As a mother I reckon at least 75% of what I say to my children is either ignored or greeted by an expression of complete bewilderment that I could say something so utterly pointless or incomprehensible. In fact, I’m fairly confident that if I were to stop speaking altogether my children would probably not notice unless I failed to answer one of their requests (which are in themselves pretty academic given that my answer is usually ignored unless it the one my child wanted).
Most worrying of all, I have started to answer my own questions out loud.
Me: “Did you enjoy school today?”
Me: “Yes Mum, thanks for asking. I had a lovely day.”
There is probably only so long I can continue in this vein without risking at best being dismissed as the “Mutter Nutter” by the children or at worst being sectioned.
Let’s take the things that I say which are ignored or “not heard”. Firstly, I must tell my boys to “stop fighting” at least 15 times a day. Do they ever stop fighting? Do they even look up and register that they’ve heard my command? No, of course not. Why do I bother? Asking them to stop fighting is like asking the Kardashians to all get on – it’s not going to happen in my lifetime.
How about “please could you brush your teeth”? A not unreasonable request I feel but it is either totally ignored or met with a reaction you might expect if I had asked them to stick rusty pins in their eyes. As much as I try to convince my children of the advantages of oral hygiene, they remain unmoved. The boys shrug when I tell them that in the future girls won’t come anywhere near them and my daughter who thinks all kissing between men and women is utterly gross is rather relieved that not brushing her teeth will excuse her in the future from such a grotesque activity.
Then there’s “please could you calm down and help me” in the supermarket. In my experience supermarkets do the most bizarre things to our children. A relatively calm, well-behaved individual becomes a monster once faced with strip lighting, shopping trolleys and aisles. The little darlings who trotted in obediently at my side (OK that’s an exaggeration and just one of my insane mother fantasies where I smile benignly at the beautifully behaved children at my side whilst people, from all sides, congratulate me on my offspring’s exemplary conduct and my exceptional mothering skills….and, snap fingers, you’re back in the room…) suddenly have to run and jump and scream and knock old ladies over. Of course, the more I ask them to behave, the more boisterous they become. Then I become “shouty” and “stressy” (to use my daughter’s descriptors) and threaten things I can never carry out – usually along the lines of you are never ever watching any TV again. Inspiring mothering skills, well done me.
Perhaps my most ignored utterance is “could you please turn that off” – referring to one of a million devices which seem to multiply on a monthly basis. My pathetically weak demand is of course ignored and I can often be seen wrestling iPads, smartphones etc off my children in desperation for some real rather than virtual interaction. Once I get their attention, however, I usually manage to blow it by boring them senseless with tales of my childhood when we entertained ourselves, didn’t have any of these devices and only had three TV channels. Again, a total waste of breath. The children look at me with expressions of deep pity and no understanding of how child cruelty on such a grand scale was ever allowed to occur. One of my sons cannot quite believe that we did not have remote controls for the TV and that we actually had to heave ourselves off the sofa and walk the four steps over to the TV to change channels or switch it off. He shakes his head, a look of incredulity on his face – astounded that anyone could suffer such depths of deprivation.
The expression of greatest bewilderment however is reserved for when I go down the self-indulgent path of telling my children that before they were around, I had a job (and a life?) – I worked, I earned money, I even wore clothes other than my tracky bums. Yes, kids, hard to believe I know but I actually worked in a professional capacity before I accepted this long-term, badly paid, long–hours-with-no-time off position as a mother to three extremely demanding bosses.
I’ll end with an observation. The only time I get an immediate response to something I ask is exactly when I do not want an immediate response. For my children, like all children, saying “thank you” is not an instinctive thing. Often I find myself after doing something special saying to the children, “It would be so nice if you could say “thank you” to me after such a treat without being prompted”. To which, of course, they immediately respond in unison with no sincerity at all, “Thank you, Mum”. Not the point at all.