I’ve lost count of the number of times this week one or other of my mum friends has told me she’s a crap/bad/rubbish mum, or used some other negative word to describe her parenting skills.
“I forgot my son’s PE kit. I’m such a crap mum.”
“There are photos of my first born everywhere but none of my second. I’m such a rubbish mum.”
“My kids have had fish fingers and chips for tea twice in three days. I’m the worst mum.”
“I was last to pick my child up from school today. I’m such a crap mum.”
“I gave my son the iPad because I couldn’t face being a Ninja Turtle any more. I’m such a sh*t mum.”
I do it myself all the time.
In the last couple of days for example, I’ve called myself a crap mum for discovering at 8.30am that my son had no clean school jumpers. I said it to my friend when my toddler had a meltdown because I wouldn’t come on the slide with him at a local play centre because I was chatting. I said it to my husband the day I put the TV for the entire period between after school and tea and tea and bed because I couldn’t face them arguing any more.
“I’m such a crap mum.” I say it a lot, and while the tone might be light-hearted the sentiment is not. People think that because I have three kids and write about parenting, I magically know what I’m doing – but I promise you, I’m winging it as much as the next person. I continually find myself questioning my parenting skills and pointing out my own inadequacies before anyone else can judge me.
Yet when I think about it logically, I’m sure no one who knows me would call me a crap mum for any of those reasons, just as I would never call any of my friends crap for any of the above.
The mum who forgot her son’s PE kit also has a baby and mornings are a juggle as she tries to balance her baby’s feeding and nappies with helping her son get ready. I know only too well how chaotic school run mornings are with a baby in the house – why do they always need a nappy just as you need to head out the door?! To that mum – you’re not a crap mum, you’re doing a flipping awesome job adjusting to life as a family of four and doing all you can for your two beautiful kids.
My friend chastising herself for feeling crap because she has no photos of her second child on the walls is also flipping awesome. She runs her own business, is always training for some half marathon or other raising hundreds of pounds for charity, not to mention being a mum to two very close in age. To that mum – you are not a crap mum, you’re doing a flipping awesome job and I genuinely don’t know how you manage to fit so much into your life.
Fish fingers twice in three days definitely doesn’t make you “the worst mum”. One of those nights, this mum had taken her kids to the park after school to make the most of the sunshine, and by the time they got home the kids were so hungry that freezer food was the easiest option. I know these kids eat a good diet most of the time. And anyway, fish is good for you and she accompanied it with peas, so that’s one of their five a day right there. To that mum – you are not a crap mum, you’re doing a flipping awesome job and your passion for creating exciting experiences for your kids inspires me.
The reason my mum friend was late for school pick up was because her baby was napping after a night of being up with teething pain, had a huge meltdown, needed feeding, and then there was a nappy situation. To that mum – you are not a crap mum. What was the alternative? Cart a screaming baby with a soiled nappy to the school gates?! You made the right call and that makes you flipping awesome.
And as for the mum who gave her son the iPad because she couldn’t face playing Ninja Turtles any more…. the fact she enthusiastically plays Turtles most days makes her flipping awesome in my book.
In my case, the mum I was talking to at soft play that day was someone who used to be a good friend but who I hadn’t seen for 10 years. There was no way I was running off to the slide when I’d only just seen her. I’d already spent two hours crawling through tunnels and whizzing down slides – and she was the first adult I’d spoken to all morning. Plus I want my kids to know they can’t always have what they want immediately, sometimes they need to wait and put other people first.
The reason there were no clean jumpers left was because he’d gone through four in as many days and a growth spurt meant his other two were now too small for him. I picked the least dirty of the bunch, gave it a shake and I don’t think anyone was any the wiser.
And that day when they watched TV for the best part of three hours? They were tired and cranky; I was tried and cranky. All my attempts to play nicely, even to read books, ended in disaster. It was rainy and cold outside. TV – plus an early night – was the kindest solution for all of us, and it also meant I managed to clean the bathroom and the bedrooms. The next two nights, they played in the garden after school and the telly didn’t go on at all.
I hate to gender stereotype but I rarely see this kind of negative self-talk in men. We women really are our own worst critics at times. As I’ve written before, we feel guilty about things we don’t need to feel guilty about. And we judge ourselves for things we don’t need to worry about at all.
The very fact we are even having these inner wranglings is the surest sign that our parenting skills are just fine. It wouldn’t even occur to a crap mum to worry about any of the above. A crap mum wouldn’t feel guilty about plonking the kids in front or the iPad. A crap mum wouldn’t question herself for having oven chips for tea three nights in a row. And while we don’t need to feel guilty or question ourselves, the fact we do shows that for the most part we are mums who strive to do our damn best for our kids in everything we can.
Parenting can be challenging.
It can be relentless.
It can be exhausting, emotionally, mentally and physically.
It can be lonely.
Sometimes we need to cut corners for our own sanity. Sometimes we get it wrong – but we learn from it. Sometimes there just aren’t enough hours in the day to do everything we need to do. Sometimes our self-set standards are impossibly high and easy to miss.
We focus on the negatives – the one day we were late for school pick up, rather than every other day that term we were early; the one day they watched too much TV rather than the other days when they went to the park or did colouring or went to gymnastics; the day they had frozen pizza rather than the other nights when they had nutritious home-cooked meals. The one day we shouted at our kids, rather than all the giggles and stories and singing and I love yous.
We forget how much we do every day for our kids without even thinking about it. From bedtime stories and cuddles when they are sad, to helping them get dressed, making them food, sitting on freezing cold church hall floors and singing the same songs week after week.
We sacrifice our bodies, our sleep, our social lives, our free time. We can go whole days without any other adult conversation. Our houses become a sea of brightly coloured toys. Our weekends are spent on the kids’ birthday party circuit, or 9am swimming lessons, or freezing our butts off at the side of a rugby or football pitch.
Perhaps sacrifice is the wrong word. We willingly give because we know we are privileged to have these wonderful little human beings in our lives. We would do anything for them.
Being a parent means putting someone else’s wellbeing ahead of your own in most things you do.
So why do we seem pre-programmed to forget all of the amazing things we do and to focus on the slight blips instead?
The next time that inner monologue creeps in with the words “I’m such a crap mum”. Remember you are not.
Remember these words instead and say them out loud.
“You are flipping awesome
and your kids are lucky to have you.”
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