I spent most of my youth silently criticising and internally bitching to myself about all the stuff my mum said or did that I felt was crappy.
My teen years are an emo collection of all the ‘mistakes’ I deemed my mother made and all the perceived ‘better’ ways I would do things.
Any punishment for my behaviour, a harsh cruel response and anything I didn’t like externalised as traits of a meanie parent in an unjust world. Oh woe was me. I would be in a sulk sitting in my room imagining the glory that would be me as a mother.
Never would I lose my shit, I would be zen mum. I would have the patience of Mary Poppins, the creativity of Art attacks Neil Buchanan and everyday would be like living in Pat Sharp’s house!
As I got older and I went on to study Psychology and then children’s Nursing, you learn the ‘right’ or textbook ways to do things. The prescribed expectations and neat explanations free from any burden of emotion, strain or real world problems that actual real humans experience. Often this stuff consolidates your previous assumptions that it’s all common sense and pretty straight forward and there really is no explanation for why parents get it wrong.
In pursuing a career working with children and families, I was placed into and adopted the position of ‘expert’ or ‘professional’, where you are the one that can reel off all the theory and research for why things should be done a certain way and am able to observe, discuss, advise and make decisions based on the subjective perception of another parents capacity.
I was one of the more down to earth ones, that understood, having come from a single parent family, that its not black and white and life can have huge challenges that impact on parenting, but even still I often found myself in discussions with colleagues, totally bewildered by the actions of a parent. Baffled by dynamics that become entrenched in families.
It gets to a point, before you actually have kids of your own, that you start to believe you know the deal. You’ve read the official manual for how to not fuck up your kids and you are pretty confident that where the average mere mortal may fall, you will enter parenthood equipped with the benefit of knowledge.
Obviously I knew having kids wasn’t easy but before actually having any babies of my own I was certain I knew the drill on most things. I respected every parents’ decisions on what they chose was right for them but I also kind of believed there was really a right way, even if nobody admitted it.
I’m not alone here. Most people I speak to shared similar views to me before having kids. And all you have to do is speak to people without kids about problems with your kids or sit with mates who don’t have children in a pub on a Saturday daytime, where kids are running around, to get a glimpse back into that wonderful world of the naive expert.
Let’s discuss some of the classic childless person assumptions:
Breast is best so I hear. My medical knowledge tells me so anyway. It goes like this people: Baby is born. Boob goes in mouth. Baby feeds. You put them down to sleep. Baby gets to 6 months, they wean onto solids. You stop breastfeeding. The end. Simples!
Will I have a walking, talking baby hanging off my titty? Hell no!
I even had friends who breastfed until their child was several years old and I didn’t think it was weird for them. It’s just that where I was a bit of a hippy, they were full on swampy hippies and it was fine for them. Haha.
Kids like what they are used to. Fussy eating is the product of parental pandering. Who is giving their kids a take away? The devil of Mc Donald’s shall never grace the lips of my precious bubbins.
Snacks should be fruit and homemade hearty nutritional goodness. Packaged snacks are for lazy parents.
There really is no place for junk in a child’s diet. No chocolate or cake for the first few years and absolutely no crisps! No way! I wasn’t allowed it and nor will they.
Get that kid out of your bed! You are setting yourself up for inappropriate attachments and enmeshment. The parental bed is the parental bed. Baby is in your room, in a cot and at 6 months that baby goes off into its beautifully decorated nursery of dreams.
Kids are good and only really misbehave because they are underestimated or bored. Negative behaviour is learnt so as Zen mum my kids will be zen.
I am the adult and any misbehaving is pretty easy to curb. What is with these parents on supernanny? It’s bloody common sense! All it takes is a few moments on that naughty step and all is back to how it should be.
As a zen mum I shall never lose my rag. I shall take a deep breath, tell them calmly what I expect and they in turn will listen. Why would anyone get annoyed or angry? They are kids. Defiance will be met with an authoritarian voice which lets them know I mean business.
It’s easy really. I work with some of the most challenging children and all it takes is a little patience. I don’t get angry.
Having babies shall not change me. I shall not commit the cardinal sin of wearing my PJs all day or my wardrobe being replaced by loungewear.
I will be exactly the same as I am now, just with a child in tow.
What do you mean you don’t have time to do your hair? It takes 5 minutes! Set them up with a nice little activity and sort yourself out. Your child is just spoiled and has got you round their little finger.
