Parenting rules suck, says Charlotte Philby, 34, who has adopted the 'chaos theory' when it comes to how she and her husband Barney raise their three children Rosabel, seven, Jesse, four, and Xander, two
Parenting rules don’t apply to me and here’s why I no longer believe in them: I’d never thought of myself as somebody who could be reduced to tears by a car seat. But, as I battled with the buckle, I finally snapped. ‘Just go in the bloody hole!’ I wailed, as my mother’s neighbours politely pretended not to notice. Since we moved into my mum’s house six months ago, while we have building work done, the school run has become a twice-daily horror show. Having already been awake for four hours, by 9am I am fit for bed – or an asylum.
It wasn’t always this way. When my first baby arrived in 2010, I was 27 and an editor at a newspaper – I was used to working out solutions to problems. My life was structured, so I could delineate between work and home. If there were parenting rules to abide by, it was easier for me to follow them. When I unexpectedly fell pregnant, I made lists –from birth plans to sleep routines – as a way of dealing with the huge anxiety.
Seven years later, I look back at that first-time parent with a combination of pity, envy and bemusement. My eldest was the kind of baby who slept through the night and snoozed on the pub table at Sunday lunch (her brothers were not). Today, with a freelance writing career and only part-time childcare, the logistics of keeping three boisterous kids safe, while each attempts to scale a different piece of furniture can be overwhelming.
My husband and I describe our parenting as the ‘chaos theory’: chaos rules while we attempt to navigate our way through the relentless slew of bugs, bank holidays and endless obstructions. From willing the baby to nap to remembering the middle child’s swimming lessons, all without the foundation of living in a home to call our own. At times, it has pushed us to the edge. But, just as you are left wondering who the hell you have become, you watch your brood attempting to wrangle the cat into a doll’s pushchair, or see your eldest child cuddling the toddler when he bumps his head. In those moments, the challenges melt into pure joy.
My bemused friends often ask my husband and me how we do it. The answer is: by the seat of our pants. We both pull our weight and make constant sacrifices. Chaos works over strict parenting rules for now. It means less sleep, sure – and sticking on CBeebies to snatch precious moments to crowbar in work. It is not ideal, but it’s the best we can do. And here’s what else I’ve learnt – it won’t last forever. Doing it our way means that we both get to have careers and a big, chaotic but extremely tight family. It’s not having it all, but who wants ‘it all’ anyway?