Remember when you were pregnant, dutifully taking your pregnancy vitamins, and eating rocket and leafy green veg until your very follicles were folic-full? Remember when you planned how you would bring up your perfect, precious child? How you would do everything in your power to help them to develop socially and intellectually? How you would sing to them, read to them, play with them, and never get distracted by the buzz of a notification on your phone, not even for one second?
Remember your determination that they would have nothing but the healthiest of wholesome foods and nothing but fruit for dessert? And remember how, when they were first born, you wouldn’t so much as switch on the TV to catch the news, for fear that their development would be affected and they’d become goggle-eyed before they’d reached their 3rd month?
Then remember when the tiredness got you, the realities of parenting hit, and before you knew it, your toddler was breakfasting on custard creams; refusing your desperate pleas to ‘Just. Come. Out. Of.The.Tunnel’ at soft play; and, with the help of Mr Tumble, conversing in Makaton without having ever been to a baby signing class?
Ok, maybe it’s not quite that bad (yet!), but I’ve noticed that there’s a clear disconnect between the mum I’d planned to be, and the mum I’ve become.
Pre-baby, I had vowed to be the embodiment of parenting perfection. There would be breastfeeding, and then there would be healthy family meals that even Gillian McKeith would be unable to pick fault with. There would be fresh air, crafts, reading, and no snacking. And rice crackers would definitely never be used for bribery purposes.
Post-baby, there was a struggle with breastfeeding, and formula was used very early on. There have been many healthy meals, but there have also been many Marmite and Dairy Lea sandwiches, never knowingly advocated by Gillian McKeith, and certainly never featured in any of Annabel Karmel’s books. On the plus side, there has been plenty of fresh air and reading, but crafts are limited (i.e. we have crayons), and snacking occurs occasionally.
Oh, and rice crackers are most definitely always used for bribery purposes.
It’s more than clear to me that despite my best efforts, I’m not the vision of perfect mummy-ness that I had hoped to be. But over the past few months, as I’ve watched my baby grow into a happy, bright, loving toddler, I’ve come to terms with the fact that it really doesn’t matter. This doesn’t mean that I don’t frequently feel inadequate, that I don’t worry about how other people view me as a parent, or that I don’t feel guilty when I’m busy responding to texts instead of playing with my little girl. It just means that I no longer buy the idea of the perfect multi-tasking ‘you-can-have-it-all-and-still-find-the-time-to-build-a-scale-model-of-Buckingham-Palace-in-your-garden-using-pipe-cleaners-and-milk-cartons’ mummy as being something that is actually achievable.
Generally speaking, other than parenting, in how many areas of life do we aim for total perfection, as opposed to aiming to do the absolute best we can? Obviously bringing up a child is the most important responsibility a parent has, and, as mums, it would be a concern if we didn’t want to go that extra mile to make sure we are doing the best for our little ones. But if it’s perfection we’re seeking, then the very nature of parenting means that we’re setting ourselves up to fail. Unless we’re some kind of reactive parenting ninja who knows exactly how to deal with every new situation presented to us by our children as we navigate our way through the parenting journey, how can we possibly be perfect?
There’s nothing wrong with aiming high – in fact, we should – but surely if we’re doing absolutely everything in our power to nurture and bring up our children as best we can and our best falls short of perfection, then we shouldn’t (and mustn’t) beat ourselves up about it.
That means accepting that it’s ok if your toddler watches 20 minutes of CBeebies because you need to make dinner (or because you’re frazzled and need a break!), or if you have to occasionally ‘encourage’ your toddler with a biscuit or two in order to make it around Tesco without becoming demented. We don’t have to be the perfect mum to our children. We just have to be the best mum we can possibly be.
And when we have days where we worry that our absolute best just doesn’t cut it, maybe instead of berating ourselves for our shortcomings, we should just take a look at our children. We may not be perfect, but surely if our children are clean, fed, stimulated, happy, loved and secure, then we can’t really be doing too badly at all.