Oh I cannot wait to have children. Oh the fun we shall have. Our home shall smell of the freshly baked goodies we have made together and we shall have fun creating wonderful crafts. Playing with kids is fun. How anyone could possibly get bored of it I can never understand
TV is no good for kids. Mine won’t even watch any in the first few years. It’s unnecessary if you just entertain them. After that it shall be strict limitations to perhaps one hour maximum a day of purely educational programming. And devices? Urgh. How uncouth is the sight of a child with an ipad, such vulgarity one holding a phone. Oh no no no. This is unforgivable!
And what do I think now? Now I have two children of my own?
Oh I’m the biggest bloody hippie attachment parent of the bunch. And here I am. First child breastfed until 26 months and only weaned because I was 7 months pregnant with his sister and all touched out. And still breastfeeding number 2 at 2 years 8 months.
I’m on a breastfeeding liberation journey preaching for natural child led weaning and to normalise breastfeeding.
I have a 2 year old who is pretty much in our bed from when we head to bed and a 5 year old who occasionally sleeps through but is generally also in our bed from around 4am. All 4 of us squashed into our little bed like sardines.
I’ve googled emperor size beds on a regular.
I realise it’s actually helpful, we all sleep better (hmm maybe not always, 5 year olds have a tendency to kick you in the head).
Food is mostly home cooked and healthy but I’ll be damned at least once a week we get a cheeky nandos or a KFC. I’m sorry but sometimes it all goes tits up and cooking just isn’t happening. My kids recognise the colonel like he is a relative. He is the magical chicken man, bringing fun on days where there has been no fun.
With baby number one I was better on the snacks. It was all healthy or healthier versions made for kids. But then baby number 2 came and all that went out the window. Baby number two is yamming down a bickie at 6 months. Baby number 2 is all about the cake.
And then there is grandparents. Oh how my mother would criticise the parents who gave their kids sweet treats. How she proclaimed in pride how we had no sweets until we were 8. But then she became a grandma and all that shit went out the window.
Trips to nannies are like a Willy Wonker paradise. We are barely out of the car and she’s peddling cake like a street dealer.
It’s a constant parade of delights and of course they then don’t eat the main meal.
Nutrition is not on grandma’s radar, she just wants to be the cool one and I’m left being the snack Hitler!
Gone is zen mum. She makes an appearance every morning and vows to stay but by 9am she’s done a runner and shouty mum is in town. All day is a rollercoaster of changing mum faces. Zen mum dispersed intermittently with angry mum, meany mum, shouty mum, tired mum, teary mum and pulling her hair out mum. Zen mum is always there judging in the background telling guilty mum she sucks balls.
It’s amazing how I can be so bloody great with everyone else’s kids, the patience of a saint and yet sometimes my kid making mouth noises pisses me off so much I want to scream.
Of course I try hard to not lose it. Kids are kids and I never let go of the desire to do better but it’s not so easy being supernanny and putting your kid on the naughty step when they scream their heads off or when they brazenly return after their time out and calm as a cucumber whack daddy in the crown jewels.
It’s not so easy to not let their despair and fury rial up your own control issues and before you know it you are in a tug of war with a 5 year-old about eating a sandwich.
Not sweating the small stuff is what I wish I had brought to parenting because I can tell you first hand, zen mum has all the best intentions for baking and crafts but the reality is a perfectionist nightmare. I’ve come to realise mess is a big trigger for me and anything that creates it creates anxiety.
So a spot of baking ending in a cascade of flour and rock hard cupcakes is actually as fun as driving behind a milk truck on a narrow country lane for a mile. It can be so tedious and frustrating.
Playing is super fun when you are in charge of the game or there is some spontaneity, but playing a character you don’t want to play and being forced to repeat the same phrase over and over for an hour is like grating your eyeballs.
So I choose my battles. Sometimes Zen mum is on form and smashing it, wearing a lovely dress, making wonderful creations and eating avo on toast and snacking on edamame. Other days I’m in my pjs, kids sat watching back to back Netflix, eating wotsits, and I’m prowling the house, muttering insults under my breath at the entire family, whilst picking up toys, socks and smushed in peas off the carpet.
What happened? Life happened. Shit got real. I have actual lived experience that allows me to actually have an opinion. An informed and truly realistic opinion.
Did all the idealistic fantasies Of motherhood I had mean I would have been a great parent? No. What matters is the love, the way you resolve the inevitable conflict. That you are good enough. After having kids of my own I finally understand that you can’t make a judgement on a snippet of parenting you may see. That mum sat with her back to her kids in the coffee shop, staring at her phone whilst the kids go mental? She may be one step away from losing her shit and social services turning up at her door. She probably knows how it looks but zen mum has lost the building and all that’s left is teary mum, desperately trying to suppress fury mum.
Parenting is hard and it just isn’t possible to truly understand until you walk in those shoes.
Pictures all authors own or free downloads from pixabay and unsplash