This morning my husband and I had a huge argument – a blazing row. About mayonnaise. At least, it started with mayonnaise. It finished with both of us saying some pretty unfair things to one another and me charging off to work.
It’s frustrating that we’d explode at one another over something so petty and ridiculous. But, all things considered, it is completely understandable.
You see, at the precise moment that our disagreement began to escalate, we were completing the most stressful and difficult challenge any parent faces: we were trying to leave the house. Factor in the added pressure of wanting to do this on time and, quite frankly, we were screwed.
Most mornings begin with one child, then the other waking us up, climbing into bed and sitting on our heads. They force their way in, taking advantage of our semi-conscious state. Eventually, after much squabbling over blankets and who gets to lie next to daddy, I usually find myself balanced precariously on the edge of the bed, duvet-less and chilly.
There were four in the bed and the little one says, ‘roll over, roll over’. So I give up and get out.
On goes CBeebies, and into the shower I go. Of course, I can’t hide in there for long. Once I’m out, the real stress begins.
By now the little ones are well into their morning routine of ignoring everything we say. So in between trying to find my hairbrush (which they’ve hidden), any of my bras (which they’ve hidden) and my deodorant (which they are trying to apply to their faces), I try to help get them dressed. This usually involves significant levels of bribery, threat and shouting at increasingly loud volumes.
Somewhere along the line they will find my make-up. Particularly Chimp. She has developed a taste for lipstick – and I mean that literally. Earlier this week I thoughtlessly left a lippy unattended and found half of it covering her face and teeth, while the other half (I presume) was in her tummy. So, I apply my makeup standing up, without a mirror, in order to avoid the helpful hands of my little wannabe makeup artists.
Once we look semi-presentable, we go downstairs; out of time and out of patience. There is still the task of sorting breakfasts and lunches while the kids wind and whine between our legs. One repeatedly trips to climb the breakfast bar; the other is determined to eat everything I attempt to put into a lunchbox; they both shout and whinge. Continually.
Before we know it, we’re yelling at each other just to be heard – and then, on this particular morning, it was a slippery slope to a full-blown battle over the offending condiment.
Of course, it’s not just the pressures of our every-morning that make it hard to communicate with one another. Every dinner time is spent nagging our children to eat, sit down, just try it, don’t throw it on the floor, don’t put it in your hair / up your nose / on your clothes… there is no conversation or catch-up about our different days. Every evening involves us chasing two little ones into bed, repeated requests for them to get upstairs, clean teeth, lie down, go to sleep, go to sleep, go to sleep, go to sleep – interrupted with the kids then regularly taking it in turns to make last minute claims of needing the toilet for a phantom poo. By the time both children are asleep, we are barely left with the energy to watch the television. Every rare moment we think they are distracted enough for us to communicate, they appear: desperate for our undivided attention and determined to get it.
We do seem to have less stupid arguments now we are parents – but that is largely down to neither of us having the energy for a fight.
But it’s too easy for a disagreement to spiral out of control when we don’t have the time or space to communicate. And, while the kids are the most powerful unifying force, they also make it impossible to hear yourself – or one another – think, let alone speak.
So, what’s the answer? How can we avoid another condiment fuelled battle? I don’t think there is one… there will always be little things that turn into big problems when we’re exhausted and stressed and under pressure to parent and work and everything else. But, I suppose, there is acceptance. Acceptance that the perfect family snapshots on social media don’t tell the whole truth. Acceptance that no one and nothing is perfect. Acceptance that we might snap or lose our patience. A little bit of empathy and understanding goes a long way with us. Which is good. After all, the faster we can resolve our differences, agree to disagree and move on, the faster we can get on with enjoying that tiny bit of time we have together.