I came to motherhood fairly early and unprepared – I’ve never been one for thinking things through in advance, I go for the important decisions on impulse and take it as it comes. My daughter, my eldest child, always was the one I learned on – that is, I tried not to make the same mistake next time. Fortunately, I don’t think this has scarred her soul too much, she is certainly a lovely person now.
My first two children were born just two years apart. For the first year or so, this was fine. She was an adorable toddler, he was a sweet-natured, if time-consuming (he needed to be fed every two hours, day and night, but on the other hand he never cried) baby. Things started to go awry when he was a toddler and she was three.
She didn’t show jealousy towards the baby as such, but she started to be more and more naughty. He never was. I became conscious that he received all the praise and she got the blame – but it was hard to know what to do to change that. She really was too badly behaved to ignore and he was very easy-going and affectionate, I didn’t want to push him away just to make her feel better about it. And remember, this was nearly thirty years ago and we weren’t given much advice. Not that I was one to ask for it, to be fair. I did try to praise her and cuddle her, but she was becoming more and more unhappy, and when she started to push me away, saying she did not want to be loved or kissed, I was desperate.
I sat down and thought about it. Well, actually, I spent a sleepless night thinking about it. I realised that it was up to me to change my reaction to her behaviour, as she was a very little girl who could not be expected to change of her own accord. She misbehaved because she was unhappy, not because she was naughty and I had to put things right as it must have been my actions that had caused the problem.
The next day, she glanced to make sure I was watching, and started to misbehave (can’t remember what she did, but it was something that could not be ignored). I, in my kind but firm voice, told her to stop. She carried on. “Hey!” I said. “You’d better stop doing that, or I’m going to have to tickle you.” And I wiggled my fingers. She still carried on, though with a startled look. I went over to her, grabbed her and started to tickle. She tried to wriggle away, but then squirmed to the floor, giggling. I carried on tickling until she was helpless with laughter and kissed her all over her face.
And that was all it took to mend our relationship.