It almost seemed too good to be true. I had woken up on time, without resetting my ear-piercing alarm for the umpteenth time. I had managed to get the kids up, washed and dressed, minus any tears or tantrums. I had even managed to squeeze in a quick shower, a touch of make-up and a cup of tea. As I gazed into the mirror, I smiled and thought “Jeez, I actually look human today!” When the kids and I walked took a leisurely stroll to school, I felt a sense of accomplishment. For the first time in months years, we were not running, we hadn’t forgotten anything and we weren’t eating our breakfast on the go. As I caught sight of my reflection on a passing car, I could see my Supermom cape flapping in the breeze… And boy did it feel good!
As we walked through the school gates my ‘super cape’ dropped to the ground with a loud THUD. A hundred pairs of eyes burning holes into my ego. Eyes belonging to knights and princesses! Did I step into some kind of time warp? No, although I wish I had. It was knights and princesses day at school, and the terrible mother I am, FORGOT! The terrible mother who couldn’t quite bring herself to look into her son’s big dough eyes, as he murmured sadly, “Where’s my costume, mummy?”
As the school bell rang, there was no going back. I had to face the walk of shame through crowds of happy, smiling children showcasing their parent’s handiwork. And there was me, a failure, a terrible mum. And there was my poor son, costume-less with tears brewing in the corners of his eyes. My heart was breaking more and more with every step we took.
Finally, we made it to my son’s classroom. The teacher almost choked on her coffee as she caught sight of my costume-less son. She looked at me puzzled. “I didn’t realise it was a dressing up day!” I muttered quietly, a hint of guilt residing in my voice. “Did you not read the newsletter?” She questioned, sternly. Oh, the newsletter I pinned to my cork-board – which I had all good intentions of reading – but never got around to it. “I don’t think I was given that newsletter!” I lied, trying desperately to claw back any dignity I had left. The teacher wasn’t buying it.
With my tail between my legs, I rushed off to find my son that costume! In fact, I drove – like a complete maniac -halfway across town to find one. Sure, it was 3 sizes too big, and it was actually a Viking not a knight, but it was close enough. Thirty pounds poorer, I drove back as quickly as I possibly could. With sweat dripping from my forehead and a face resembling a cherry tomato, I burst through those gates and handed my son the costume. As his smile lit up the entire room, my heart swelled with happiness. Perhaps I wasn’t the worst mum, after all?
No! The worst mum was the mum who had forgotten little costume-less Callum in the corner. “Some mums, eh!” I sighed, returning my ‘super cape’ to its rightful shoulders.
Sound familiar? Do you ever experience those days when as soon as you get up, you want to go back to bed, pull up the covers and pretend you haven’t got the weight of the world resting on your shoulders? Being a parent is not for the fainthearted. It can be monotonous, challenging, frustrating and messy. As much as we adore our children and can’t imagine a life without them, we often find parenting both emotionally and intellectually draining. We could read ALL the parenting books on the planet, but nothing quite compares us for the lifelong battle of being a “good” mother. From the moment our children enter this world through to adulthood, there isn’t a minute that goes by when we don’t worry about them, or worry that we are doing this parenting thing all wrong. In fact, us parents are often so crippled by guilt or weighted down by the unrealistic expectations of perfect parenting, we forget to celebrate the true joys of motherhood.
A day in the life…
It’s one of those days; the baby didn’t sleep well, we’ve been up half the night, we didn’t get to shower and the house is beginning to resemble a Mr Potato head explosion. Before we get the chance to sit down and drink our lukewarm coffee, we’re already feeling exhausted, grouchy and overwhelmed by the chaos that surrounds us. Our inner snappy turtle rears its ugly head as we impatiently bark commands at our children whilst they run riot.
“Brush your teeth!”
“Pick up these damn toys!”
Yet again, our orders fall upon deaf ears and suddenly that big cupboard under the stairs looks ever more appealing. “The kids won’t notice if I lock myself in here for a while!” we think to ourselves. “The chance would be a fine thing,” we sigh, as reality crashes down and bursts our dreamy bubble in one mouth-drop of a paint smeared wall.
We take a big deep breath, pull on our happy face and convince the world that we’ve got it all under control. Say it with me… WE HAVE IT ALL UNDER CONTROL!
Wishful thinking, perhaps? By the end of the day, we are not only angry with our children but we are mad at ourselves. When bedtime arrives, a guilt-stricken sense of relief washes over us and frees us from the burden of a day that went so wrong. As we put up our tired feet, pour ourselves a much-needed glass of wine and enjoy those precious moments of peace, we question “Am I a terrible mother?”
We all know motherhood is more swings and roundabouts than picnics in the park. Let’s face it unless we sprout six more arms and 4 extra pairs of eyes, it’s a miracle if we can get through the day with our children still in one piece. Unfortunately, the human octopus is nothing but a fantasy, and sadly, we don’t own eight tentacles to juggle the pressures of motherhood.
Being a mother is one of the most demanding jobs there is! But do we give ourselves a break? Do we heck! We beat ourselves up about not being perfect and continually compare ourselves to those Supermoms out there!
