This Easter just gone, my daughter had her 10th birthday. I have been a parent now for a whole decade. You’d think I’d have got the hang of it.
I’m not sure we ever do, though – ‘get the hang of it’ – despite what the glossy mags, the internet, the celebrity mums and the self-help books would have us swallow. So I believe I speak up for many of us parents (I believe I do. Maybe I don’t. Maybe it’s just me. Shit.) when I stand up and say “I am a good enough parent.”
Yes, there are people who can successfully juggle raising children, keeping a tidy and well-fed home, their own job – or even business – and a social life. I know people like this, and it’s hard not to feel rubbish by comparison. They don’t even have tearaway, maladjusted children, or a nervous breakdown. They are lovely people, with lovely, happy kids. It’s so unfair.
But yeah, so there are people like this, but I’m not one of them. And I suspect (congratulations if I’m wrong), neither are you. If you’re a parent, of course. And it’s taken me a while to learn, but …*pause for effect*… it’s OK to say that.
When my kids were little, and say dinner was late, because I hadn’t had time to wash the dishes, so couldn’t cook until I’d done that, and they were playing merry hell as their blood sugar level dropped lower and lower, so I couldn’t actually get to the cooking because I was spending all my time trying to stop them destroying the house/each other/the cat/my sanity, and so on. I would shout tearfully at whoever was nearest “Other people manage all this, why can’t I? What’s wrong with me?”
That was then. If I have learned one thing in my ten years of parenting, it’s that glitter gets everywhere. No, not that. Well, yes that, but more importantly, I cannot multitask. Trying to do two things at once means that both get done badly. If I try and work when my kids need me, my work goes wrong, and I shout at the kids. If I accept that work must wait, and give all my attention to being a mum, I instantly lose the stress, and so do my children. Parenting is not a hobby, it is a job. Treat it with the respect it deserves.
I once had the great fortune to meet Tony Benn. At that time, all my peers were forging ahead in their respective careers, and I was stuck at home with a 3-yr old. So when he asked me what I did, I replied, a bit embarrassed, “Oh, I’m just a mum”. He looked a bit shocked, and told me sternly, “Don’t say that like it isn’t the most important job in the world.”
We must stop judging ourselves by comparisons. Comparisons with people who have personal trainers and full time nannies, comparisons with people who may be just as despairing as ourselves but never show it, comparisons with people who are stay-at-home-parents while we slog away at work, or who have successful careers while we’re stuck at home with CBeebies. Comparisons with people who are not us. This way madness lies.
My life isn’t perfect and stress-free. I have work to do too; bills don’t pay themselves. My children don’t go to umpteen after-school activities, have the latest electronic gadgets (hell, we don’t even have a TV, talk about pariah!), designer clothes, foreign language courses, ponies, whatever. But they are well-fed, curious, and happy. And so am I. And that’s good enough for me.
It’s true about the glitter though.