There’s this thing mothers do that I also do, but don’t actually understand: We beat ourselves up for every tiny parenting mistake we make and convince ourselves that because we don’t get this crazy little thing called motherhood right 100% of the time, we must just be fucking terrible at it. There’s this constant running commentary in our heads that sounds something like this:
“He just asked me to play trains with him and I told him I was busy, what if he never asks me again? And he actually hung his head. HUNG HIS HEAD. I can’t believe I made my child feel like that. I’m the worst mother on the planet. And I yelled at him this morning because his room was a mess. And we haven’t read stories for three nights because he’s been so bloody horrendously naughty at bedtime. I don’t deserve to be a mother. I’m so awful.”
And then we do something completely fatal; we promise ourselves that it will never happen again. And no one can live up to that. NO ONE. Because we will be too busy to play trains again. We will shout about the mess in the playroom again. We will refuse to read stories again because bedtime naughtiness actually just isn’t acceptable. So we create this vicious cycle of self-deprecation that might actually keep us up at night. It keeps me up sometimes. There are days when I cannot accept anyone telling me that I am a good mother, because all I can think about is all of the things they don’t know. These people don’t know how desperately I wanted to scream at my ten month-old when he knocked the spoon out of my hand for the millionth time in one meal. They don’t know that I shut my three year-old in the garden for two minutes when he was having a shrieking tantrum over nothing right in the middle of his brother’s afternoon nap. Would they think less of me if they did? I don’t know, but I absolutely convince myself that they would.
Here’s the strangest part in all of this, though: We are hugely uncomfortable with the idea of allowing a fellow mother to feel like she is not doing an amazing job. We can berate ourselves until the cows come home, but when somebody else does the same thing, all we want to do is offer our support and tell her that, in all likelihood, she is doing an amazing job. We all fuck up sometimes. We all shout at our kids when we’re tired and then hate ourselves for it. We all swear in their earshot at the end of a hard day and then worry that it might be the next word out of their mouths. We all lose sight of why we decided to become mothers in the first place during the tough times and the crippling sleep-deprivation and the absolute fucking lack of any consistent advice on any given topic related to child-rearing. And you know what? IT’S OKAY. We are not perfect and our children are not perfect and that is okay too.
Sometimes my friends with kids will ask me for parenting advice and it’s something I just dread. Not because I don’t want to help, but because I know that parenting isn’t a one-size-fits-all outfit. I actually really do want to help, but there is so much that I just don’t know about how to be a good mother and how to help my children do this or that that I don’t feel like it’s fair for me to offer any kind of wisdom to anybody else if it might not actually help them in the end anyway. Potty training is a glaring example of this. When I was trying to potty train Toddler Taylor I read every article and every thread I could possibly find related to the topic. I probably read 90% of what the internet has to offer when it comes to How To Potty Train Your Child. There was advice about using sticker charts, letting your child pick out their own underwear, having a potty in every room of the house, waiting until they tell you they’re actually ready... The list goes on forever. What actually worked in the end was giving up. Seriously. After I’d cleaned up the thousandth puddle of pee and washed the hundredth pair of shitty Thomas The Tank Engine pants, I sighed, sat Toddler Taylor down and said, “baby, I don’t think you’re ready for this yet and I don’t want to make you unhappy about it anymore. Let’s try again soon.” The next day, Toddler Taylor went off to playgroup and actually asked the play workers if he could use the toilet. Then he came home and did his first ever poo in the potty. And that was it; POTTY TRAINING COMPLETE. So I literally have no advice on that subject at all. I tell myself it was easy, but it wasn’t. When he decided he wanted to do it, then it was easy. Before that it was an unmitigated fucking nightmare and I can’t even really bring myself to remember it. But that doesn’t mean that your experience of potty training will be the same, and that’s why my advice probably isn’t often helpful to anybody else. Kids are unique little beings and they all have different needs and development levels and all you can really do is embrace that and try to figure them out as you go along.
The catalyst for this post is a post by another mother that I read earlier this week. All I wanted to do as I read that post was give the writer a hug because she reminded me so much of myself, and yet sometimes I have felt so alone in my belief that I am getting so many things wrong on this journey. I’m not going to say that it made me feel better to know that someone else was struggling, because it didn’t and that’s a fucking awful way to think. But it did make me feel like I am probably in pretty good company when it comes to the whole self-deprecation thing. And it also made me feel like maybe the best mothers are the ones who don’t get it right all the time, but who make mistakes and learn from them. If you have a meltdown in front of your kids and you don’t acknowledge how bad it made you feel for them to see you like that then maybe you haven’t realised that it probably isn’t something you should be doing all that often. But, at the same time, most mothers have to accept that it will happen every now and again. Your kids might remember it depending on their age, but kids aren’t judgemental creatures and they love you. They will forgive you for not being perfect, probably a whole lot quicker than you will forgive yourself.
I’m not here to give advice. My parting shot is this: Be kind to yourself, as kind as you would be to another mother who felt like a failure over something. All you can do when it comes to raising children is your best, and if you know that you are doing your best then you can stop asking impossible things of yourself – endless patience being top of that list in my case – and focus less on being “PERFECT” and more on being “GOOD ENOUGH”. When you think about it, who decided on the perfect way to be a mother? A bunch of random people who you’ve never met and who don’t know your children, so if you look at it like that... What the fuck do they know about what it takes to be “perfect” anyway?