How To Be A Better Parent All The Time At Everything

Dear Parent,

You’re probably thirty-something. You probably have a child or two under the age of four. You never knew you could feel SO MUCH LOVE, but you also never knew it was going to be THIS HARD.

There are moments of sheer delight, but they’re often separated by long, mundane hours that range from busy to infuriating. You feel guilty that you miss your pre-parent life.

You wish you never lost your temper as often as you do.
You know your spouse is supposed to be on the same team as you but often they feel like The Enemy.
But most of all, there is this nagging suspicion that you are messing it up. mug

Parenthood, Your Child, Marriage, Life.

You used to feel like someone who could manage stress, who knew how to handle, who had a game plan. But between discipline and diet, health and safety, tantrums and tired, you’re just not sure anymore. Not sure you can do it. Not sure that you have what it takes. You’re not even sure what exactly you’re supposed to do when your 3 year old throws their cereal across the room and breaks the bowl and now there’s glass everywhere and you lose your temper and you’re already late for work and you’re not supposed to give hidings and you ARE supposed to be calm and now they’re going to be hungry at school and neither of you are going succeed in life.
The End.

If you’re not sure what the next right thing is, how can you be sure you’ll do it properly?

You are not alone. 

In the past two weeks, I’ve heard of two different couples with a small child whose marriages have unravelled. I’ve had two conversations with tearful parents of under-4’s who are at their wits end. I’ve had my own sit-on-the-kitchen-floor-and-clench-my-fists-and-hit-the-tiles moments. And I can’t help but wonder why it seems like so many of us are struggling?

So I asked my dad. I asked him about his childhood. I asked him about raising us. I asked him why he thought so many parents in our generation find parenting so difficult. Was it like this for you, Dad?

And what he said was profound…

He said he thinks our expectations are too high.
He said he thinks we’re not used to saying “no” to ourselves.

And so when we either don’t achieve the standards we think we should, or we don’t have the luxuries we used to have, we freak out. Whether it’s anger, or guilt, or desperation, we assume that because it’s so hard because we’re doing it wrong.

  This really hit home for me.

Our expectations are too high. 

He told me how when my folks had kids, they just knew they weren’t going to go out and socialise that much anymore. It was a given. It was normal. He observed that for myself and my peers, we generally tried to keep our lives as close to what they were pre-kids, while he seemed to think that for my folks – well, they basically just lowered their expectations of life.

Woah. Interesting theory.

I started to think about it. And I came up with some reasons why I think he may be right…

We like to think we ‘won’t let our kids change us’.
I know I was guilty of thinking this way. I saw couples with kids change, and ‘give in’, and ‘lose themselves’ to parenthood. And being the inherently selfish, usually otherwise and somewhat cynical person I am, I decided I wasn’t going to “let my children change who I am”. Come on…how many of you said something like that? So we set out on a mission not to let our post-baby life look different our pre-baby life and IT JUST DOESN’T WORK. We drive ourselves crazy trying to be the same people, have the same lifestyle, and do the same stuff.

We’ve been told we can have it all.
As a woman, I’ve experienced opportunities that were not as readily available to previous generations. Education, career, travel, domestic help, hands-on husbands. But along with those privileges comes the assumption that it’s a realistic possibility to Work Hard and Play Hard and Parent Well and Partner Well ALL AT THE SAME TIME AND EQUALLY BRILLIANTLY and that there are people out there getting this right and if you aren’t, well, what is wrong with you? The reality is for generations before us (and many women around the world still) if you worked hard, you didn’t spend a lot of time with your kids. If you had kids, you never socialised like you used to. If you weren’t working, you had less money. But we’re told we can have it all.

There is so much information. We can read any number of parenting books and blogs, and we’re exposed to so many models and theories and suggestions that we have A MILLION WAYS TO KNOW WE’RE NOT GOOD ENOUGH.  I’m so grateful for the resources that have helped me, but in every article and on every page there is something I’m NOT doing right. And I know all about it. I know every time I do something wrong and how it will inevitably scar my child for life.

I certainly don’t want to diminish the effort, love and attention you give to your kids.

But seriously, dearest fellow human.

