Emily Joyce is an English actress born and raised in South East London. Perhaps best known for the popular BBC 1 series, My Hero, and more recently for an amazing performance on the London Stage in, The Curious Incident of the Dog in the Night, Emily is mum to two boys, Gabriel (15) and Bailey (12).
Although it’s been a while since her boys were toddlers, she recently met Mrs Baffled to talk about how children of all ages can push our buttons.
Mrs B: B&tBP is written by a mum of a toddler. Your boys are older now, but do you remember that time and how it felt?
Emily: It was so difficult going through it at the time. I think the lack of communication is frustrating on both side. It is so much easier dealing with my children now that they’re older, and not so needy. But my responsibility for them and concerns for them remains the same.
Mrs B: Communication, or lack of is a big thing isn’t it?
Emily: I see now that that’s where a lot of the frustration came from for both us, but for the kids in particular. They’re trying to communicate, they’re watching everyone around them using these noises and they don’t know what they are. Babies try very early on to imitate so if you laugh they laugh, that’s how they learn. Once you get into sophisticated language they can’t join in, and feel left out. We used to do signing, and it did take out some of the frustration I think. It became a language that we could speak. We used very few words; milk for example, a drink and food. We’d always say the word as well and do the sign [Emily squeezes her hand, and smiles, ‘like milking a cow?’] and Gabriel was very quickly able to say ‘mmm’ when he did the sign. Also children learn through play so it became a game, and it did take out some of the frustration. I’d recommend it to a new mum. There was another thing that my eldest used to do: he’d go off and bang his head against a wall. And it was terrifying, awful to watch. And it was my mum who pointed out that he’d got himself into such a tiz, that he didn’t know how to get himself out of it. And actually rather than say, ‘don’t do that’ you just scoop them up in a big hug, security, everything’s ok. It’s difficult though as that takes a lot of energy. It takes a lot on your part, as your instinct is to go ‘just stop it’.
Mrs B: I’ve been reading lately about having a ‘time in’, instead of sending children off for a ‘time out’. Calming them down and providing that security to talk it though. I’ve tried it and I think it helps. It’s tough to do though when they’re pushing your buttons!
Emily: It’s a big ask of the parent, and it’s really tough cos you’re in the middle of doing something really nice for your child like say, baking a cake. And you’re in the middle of a huge mess, that you’re having to ignore and just sit on, and they’ll go off in rage about something because they’re frustrated, and you’re frustrated as well, and it’s not turning out as you thought it would! You’re trying to do something nice for them! It takes a lot of energy to stay calm and offer something like a time in. It takes a lot of psychology. I do think all parents should go to therapy. Once you’re in it. Go and have a talk to someone who can say, that’s normal. I’ve had a bit of therapy over the years, and have raged on about the children’s behaviour, or my behaviour towards them, my failings, and the counsellor says, but that’s ok because you’re still you. And your child has to learn that’s the person you are. And it’s ok to be you.
Mrs B: Any examples of things they did that pushed your buttons? Caused frustrations?
Emily: Eating. My oldest was a terrible eater. He’d begun life in SCBU at Kings [College Hospital] because of low blood sugar and wouldn’t feed. He only stayed in for a week (which was horrid) but then he didn’t eat properly until he was 7.
Mrs B: That sounds tough. Anything that tested your patience?
Emily: Thomas the Tank Engine on a loop!
Mrs B: You were an actress before you had children, and went back to acting afterwards. Do you think working helped you to be a parent in any way? Did you ever think about not returning to work?
Emily: I was contracted back onto My Hero, so I had to go back to work. It was very hard to go back, really hard to leave Gabriel at that stage, because he’d been ill, he’d just been in SCBU. And I found it quite difficult: the adjustment to motherhood, and going back to my old life felt like I was betraying him. Massive guilt, massive guilt. And I didn’t deal with that very well. Once I’d gone back, I was fine. And I say to people now, go back to work, because 15 years on I still have a career.
Mrs B: And that was the same for your second son, Bailey? You were contracted once again to go back for another series? Did that have the same impact?
Emily: No I couldn’t wait! Haha!
Mrs B: Do you think they pushed your buttons more when you were tired, or busy? Unhappy? Did you ever recognise that sometimes you could keep in check, how their behaviour made you feel?
Emily: I don’t remember [specifics]. Though inevitably it will have been much harder with all of those things going on for me. And then there’s the pressure another child or wanting another, or not, puts on the dynamic of the family.
Mrs B: Do you think that wanting another child puts added pressure on your ability to parent child number one? Or wanting another and it not happening either right away, or perhaps taking longer than you’d imagined?
Emily: Something you really want, anything, you fixate on it, and then it’s another thing that you can’t control. So I wonder whether a lot of parenting is about the loss of control and trying to cope with that. And the dynamics of the relationship with your partner are going to change when children come in… You’ve got one that you’re learning to deal with, and you don’t necessarily have the same amount of time [for each other] as you’re used to. And then when you’re trying for another one or have another one, everything revolves around the children. You’ve suddenly got wellie boots everywhere and mittens falling out of cupboards, where you used to have a fish kettle! You know from when you used to have a dinner parties. You can’t have dinner parties anymore because there’s too much plasticine stuck to the table! It’s just not gonna happen, and you feel, again, that you’re failing. Getting used to that change of life style: it’s huge. And you can really lose site of the person you are and the things that you wanted when there weren’t children. And it’s ok to want other things in life, it’s crucial because they grow up and they leave. If I’m lucky I’ve only got another 3 years with my oldest before he’s off to university. Well, who knows he might be with me forever! No he shouldn’t want to! As much as that hurts… Once they’ve gone, what’s left? You’ll be different.
Mrs B: You’ve talked about ‘failings’? I sometimes think part of the hard time we give ourselves as parents is because we spend time comparing ourselves to the other parents, who we believe, seem to be coping with things better than us.
Emily: I think when they’re younger definitely. There is an awful lot of playground politics that goes on. When I was doing The Curious Incident, I met a family with an autistic son and we were talking about the feelings of guilt and failure that you have very early on, when other people are saying, “oh isn’t little so and so walking yet, mine’s been walking for 3 months”. You know all those comparisons. And they don’t mean it nastily; they’re just talking about their own experience. But very often those comparisons can make you feel that you’re failing. But you have to talk about them
Mrs B: Or you’d go crazy?
Emily: Absolutely. It’s like talking about childbirth. I can still talk about the birth of my children minute by minute!
Mrs B: If you had one piece of advice to offer to parents of toddlers, trying to deal with having their buttons pushed, what would it be?
Emily: Scream into a pillow.
Emily is about to start filming a comedy with You Tubers Jack & Dean. You can also catch her in the new series of Agatha Raisin on Sky 1 in Spring 2016. And you can follow Emily on Twitter @yesbutem
In her spare time Emily makes beautiful hand-crafted soft toys called Use2Bs. Each toy is made using pre-loved clothes so they’re entirely unique. If you live in the Whitstable area you can buy them from Urbanista, or via Emily’s Etsy shop. Or you can win one here! Just head over to Facebook and search for the Baffled Facebook page and click like on the competition post, or similarly, find @MrsBaffled on Twitter and tweet me using the hashtag #baffledandthebuttonpusher to be in with a chance. The lucky recipient will be selected at random (by my little Button-Pusher!) on 12th December. Emily will also be selling them, in person, at a craft fair on 16th December at The Actors Centre (12:00-17:00), where some of the profits will go towards the Actors’ Benevolent Fund.