My fellow mamas of littles… When you close your eyes at night and reflect back on the day that’s just been, how often do you think to yourselves, “Yes. That went well.” Is it often? Is it every now and then? Or almost never?
A few nights ago I closed my eyes and did my usual mental audit of the day and, to my surprise, I could think of nothing that had not gone to plan. We had got up on time in the morning, everybody had eaten their breakfast (without threats or bribery), we’d had a smooth school run with no rushing to get out the door, after school we’d done some painting and colouring and then played some lego (with no requests for the iPad), the baby had napped at her designated hours, dinner had been prepared and eaten with minimal fuss, bath time had been full of squeals and giggles, milk lazily drunk before bed, and bed time had passed without incident.
What amazed me even more than this smooth sequence of events – and instantly filled me with guilt – was how seldom we have days like this.
What had I done right? I lay there wracking my brain for what I’d done differently that day to make it such an uncharacteristically smooth one. How could I replicate it and make every day that way?
Because as much as I’d love to be, usually I am not that mum. Although I work really hard to ensure we don’t live in chaos, our days are more often than not a combination of the blissful and the fraught. There is laughter but also tears – we have fun, but I do lose my cool. At night, when I close my eyes and do my audit of the day, more often than not there are moments I am just not proud of.
On any given day, I probably raised my voice when simply lowering my tone would have been more effective. I may have given in on requests for treats when I knew I shouldn’t have. Did I let her have a bit too much screen time today? Did the oldest lose out because we had to stay in while the littlest napped? Did I check my phone and miss something she was trying to show me? Was I engaged enough? Did I do enough sensory play with the baby? Was I calm enough? Did I make my children happy today?
The truth is, there are almost always things I feel I could have done better.
Recently I’ve been reading The Gentle Parenting Book, by Sarah Ockwell-Smith, because I think we could all do with a bit more gentleness in our days, and a lot of her philosophies make perfect sense to me. She stresses the importance of listening to our children, and understanding the root cause of their behaviour. Of not expecting them to have ways of coping with their big emotions like we do, but rather to provide a safe and loving environment for them to experience those emotions and work their way through them. She emphasises giving positive reinforcement (“Use gentle hands”, rather than “Don’t hit”), and doesn’t agree with the Time Out method of discipline, as it results in isolation and shame which can have a long-term negative effect on a child.
It all makes perfect sense and is an excellent read. For me it definitely offers a helpful perspective on my children and the way they experience the world, and I strive daily to find that calm within myself to parent in such a gentle and positive way.
All this notwithstanding however, I can’t help feeling there’s a danger in reading parenting books. While they can definitely be helpful in giving a different way of looking at things – and can often pull me out of a rut when I’ve fallen into bad habits – I always come away from reading them with a feeling of guilt and inferiority.
I want – so much! – to be the mother I’m reading I should be. The one who doesn’t lose my cool. I want to be the mother who is always prepared, and who never gets flustered. I want to be the mother who watches proudly as my daughter eats vegetables and appears on first request when I say it’s time to leave the house. Who cooks all organic, is never late and doesn’t reach gratefully for a glass of wine at 7pm.
But I’m not. I am the mother I am. I raise my voice. I can never find a wet wipe when I need one. I’m terrible at crafts and often forget to pack the baby’s hat. My three year old is way more proficient on the iPad than she should be and I frequently, shamelessly use it as bribery. For all the time I spend looking up interesting kids’ dinners on Pinterest, I seem to only be able to present my preschooler with a selection of uninspiring meals on rotation from my limited culinary repertoire at supper time, and then spend the better part of an hour begging her to eat just five peas, until the food is stone cold and we’re both in tears. I look at my phone more times a day than I should and – did I mention – I raise my voice.
But – I also play catch whenever she asks me to and I let her jump on the bed. When I put the baby to bed at night I snuggle her to sleep and whisper I love you’s, and I never leave her to cry it out in the night. In our house we read books – lots of them – and I do the voices. We dance in the living room to Taylor Swift; I kneel down to my daughter’s level when she speaks to me; I try to make my children laugh as often as I can. I get up every morning resolving to do my best and most – most – of all, I love them beyond measure. I want only what is best for them and – pushing all insecurities, guilt and regrets aside, I have to believe that what’s best for them is me. Their mum. Just as I am – worts, raised voice and all.
So perhaps tonight, when I close my eyes and think back on the day, I will resolve to forgive myself for being the mum that I am. Because I am theirs – and when I think of it that way, I wouldn’t want to be anybody else.