The Four Day Rule: staying with parents in your forties

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There is usually a reason for a long stay with your parents when you’re in your forties: moving house, a divorce, a disaster of some sort, or just caring for them. In my case fortunately, it’s the first cause, and it’s just my Mum now. Leaving one’s parent to move abroad, especially when they are on their own and you have small, reasonably cute children is harsh. You feel incredibly guilty that you are depriving them of a huge source of joy in their lives. Of course some parents will visit every year and then you will visit too, but with us, it was the once a year summer holiday.  For this reason, I decided to come back early, leave my husband in the Caribbean so we could have some quality Granny time before moving into our new house.

I thought a month would be okay.

I was very wrong.

Two weeks in and I am tearing my hair out, I am so stressed and tense, I can’t wait to get out! We are in my Mum’s home in Norfolk, it has rained pretty much non-stop for two days, in fact we have had as much rain as we normally get in a month! Great. The children aren’t used to being inside all day, to keep their voices down, to stop SHOUTING, to use their indoor voices wherever they go, and to please STOP bouncing on the sofas, and please don’t KEEP leaning on the sofa armrests, they’re just made out of wood you know, and can you STOP banging the doors?!

Maybe they are louder in England, but then again my Mum’s house is a lot smaller and there are a lot more people around to consider, in the Caribbean we didn’t have neighbours and our garden was the beach.

I am exhausted. Apparently my daughter is ‘insolent’ both to my mother and to me. My son however has been well behaved today! This is despite being rude and grouchy and refusing to co-operate all morning. This is the old sexist tradition handed down from generations of farming families in Lincolnshire: men can do no wrong. Little girls are ‘madams’, ‘cheeky’, and today ‘insolent’ but the boys often outrageous behavior, is always excused.

‘You have to be firm with them’ is my Mum’s subtle message which she repeats three or four times a day, clearly insinuating that I am not and the reason they are so badly behaved is due to the poor discipline from yours truly. The thing is, I am not such a confident parent that I am not sure she isn’t right, perhaps I should be stronger, perhaps if I was more strict they wouldn’t act like this. My Mother loves telling me stories about what a firm parent my cousin is and how well behaved her children are.

What are my options: I could explode, have an almighty row, drive off with a satisfying rev of the engine, but go where? Then I would have to repair relations with my Mum and have a terribly confusing time for the children. ‘’Why did we leave Granny’s?’ ‘Will we see Granny tonight?’  As I shunt them off to a Travel Lodge for a week. And then the guilt….  and the variations of the ‘After all I do for you’ speech. It could just be a look, it could be a few words or it could be the worst line ever, ‘Where did I go wrong to have such ungrateful children?’

It’s terrible. And it’s true. My Mum is amazing. She cooks for the children and then for me, buys them shoes, clothes, organises haircuts, optician’s appointments – the sorts of things I forgot to do when away. She allows me to lie in while she looks after the children, have a long bath, relax a bit. In so many ways it is more of a holiday than I normally get being at my Mum’s. If it weren’t for the emotions, the tension and the recriminations, it might have been lovely. If I had only stayed for four days….

Why did I do it? Why did we come back so early? We could have been on the beach in the Caribbean, enjoying our last few weeks in the sun.  Did I completely miscalculate and forget how terrible my mother could be after a few weeks? I think there were reasons: it was too hot there; I had to buy beds; visit the house; measure up etc. I wouldn’t have been able to spend this time with my Mum with my husband here, and after a separation of some time, I miss her and forget all of this.

This won’t happen again. I can’t be tiptoeing around, obeying my mother’s commands. She doesn’t know herself, she doesn’t see or think about the things she says.  Most of all I hate that at 41, I am so clearly reminded of what I felt like between the ages of 15-18, stuck, oppressed, having to behave and wanting to put two fingers up to my Mum behind a closed door, just longing for the day when I could go to university and not look back!  If it was four days, I could have been a grown up.

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