It’s 1043am. I’m logged into a parenting course I was recruited for and we have two weeks left. As I watch the screen holding my three month old, I see twelve faces in their little boxes, all looking somewhat stressed or perplexed as they ponder how they can master this thing called parenting, implementing strategies to enhance their relationships with their kids, and berating themselves for getting it wrong.
Dangerous as it is, I guess the average age to be about 35. Maybe its older? I'm 41, and we all look fairly similar. It was during one of the other parents ‘sharing’ that I momentarily checked out and started pondering our ages. And then it hit me like a toddler flung Sippy cup – I pictured my mum, twenty-four years old, raising children. There is NO WAY she would’ve been logged onto anything for 2 hours learning how to negotiate with a child. Seriously, my mum gave me Fanta when I was two because ‘I wouldn’t drink anything else’ (note to new mums: when you offer a child water or Fanta odds are well and truly against the water). She had wooden spoons strategically placed for easy access in case of talk back, attitude or lip; in the kitchen – which was handy for when my brother was smart to her while she cooked dinner, lounge room, bedroom, hand bag, and car dash. I remember the day she upgraded to giant spoon – she seemed so pleased to have found such a score! Almost couldn’t wait to break that bad boy in. I recall spending hours in the back of the station wagon while she had meetings, and crawling all over the floor of the dress shop as she tried on dress after dress after dress. This was a beautiful, smart, capable, hard-working, effervescent woman who loved us more that life itself. She was a great mum, despite this trip down memory lane. She gave what she had to give. I think back to my 20’s and shudder at the thought of parenting a child. The things I thought I knew and the lack of any kind of experience or real knowledge is astounding.
Suddenly I'm back and the host is back on, talking about how best to handle our emotions when family life gets tough. Here we are, a group of intelligent, working, educated grown women and we are aiming to perfect the chaotic nature of family life and the numerous ways in which we all go about it.
Notions of good and bad have exacerbated parenting stress and inevitably lead to feelings of inadequacy. Judgmental undertones colour the very fabric of parenthood and the way both men and women approach it. When we look at the past or other cultures it’s easy to think we are doing it all wrong. We are expected to be such high achievers and to get everything so perfect. Guilt is such a damaging and invasive experience – we let it creep into everything we do and rather than striving to be a good parent in order to enrich ourselves I wonder if many do it simply to perfect it, to not be wrong or bad at something for fear of feeling less than we have been expected to feel in our workplaces, studies, relationships. Women report feeling constantly torn and guilty over whether they work or don’t work, over whether to let babies cry or not cry, childcare or no childcare, to baby wear or use a pram, to soothe or let self soothe, to be strict or enjoy and be IN every moment. It is no wonder parenting distress is on the rise. We never want to be wrong, to get it wrong, to fail.
It’s funny you know I've actually learned some valuable tips from the parenting course, and I've put them in place with great results. I also think we can all agree that Fanta probably isn’t best for toddlers. But see the thing I really got from this, is that we need to ease up. We really really need to ease up. I don’t mean stop caring. I don’t mean stop trying to find better ways or to improve our family relationships; I mean be gentle on ourselves for goodness sake. For all we know, baby wearers may very well have used prams if they had them available. Some of us work, some stay home, some do both, some need to work just to feel sane and others for money. Some of us flourish as mothers and others find it a daily battle. We do what we need to do to survive the best we can in the face of society, as we know it to be. So how can we be good, decent parents with what we face today? As we know it to be, not as our mums knew it, or some tribe in Africa knows it, but how we know it.
Is there room for changes in a society, which puts such immense pressure on women and parents to be perfect? To be so good that we have movies that flaunt throwing it all to hell and claiming they are downright bad? Absolutely. Policy and structures can surely be amended. Better societal and personal support can be put in place. Gender roles can be challenged. Workplaces can amend their hours, their rules, their attitudes. We can choose, career or home, we can downsize, we can challenge the norm. We can live with our families, we can involve our children at work, and we can be good enough. The list is long and it’s arduous in some ways.
Whilst some us of strive to see change enacted and others struggle to survive until then, one thing remains constant; it’s best to remind ourselves daily that we do what we have to do and that by and large, it’s more than just enough. It’s perfect in its failings and struggles, and our little people for the most part, want for nothing but a few moments a day of our undivided attention. That’s all I wanted. The happiness of my childhood didn’t come from a politically correct chores chart or a well worded telling off. It was present in all its craziness and in the authenticity of who my mum was. Wooden spoons and questionable diet included, my mum was perfect because she gave me what she had to give, no less and no more, just as she was in each imperfect moment we spent.
12.10pm. I logged off at the end of the session and felt a great weight lift off my shoulders.
I may not get the words right, I may not know what to say in every moment and I'm probably going to be loud and shout and regret and cringe and laugh and cry. Ill live where I live and Ill cook what I cook. Ill work when I work and Ill play when I play. No doubt, at times I’ll even wish I’d paid more attention during the sessions.
I can’t do everything, I realise. I can’t give everything.
But, I thought, I can give me. That’s something I can’t get wrong.
Empowerment starts with you.