drenched his good suit."

I sat there frozen and didn’t tell Dad what I had done. Years later, when I eventually did tell him, I was laughing so hard I could barely spit the words out.

We have so many of these stories — if you meet me, ask me about my older brother and the olive oil — a story that truly gets better in every telling (especially if said brother is present).

And if you are a parent out there, feeling like it’s an uphill battle — believe me, you are not the only one having to take a Vivid pen to "mark" the fluid level on your alcohol bottles and you are not the only one going nuts on a Sunday night because your child has had the whole weekend to do their assignment and is only bringing it out now.

It would be healthy if we were able to share more of the realities of parenting — not just the trophies. Perhaps we also need to remember to chill out a little and have a quiet chuckle.

The late, great Celia Lashlie asked teenage boys what was the one thing, more than anything, that they want from their fathers — it was "to have their sense of humour back".

Anna Campbell is managing director of AbacusBio Ltd, a Dunedin-based agri-technology company.

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