Bad Parent vs. Supermom
What is a bad parent?
Sometimes we don’t feel like reading our children that bedtime story. Does this make us a bad parent? Sometimes we get angry and yell. Does this make us a bad parent? On a few occasions, we have sent our kids off to school when they are feeling slightly sick, just so we can have a bit of peace and quiet. Does this make us a bad parent?
Sometimes we fall asleep through family movie time as we watch yet another Disney classic we have seen a zillion times over. Does this make us bad a parent? Sometimes we are too tired to play hide and seek. Does this make us a bad parent? More frequently than we are willing to admit, we will throw our child’s artwork in the bin when they aren’t looking. Does this make us a bad parent?
At least once a year we forget to pack their lunchbox, or worse still, forget that it’s World Book Day and they were supposed to go as Willy Wonka! Does this make us a bad parent?
Sometimes we do the happy dance when their irritating school friend can’t make it for tea. Does this make us a bad parent?
And some day’s momma is just too tired to cook, so we head to McDonald’s drive thru for the 4th night in a row. Does this make us a bad parent?
Life is full of defiant children, lots of noises and spilled coffee. But having a bad day doesn’t make us a terrible mother. Saying things that we wish we hadn’t or could later take back, also doesn’t make us one. Admitting that we need a break, again, doesn’t define us as a parent. Parenting is full of ups and downs. There will be good times and there will be times when we are running down the road like a maniac, lunchbox in hand and guilt on our shoulders. Sometimes we lose our patience. Sometimes we lose our minds. But we ‘good’ parents will never lose the love we have for our children, no matter how much they make us want to pull the hair from out of our heads!
Parenthood, it’s like feeling our way through the darkness. Scared and uncertain, there is no light to guide the way, we only have our own intuition. Sometimes our instinct is unerring, and other times we pace around in circles, lost and confused. It’s only natural for parents to make mistakes, but why do beat ourselves up about it?
Is the Supermom to blame?
We’ve all seen them, flying around with their super capes, making us regular mums feel all inadequate. The Supermom will be surrounded by a flock of other Supermoms, talking about her homemade healthy eating plans and bragging about how many different languages her child can speak, or musical instruments they can play. She’ll be immaculately dressed, not a smear of snot, baby sick, or any other child goo, in sight. Likely to be sporting skinny jeans and highlighted hair, trendy but age appropriate. You wouldn’t see the Supermom raising her voice, nor would you catch her driving out of the McDonald’s drive-thru. With a minivan so clean you could eat your dinner off it, there’s no wonder why the Supermom is the envy of all mums.
Why does she have to be so damn perfect?
Come on! Are we really so naive to think that the Supermom is really that super? Behind those perfectly painted doors lies the true reality. A disheveled mother scolding her kids because they want to eat junk food. Impatient, because her child doesn’t want to play the piano tonight. Hysterically crying, because she is struggling to keep up this perfect persona!
Well, guess what?
Supermom is NOT real!
The beautiful truth is, Supermom doesn’t exist.
Nobody is perfect. We need to stop comparing ourselves to the other parents in the playground. We need to stop chasing after this Supermom dream. It’s time to burn that cape once and for all, and accept that it’s okay to be imperfect. It’s okay to make mistakes.
In fact, it is vital that we make mistakes as parents. Let me explain why…
The ‘Good Enough’ Parent
I spent many years racked with self-doubt and guilt before I stumbled across this concept called, “The good-enough mother.”
Donald Winnicott, a pediatrician and psychoanalyst in mid-20th century Britain, developed a theory called, ‘The good enough mother’. Winnicott’s theory suggests a mother is neither good nor bad nor the product of illusion but is a separate and independent entity: The good-enough mother.
So, what is the ‘good enough’ mother?
According to Winnicott; “It starts off with an almost complete adaptation to her infant’s needs, and as time proceeds she adapts less and less completely, gradually, according to the infant’s growing ability to deal with her failure. Her failure to adapt to every need of the child helps them adapt to external realities.”
In layman’s terms, if we pick up and comfort our infant every time they cry, they will develop an idea that the mother will ALWAYS be there to comfort them. If we allow our infant to whine a little, without rushing over and cooing at their every beckon call, they will learn that mummy (or daddy) can’t always ‘fix’ everything or make things better. This, in fact, paints a truer reality. Of course, parents can’t meet every single need of their child. No matter how proud that ‘super cape’ flaps in the wind, it is impossible to be happy, smiling parents 24/7. Children need to learn that parents are not perfect beings, they make mistakes and they learn from them. It would be unnatural for our children to grow up believing parents never express emotions such as anger or frustration. Such emotional are fundamental to our lives. If we grow up to believe that we can’t or shouldn’t express our anger, then it will only get suppressed and cause further problems down the line.
