There was a time before my children were born, when my husband and I battled years of infertility and miscarriage, that I dreamed of the day I would hear a tiny person call me "Mum".
Twelve years and two children later, there are days I dream of no one saying "Mum" ever again.
Do not get me wrong. I love my children with all my heart. But the sheer number of times I hear "Mum" some days is enough to drive me batty. Sometimes, after an especially incessant bout of "Mums", I threaten to change my name to "Dad".
Of course the way they deliver "Mum" also makes a difference. My daughter, especially, has a knack for rapid-fire delivery. "Mum, Mum, Mum, Mum, Mum", she will call out, often when I am standing beside her. There are also numerous conversations that go like this: "Mum". "Yes". "Mum". "Yes". "Mum". "Yes". "Mum". Before I yell: "YES!!!! I said 'yes', that means you can stop saying 'Mum'!". But the one that annoys me the most is the "Mu-uuuuu-um", delivered with maximum whining tone.
I was recovering from an especially gruelling bout of "Mums" when I wondered aloud how often my kids say "Mum". So I thought I would invest in a clicker used to measure crowd numbers.
I picked one up while the kids were at school and was ready to go when they got home. I should have taken it with me for school pick up because I counted at least six in the two or three minutes directly after the school bell went. There were more on the walk to the car via the corner shop for a treat. By the time we got home I was up to 20 and the clicker was still in the box.
I must admit that it was hard to keep up the next few hours and it was easy to forget to click. The fact my kids cottoned on to what I was doing also made for entertainment as they tried to stop themselves from saying "Mum" or my daughter would deliberately throw a few extra in (I didn't count those, nor if they were referring to me as opposed to calling me).
By bedtime a few hours later we had hit more than 140. My husband was shocked. "When did you start?". "3.30". "But it's only 8.30 now and they've been at after-school activities". "Exactly."
A similar number of clicks had been recorded before and after school the next day. It was time for a weekend count. Saturday did not disappoint. By the end of the weekend we were approaching four figures. No wonder I had mum weariness. My kids were saying "Mum" more than 1000 times a week, and that was a normal school week with a couple of after-school care sessions thrown in.
I had been a mother of two for 10 years. That was more than half a million "Mums" and this figure was based on the record I was keeping now, when surely they would have said "Mum" much more when they were younger.
I also started to think more about what it was they wanted when they called me and realised most of the time it was to do stuff they could easily do themselves. I had mollycoddled them by doing too much and dare say it, made them lazy. Not that we hadn't noticed this or tried to make them more self-sufficient, but it is hard to break habits once they are ingrained. I had over-parented my kids to the point they seemed incapable of doing anything for themselves.
Parenting expert, Michael Grose, the author of nine books as well as the Parenting Ideas website and blog, says there are five signs of over-parenting. These include taking on too many of your child's responsibilities; and the biggie for me: regularly doing things for your child that he or she could reasonably do for themselves.
He writes: "It's an irony of modern life that the busier parents get the more we tend to do for kids. In the race to get things done we dress young children, prepare children's snacks and accompany them on trips outside the house, even when they are old enough to do these activities themselves. If your child is becoming more, rather than less dependent, the older he or she becomes, then it's probably time to reassess your parenting".
He ended with this point: "Never regularly do for a child the things they can do for themselves".
This was me in a nutshell. I had done everything for my kids in a bid to make my life easier, and maybe appease my working mother's guilt, and now it had come back to bite me on the arse.
So where to from here? Well for starters, the kids, having seen first-hand how often they said "Mum", realised – as much as children can – that something was amiss. We have brought back a chore list and reward system and the "Mums" do seem to have dropped off a bit. We certainly haven't fixed the problem, but it is a start. And I have put the clicker back in the box – for now.