When my daughter was three, I said to her ‘The World Cup is starting next week, I’ll need to watch every match uninterrupted.’
This is a confessional blog post, by the way, I’ve always felt I can’t possibly tell people I said that to a three-year-old. Like watching the World Cup is a need! And I held out to get my own needs met! How selfish that sounds.
To justify myself, she’s my fourth child. I had learned things by then.
When my first son was a toddler I remember sitting down to watch the Wimbledon Final, and several stressful hours later registering the awful fact that never again in my life would I ever be able to settle down for the afternoon to watch any major sporting event. Ever. Never mind settling down for the whole day to watch all the build-up too.
But over the years I learned that my needs were important, and that if I didn’t look out for them I would take it out on my children anyway, by being resentful and grumpy. I learned the importance of carving out my own space and getting those times to relax and look after myself. It made me a nicer parent the rest of the time. And the best thing was, I learned that if I just said it clearly, my kids never minded, they were always quite happy to help.
Ok, when they are infants you have to make sacrifices and compromises, but by the time they reach three children are quite capable of understanding that you have needs too.
So my daughter nodded with understanding when I told her about the World Cup.
‘There’ll be about three matches a day in the group stage, which lasts about two weeks,’ I told her, ‘and then it gets less as we go into the quarter-finals.’
She nodded again.
‘So I’ll come and play with you between matches, and during half-time, but when the football’s actually on I’ll need to concentrate.’
‘Ok Mummy,’ she said, ‘I’ll play by myself while you’re watching, and I’ll be quiet.’
And she kept to her word over those four weeks of football.
Very different to the conversation we had on Friday evening when she got in from school, now aged fourteen.
‘Kick-off’s at eight’ I told her.
‘Netherlands Spain,’ I said, consulting my World Cup wall chart.
‘Sorry I forgot the lager and crisps.’
We settled down happily for an evening of World Cup viewing. And we watched the build-up, the whole match, the half-time discussion and the whole of the post-match analysis. I’m very glad now that I held out for my own needs all those years ago.