Lower your expectations. 

Or you could go Google how to be a better parent and do All The Things in all the blogs and chat about it at Wine Club and write a blog and start a Pintrest page on dealing with children’s sensory development and go on a parenting course and start another small business to earn more money so you can send them to a better school and also stop fighting with your husband.

Or you could lower your expectations.


Rookie Mom: A Pretty Ordinary Day

4.00am – “MAMA! I’m awake! Look, it’s a morning! What’s today?”

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We’ll never go out of style – T.S

Stumbling out of bed, I switch on the kettle. One bottle of rooibos tea with honey, one bottle of formula, one cup of green tea. The boys and I lie on the couch sipping on our beverages of choice, while I play “This Little Piggy went to Market” on the Two Year Old’s toes. It’s like one of those stock photos of the perfect family. Until….

4.07am – “MY car! “MY car! “MY car!”

The negotiations begin. About 87% of my day is spent negotiating between two small humans with very undeveloped brains.

  • If you want your brother’s car, find him another one you can swop with.
  • Sorry, boy, you can’t have Salticracks for breakfast. Cereal or oats?
  • No, you cannot go to school naked.

These are just a few things I find myself saying fairly regularly and it becomes quite difficult to know what’s sinking in. But then every now and then, I realise that they actually do hear what I’m saying. Yesterday, the Four Year Old and I were playing “Good Guys, Bad Guys” and after he put me in jail, he told me “Sit here, and you can’t come out until you control yourself.” It would appear someone HAS been listening.

Insert here school runs, snack time, nap time, wrestling matches to get nappies changed, running races to get noses wiped and a trip to the homeopath.

Just an ordinary day

Just an ordinary day

Fast-forward twelve hours.

4.00pm – “MY truck! MY truck! MY truck!”

4.07pm – “MAMA! I’m hungry. Look, there’s a moon. What’s for supper?”

Same tune, different words. In the next twenty minutes, I clean up the Two Year Old’s swimming costume that has been pooped in (the kind that zip all the way up to the neck), I grab a runaway bottle of Domestos out of the Four Year Old’s hand and scoop up an entire tub of yogurt that was chucked on a suede couch from a highchair. Note to prospective parents: suede couches may or may not have their origins in the pit of hell. Do not buy one.

Our evening routine starts with the celebration of Dad’s arrival home – dancing, tears of joy and leaping into his arms.

The kids are usually quite stoked to see him, too.

The double pram is loaded up with bikes and skateboards as we meander around the block, and our arrival back at the gate is usually announced by the Four Year Old’s meltdown – the stick we found earlier is too short, or the pants he’s wearing are too orange, or his brother keeps looking at him. Being four years old at five o clock in the afternoon is difficult. So is being one of our neighbours, I would venture to guess.

Dinner (left overs).
Bath (bubbles, of course).
Bed (finally).

Another bottle of rooibos tea, another bottle of formula and one spilt bottle of Panado.

Did somebody say “wine”?
Yes, please.

It’s a pretty ordinary day in the life of this Rookie Mom. It’s the ordinary day after day after day, at the end of which I collapse into bed with achy feet, wondering if I’ll ever NOT be tired again. However, I forgot to mention a few things.

Like how the Four Year Old told the cashier at Spar his new joke.
(What do cows do on a Friday night? Go to the mooovies.)

Or how the Two Year Old said “Hi, guys!” to everyone we walked past.

I didn’t mention how the Four Year Old makes his cross-eyed funny face to get his brother to stop crying, or how the little one hides under the table and squeaks while we all look for a mouse in the house. No one except me hears a little voice whisper, “I love you bigger than the whole world, Mama” or feels two smooth, squashy little arms hugging my neck at bedtime. When these two kids laugh, when the Four Year Old tells me a story, when the Two Year Old runs up to me and grabs my legs and throws back his head to look into my eyes, I melt. (And NOT from exhaustion). I melt with love, and gratitude, and the realisation that I am privileged and honoured to have these gorgeous children entrusted to my care…every ordinary day.