I remember a time when I lost my temper during a dispute with my daughter. I screamed so hard, I not only scared the crap out of her, but I also lost the ability to speak. I yelled like I had never yelled before. I was a dragon, angry and fire-breathing! Afterwards, I got out of the car and it was as though the skies had opened up and showered me with guilt. I felt ashamed. I felt so guilty that I had lost control. My daughter had never seen me so angry. Soon the shower of guilt came to a halt, and it was at that moment, I realised it is okay to show my true emotions. Mummies are allowed to get mad, and it’s acceptable for children to experience this. I got back into the car, gave my daughter a huge hug and apologised for losing my temper.
Most parents, at some point in their lives, have flipped out in front of their children. You might not believe it, but the majority of us have been in those fire-breathing shoes (And the parents who say that they haven’t, are either the Archangel Gabriel himself, or bad liars!) Although this can be deeply distressing for our children, there is also a very valuable lesson to be learned. Experiences like the above example show our children that EVERYONE gets angry. It teaches them that anger is a natural emotion felt by even the most mild-mannered people (Like myself!) Shooting fire is one thing, but what happens next is the most important part – The de-dragonfacation (Yes! I just made up a word!) It is vital that when we have let off that steam, we can regain control, make amends and move forwards.
So the next time we blow a fuse, we must remember that it’s not the end of the world, it doesn’t make us the worst parent that ever lived, and we will be able to move on and learn from it. After all, good parenting isn’t about avoiding mistakes, it’s about a willingness to recognise our errors, and to be humble enough to apologize when necessary.
A trip down guilt lane…
Parenthood, the prolonged guilt trip. From the moment our children are born to way beyond the nest, we will always carry around a sense of guilt.
Parents everywhere secretly agonize: “Where did I go wrong? Will my child be damaged because of what I did, or because of what I failed to do?”
If we work outside the home, we feel guilty. If we stay-at-home, we feel guilty. If we are too strict, we feel guilty. If we are too lenient, we feel guilty. If we don’t always cook meals from scratch, we feel guilty. If we don’t breastfeed, we feel guilty.
We feel guilty for finding aspects of motherhood incredibly tedious. We feel guilty for playing games on our i-phone’s instead of looking adoringly into our babies eyes. We feel guilty for avoiding toddler groups like the Bubonic plague. We feel guilty for resenting the muffin top we are left with after we birthed our bundles of joy. We feel guilty We don’t feel guilty at all for noticing the hot dad at the school drop-off, but we do feel guilty for not listening to a word our child says as we gawk at him in all his smoking hotness.
It’s just one guilt trip after the other. This voice in the back of our heads plays its repetitive song, “You’re not a good mother. You’re terrible. You’re failing. Look at everybody else who has it all together. Why don’t you? You don’t measure up. You’re going to mess those kids up. Your house is untidy. You’re terrible at this mothering thing. Why did you ever think you could do this?
It’s important to remember that our failures and weaknesses do not define us. Sometimes we need to turn that repetitive record to mute. Sometimes we need to wipe away the tears, take a big breath and tell ourselves “tomorrow will be a better day.”
There are bad mothers. There are people who are ill equipped to be in charge of children, and there are people who put their children in harm’s way. But generally, most of us who believe we are bad mothers aren’t actually bad mothers. Some of us are just sleep-deprived or frazzled. Others, just need a helping hand. It’s easy to let a bad day overshadow our entire perception of ourselves as parents, but it’s important to remember that it’s the WHOLE childhood that makes our kids who they are, not just a bad day. It’s easy to be too hard on ourselves, especially in those overwhelming moments. It is during these moments when the positive things are forgotten – the I love you’s, the bedtime book reads and the hand-in-hand walks through the park.
We forget the times we laugh, tickle and play with our children. We overlook all the bike rides, family days out and snuggles in bed. If our children are willing to love us for us, irrespective of our faults and failings, shouldn’t we also?
Next time we begin to berate ourselves, perhaps instead we should base our success or failure as a parent on a few other things, such as our love for our children, our availability to them, our willingness to ask for help and our attempts at becoming better in our roles as parents.
Being a good parent isn’t about the amount of after-school clubs we take them to, or how tidy we keep the house. Being a good parent is making our children feel valued and loved. Being a good parent is teaching them the difference between right and wrong. Being a good parent is creating a nurturing environment in which our children feel like they can thrive and develop into confident, independent, and caring adults. In 50 years time, our children won’t look back and say, “Mother kept a tidy house”, or “Mother breastfed me until I was five!”, they will look back on their years as a whole, and say, “My mother tried her hardest”.
Some days our super capes might flap with pride, but most of the time we won’t be wearing one. Motherhood is full of highs and lows. Sunny spells and rainy days. There will be times when we feel like we aren’t good enough and there will be times when our hearts are beaming with satisfaction. Whether we are dancing in the sunshine or crying in the rain, it’s important not to beat ourselves up. We need to jump out of those illusory worlds – where parents all around us are thriving and coping so much better than us – and hop back into the real world. A world in which mothers are grappling the everyday pressures of motherhood just like you and me.
It’s time to rip off those super capes and throw them into the fire.
It’s time to jump off the guilt-trip bandwagon, bid farewell to the pity party and shout to the world…