I am not the mother I thought I would be.
Before having children, I had many views about parenting – about what made a good parent, or a bad one, and the kind of parent I wanted to be. I had views about birth, about feeding, settling, family life, and so on.
I would give birth naturally, and without drugs – and I did, with my first daughter, but came to regret that experience so much I gladly lined up for a C-section with my second. I would breastfeed exclusively – and I did, with difficulty and discomfort, and by the time my second child turned one, I willed each breastfeed to be the last. I would not use dummies – and I didn’t, but my three year old still drags her security blanket with her wherever she goes. As for settling techniques, I’ve tried them all, and yet my younger one, who is now 21 months, still WILL NOT SLEEP.
I would provide nutritious family meals – but never counted on having a child, Miss 3 years, who has little interest in food. Mealtimes at our place frequently involve tears, screaming, food thrown across the room in play or disgust and, finally, inevitably, ABC Kids. No screentime before two – who was I kidding? Just this week my 21 month old uttered a sentence, one of those precious first sentences: ‘I need Peppa Pig.’ And she was right. We did need Peppa Pig in that moment, because it was 4.45 am, there would be no more sleep for Miss 21 months or me, and damned if I’m going to pull out the playdough or puzzles at that hour. I might as well confess right now that I hate doing organised activities with my children – from language classes to Storytime, we’ve done them all, and it turns out that with two toddlers on the loose in public, someone is bound to drop their bundle (and by someone, I mean my kids, although I’ve just about dropped my own bundle publicly many times as well). And don’t get me started on the headache of two eager toddlers painting, or gluing, or using glitter.
Since having kids, I’ve discovered those views I once held were mostly unachievable once real, live children – in my case, two children 21 months apart – were thrown into the mix. The bottom line is, I love my two girls with all my heart, I am blessed to have these two wondrous children in my life, but raising a family is hard work. It pushes all your buttons, and when you are stressed or sleep deprived, standards will slip. When you’ve got pressures everywhere you turn – work, finances, perhaps health issues, rushing around trying to fit everything in and feeling like you are accomplishing not very much, trying to prevent your home from resembling a hoarder’s den – standards will slip. And my, how they have slipped, and continue to slip, in our home.
All of this makes me a bad, bad parent – right? Probably not, although the old me, the pre-kids me, would 100 per cent have judged me as a parent, possibly rather harshly.
As a parent, I have felt myself being judged on many occasions. Sometimes that judgement is implied; sometimes it is explicit. Everyone seems to have the answers to my parenting dilemmas – why Miss 21 months will not sleep, why Miss 3 years refuses to eat, why they suffer from various health problems, what I must be doing wrong – with little basis for those judgements.
Occasionally one or both of my children will do what young children do: lose it – for no reason other than that they are tired, or bored, or just not getting their way. Often when that happens, I’ll receive a kind look from another mum, a ‘We’ve all been there’, an empathetic gesture in an embarrassing moment. But at other times empathy is sorely lacking.
Not long ago, Miss 3 years – who has a chronic medical condition that causes her discomfort at times – threw a tantrum in public which had everything to do with her being unwell. I knew she was unwell that day; we probably should not have left home at all. So I got down to my daughter’s level, gave her a long hug and asked her if she wanted to go home and watch TV on the couch with her special blankie. As I did so, I noticed a couple who were standing nearby glance at each other and roll their eyes. I was being judged, and these two had absolutely no right. They didn’t know me, my daughter or the situation.
We’ve all been there – as judgers and judged. So often in online settings I see the words in posts, ‘No judgements, please’. Since becoming a parent, I’ve learned to withhold my judgement, of others and of myself. We never know what has led to other people’s decisions about parenting. The only thing we need to be concerned about is whether a child is okay, whether a parent is okay.
And so, despite my views prior to having children, my, how standards have slipped in our home in the last three and a half years. But it’s a happy home: my children are loved and well cared for and safe. That is what matters most.
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