As the Husband and I lie in bed at night, exhausted, grumpy and each convinced we work harder than our spouse, we start to talk about our kids. About how smart and funny and cute they are, about how much we love them. Sometimes we actually want to go wake them up and play with them. This is usually the sign that we are crossing over into post-traumatic delirium and really need to sleep, so it’s lights out and eyes closed.

Did I say this was a pretty ordinary day? I meant it was another beautiful ordinary day.

How To Stop Being An Angry South African

I’m grumpy. Today, I just feel grumpy. Why, Jess? I’m so interested in your life that I really need to know why you are grumpy.

Fine, Internet, fine. Here is why I’m grumpy.

1) I’m grumpy because of the State of The Nation chaos of last night. Policemen arresting peaceful protesters, the opposition parties being evicted out of Parliament/walking out in protest of evictions, the indifference of a President who laughed and presented his “long term plan to have a long term plan” to his own party. I honestly wanted to throw a smushy papaya in his face. With the seeds still in it. I freaking love South Africa. Tom and I have always said we will leave when they chase us out. But today, I’m just feeling pissed off because I feel like a naysayer and I know I’m not one and for the first time I am just so bleak.

2) I’m grumpy because I had about three hours of sleep last night. Here’s a helpful hint: if you give your 18 month old papaya at supper he will poo at 2am and then think it’s the morning and not want to go to sleep. No more papaya for you, Luke. NO. MORE. PAPAYA.

3) I’m grumpy because everything sucks. There are too many poor people, and too many racists, and too many crooks, and too many patriarchal chauvinists. And I’m really cross about these things. So there. I hate you all.

4) And I’m grumpy because I can’t find the new Taylor Swift music video on the interweb. WHY ME??????

Oh by the way, I’m preaching at church on Sunday. Anybody wanna come?

What am I preaching about, you ask? Wow, guys. Your curiosity is insatiable.

I’m preaching about Anger.
Wait…what? Yes. Read it again. I’m preaching about Anger.

I’m preaching about how Anger is an enemy of the heart. I’m preaching about how you can keep monitoring what you do but eventually your heart will outpace your behaviour and catch up with you. What’s inside will come out. And you’ll use words like “pissed off” and “hate” and “papaya” in a blog.

Grumpy Jess

Grumpy Jess

  • Show me an angry person and I’ll show you a hurt person.
  • Show me an angry person and I’ll show you someone who feels like something has been taken from them.
  • Show me an angry person and I’ll show you someone who feels like, “You owe me”.
  • Show me an angry person and I’ll show you me –>

So what are we supposed to do? What are we supposed to do when we angry because we’re hurting over this beautiful, betrayed country? What are we supposed to do when justice and democracy and courageous leadership and human rights are taken away? What are we supposed to do when we know that every single South African deserves better than this?

There’s only one antidote for anger.


We tend to think that forgiveness is letting the bad guy off the hook, letting the crook go free. Its actually about ourselves going free. When we forgive, we are free. When we don’t forgive, we stay prisoners – prisoners to anger, to hurt, to the destructive outcomes of keeping anger in our hearts.

When we don’t forgive, we are the ones who pay.
When we don’t cancel the debt of those who have hurt us, we are the ones who end up in prison. 
On the other hand, when we cancel the debt that others owe us – when we forgive – we will be set free.

It’s a real thing, you guys. This is for realsies how it works.

I don’t know what you’re angry about. For the few devoted friends of mine who read this blog outside South Africa, you may not know what scary stuff we’re facing but I’m sure you can insert your own “this-makes-me-mad” thing in.

There is a lot I don’t know. But I DO know that I don’t want to live with a poisonously, destructively angry heart that makes me a pain to be around. I am NOT going to let our screwed-up-with-no-scruples-and-needs-a-papaya-in-your-face-flushing-democracy-and-justice-down-the-drains-of-Parliament-government take my freedom.

They may take our water, and our electricity, and our justice, and our democracy.
But they will NOT take my joy. They will NOT take my sense of humour. And in the words of the great Scotsman William Wallace, they will NOT take my freedom.

And if you want to be free…


If you want to hear my sermon on Anger and Forgiveness, you can:
– visit Grace Family Church Ballito Campus on Sunday 15 February at 8am or 10am
– watch or download the message next week on this website