I am, by any measure, a terrible, awful, mother. Read any advice book, any glossy brochure in the doctor's waiting room, and they will tell you – I suck at being a mum.
I have three boys aged three and under, Charlie and his 17-month-old identical twin baby brothers Tommy and Henry.
They rarely (OK, never) wear hats outside, I am flat out getting pants on Charlie in the morning. I tried hats and they kept taking them off so I slap on sunscreen now instead. When it's a hot day I strip them off naked and let them roam about our (private) back garden, naked as the day they were born. No rash vests, no neck-to-knee suits, no waterproof nappies for the paddling pool, just full on commando.
As the summer has progressed Charlie's long limbs have browned up like a berry, even though his skin has never gone red in the sun. The twins have a healthy glow and no nappy rash and there's no accident a garden hose and a shovel full of sand from the sandpit can't fix.
I don't watch them like a hawk when they play outside, or inside. With the three of them that's almost impossible, and they never go far. The twins are happy as pigs in mud (quite literally, there is often mud involved) as they crawl around the garden, eating flowers and dirt and getting wedged under the lemon tree or curling up in the cat run for a nap.
Charlie can spend hours bouncing on his trampoline, unfettered by clothes, often joined by his brothers. I zip them in and leave them to it, watering the garden or weeding while they jump and flop about. It probably breaks all the trampoline safety rules they can fit on a laminated card but my boys squeal in delight and I lost that card anyway so who cares.
When they want a change of scenery I throw all three in a red tin wagon and walk them up and down the street. No helmets or padded seatbelts or harnesses. I am sure if they wanted to they could stand up and launch themselves onto the asphalt but they don't. Why would they when they are having an absolute ball and causing traffic chaos by people slowing down to look at them.
The TV is on all day so they can always wander (or crawl) back inside to chill out. Tractor DVDs are popular, Sesame Street too. I don't give a stuff about how much or little screen time or TV time kids should or shouldn't have. If it means peace and quiet and it stops three little boys having absolute meltdowns then it goes on. Same with the iPad. If Charlie needs a bit of space, or if mummy needs 10 minutes to feed to babies in peace, then it's YouTube and the wonderful world of Blippi or some odd animation of Spiderman driving Lightning McQueen while being chased on foot by the Incredible Hulk. Charlie's also a bookworm and can hold down a conversation better than a lot of adults I've met, so the experts who say all this rots their brains can bugger off, it's just not true.
I don't worry about how much junk food they do or don't eat. Kids are kids, they are always going to love chocolate. I don't give them juice because they are happy enough drinking water and milk but for God's sake don't ever feel guilty about giving your kid a chocolate biscuit or three before 10am or after dinner.
Yes I use chocolate to bribe them into doing something I want, yes I always say "one last one" and then give them another two minutes later, and yes I've probably spoiled their appetite for dinner now and then. But Charlie devours fruit and cheese sandwiches and tuna pasta and the twins literally eat everything put in front of them, from sauteed broad beans and leeks to chilli and chicken to sauteed fruit. None are overweight or have bad teeth but all are ridiculously happy and well fed and actually enjoy eating.
And so, I beg of you, let kids be kids. Be a 'bad' mother every now and again. Stop worrying, take their clothes off when it's hot, feed them chocolate, let more than one child on the trampoline at a time and relax. It's OK if you don't do everything by the rules, you will be OK, and more importantly your children will be OK.
There are so many rules these days that if you followed them all, did everything the books and experts told you to do and don't do, that you wouldn't have any time left to do the most important thing of all – be a parent.