Guilty Of Neglect

We have many friends who’ve completed their family by having one child. Blessings were counted at the same time as fingers and toes. Their reasons are varied. For some it was about fertility, for others it was age, sometimes it was both. Many, only ever wanted the one child. One was enough. I have a girlfriend who is terrified to play the genetic lottery again, both her and her husband are now considering how they will look after the welfare of their own siblings after their parents are gone. They had children to consider before they even met. We all have our reasons when it comes to the size of our families, personal reasons.

Each of the little travellers has entertained the fantasy of being the single child. Each has stopped G and I in a one on one situation and said with a little too much excitement “Imagine if it was like this all the time? Just us and no-one else!”

As much as the parent of a single child may entertain the idea of “Should I have had more?”, the parent of multiples is asking “Did I have too many?”

I am guilty of neglect. With four children there are things that just get missed. There have been bedtimes where I have looked into the eyes of my children while kissing them goodnight, and asked myself if I have really looked at them that day? Or did it just pass by in a mad chaotic whoosh. There is continual guilt, it’s a never-ending game of crisis management. Just when you’ve finished talking to the school counsellor about the latest behavioural “issue” you discover you’re behind on the vaccinations and someone has an F in French. You forgot to sign up for the after school activities because you were filling out the consent form for the school trip and scheduling a time for the student lead parent teacher conference. Oh you don’t want those crackers in your lunch? You don’t eat Cherios now? What do you mean you don’t have any PE shorts? When did you lose the swimming bag? I thought you had Basketball tonight?  Four schedules, four different personalities, four little faces screaming out to be noticed for their individuality.

The third little traveller had a writers workshop at school this morning. I wandered into his class to find his journal covered in photos of our family, pictures he had cut out and taped to the front of his book. I hadn’t seen a few of the photographs in a long time and they took me back to another place. We were at the beach, we were in Canada, in London, in Houston, in many of them he is swamped by his siblings. There were two photos of just him and I, he pointed to one and said “this is my favourite photo” I became ridiculously sentimental and we both pretended not to hear my voice crack as I said “me too”.

As he read me his stories I asked questions. In his creative fiction piece he spoke of how at the end of the day he sat on his bed with his mother and they talked and talked and talked.

Creative Fiction. Not reality.

On another page he’d drawn a love heart and inside he’d put the name of people and things he loved. Right in the middle of the love heart was the name John – our next door neighbour at the beach house. The third little traveller treats John with same haphazardness a child treats a grandparent. Taking him for granted, he has an expectation that John will always be around. Their conversation sits comfortably in a room, nothing is forced or fine tuned, it just is. The topics are broad: fishing, engineering and the meaning behind Stonehenge. I often watch the third little traveller and think of my older sister and a relationship she had with an Aunt. My mother tells the story of a friend of my sisters almost bragging about the depth of her family tree and the boundless supply of Grandparents and Aunts she had on offer.

“Yeah, but do you have an Aunty Ruby?” my sister asked with pride. My sister considered Aunty Rube a drawcard her friend could never match.

The third little traveller has a John.

“You know you haven’t replied to John’s last email when he sent the pictures of the fish” I was pointing to the name in the love heart “Can I send this to John? I think he’d like it”.

The third little traveller shrugged, “Sure, but he knows how I feel about him”.

Families come in both large and small packages. Choices that may have been lost in conception are given to us in other forms as people come into our lives. We may start small and grow, or begin with girth and a need to find focus.

I want the third little traveller’s creative fiction to be a reality, and I need to keep working on the time management that comes with motherhood. The best I can do though, through the chaos, is just make sure he knows how I feel about him and be thankful for those around me who help fill in the gaps.

I wish I would have had more? Perhaps I should have had less?

“This is my favourite photo.”

I’m so grateful for what I have.

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  1. I always think that with my 4,I always have one that needs a little more attention than the others( differnt ones at differnt times) and the others get to sneak under the radar for a while . With 4 it is impossible to be a ‘helicopter’ parent. I love having 4 kids – seems just right for us.

  2. I’m the eldest of four girls, and my mother says that looking back, it was always no.3 that got the least attention. With me – I was her firstborn. No.2 came 18 months later, no.3 18 months after that and she was tired. Then a couple of years later came no.4 who was of course the baby and she knew she would be her last as she finally got the contraception that worked! I think that you have recognised that possibilty early enough for it not to be a problem for him, as it always has been with my sister, who feels very resentful.

  3. Ah, I have been having same thoughts today, as I got a disapproving head-shake from a Botoxed-LR4-driving-Lagoon mother while driving (I was trying to coaxed No.3 to put her arms back in her carseat while trying to turn off indicators of a foreign hire car – all unsuccessfully – while driving). I can’t cope with what I’ve got some days, and other days I’m sure there is room for more.

  4. I often look at friends with one or two, and how much attention their children receive, and ask myself some serious questions. We are TERRIBLE at giving our four one-on-one. Terrible. But we do nearly everything all together, and I really do think they are the favourite times for all of us. I often joke about the counselling they’ll need when they’re older due to lack of attention…but do hope and pray they will just know they are loved within the chaos. Truly loved. But oh the chaos!!!!! Happy sigh.

  5. I don’t think it’s necessarily creative fiction when children write about their family life. Sometimes they are really talking about the love and attention they believe they receive. OK, so you don’t manage to sit on the bed of each child as you put them to bed but they don’t actually count the times you do that versus the time you don’t. They just remember that you do it sometimes and you love them.
    There’s never a perfect number of kids to have. I know many only children who openly wish they had had a sibling or two while my husband, for example, doesn’t feel he missed out on anything. Similarly, I know a family of 6 kids, and while the house is sometimes chaotic, they have a joyful and caring family life together.

  6. Kirsty, I think your last sentence said it all. It isn’t about how many you have, it is about the fact that you are grateful for and love all your children. Working in a low socio-economic school where many of the students don’t get to see their parents often because they are working, I can assure you that not only do you spend plenty of time with your children, they know you love them! Having seen you with your kids I am under no illusion that when it comes to attention and love your children have an abubdance.

  7. Some very powerful thoughts, Kirsty, thank you!!!!
    I don’t think they all have to have the same amount of attention every single day. Let’s just make sure it’s evenly distributed and each child gets to feel super-special at regular intervals. Spending one-on-one time regularly with our kids has been our secret weapon ever since No 2 was born, it’s a priority for both my husband and I and it’s worth all the investment.

  8. Are you still based in Qatar?

  9. When hubby and I were still undecided about #4 (hubby really…) I was speaking with a random lady one day at the shops (as you do) and she asked me “why 4?” – my rapid (seemingly unprepared) response was “my dinner table seats six, I have an empty chair”….in which she took my breath away with “get a round table gorgeous” – NEVER !

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