Hands up who wants to be a super crappy parent?
What, nobody? Then why do we seem to keep doing the things bound to have us feeling like one?
Well, fear ye not because I have selflessly spent months trying out ways to make me feel like a useless mummy and watching those around me do the same and now bring you my top 3 ways to guarantee feeling like a total failure.
(Side note: I have also made them all start with C because it pleases me to do so.)
Here we go…
Yup. That bad boy. It’s impossible not to do yet no good ever came from it. Ever.
I don’t mean the type of comparison where you look to an expert, learn from them and model some of their habits to help you improve some area of yourself.
I mean the type of comparison where you sit covered in sick, crying into the darkness at 3am while your baby wails, scrolling mindlessly through everyone else’s photos on facebook of glowing, pink, chubby babies giggling adorably.
Everyone else who obviously has it all together.
Everyone else who not only got dressed but put on makeup.
And colour coordinated with their baby.
And went on holiday.
And went to the gym.
I mean the kind where you meet your antenatal group for coffee and everybody else’s baby is fast asleep or sitting quietly in their mother’s arms while yours leaps about and screeches like some kind of rabid animal.
I mean the kind where you stupidly ask your friends how their babies are sleeping now (why do we even ask that? We hate it when somebody asks us…it’s like picking a scab I think).
Basically don’t do that kind.
Except you already did didn’t you? I know, because we all do it. And don’t you just feel great afterwards? Nope. You feel crap. Like a crappy parent because obviously everyone else knows what they’re doing and you don’t. Wrong.
- Firstly all we know of anybody else is that snippet in time. We don’t know how long it took them to get ready for that photo shoot and we didn’t see the giant poonami that happened just before it or know what came afterwards. We don’t know that they spent most of that holiday arguing with their partner about whose turn it was to see to the baby so the other one could at least pretend for 5 seconds that they were on holiday. We don’t know how honest people are when they talk about their own children. It’s all just a tiny half-truth piece of the puzzle.
- Secondly all babies and all grown-ups are not the same. Who cares what they’re doing or not doing? They’re not your or your baby and never will be so looking to them is pointless. Unless they truly have some advice that will work for you, their experience is totally irrelevant to you.
- And thirdly, because even if they are much better at this than you (which they’re not), does keep on going over it help? Does it help to keep checking, to keep on rubbing your nose in it? No. It doesn’t. It doesn’t help and it doesn’t change anything.
So what do we do instead? We try to accept.
We accept that THIS is our situation and we deal with it the best way we can. We stop using up more energy wishing and hoping to be like ‘everybody else’ and we put that energy into living the way we need to live for us and our babies. We’re already tired, so tired, and fighting fighting fighting the way things are just makes us even more tired.
Stop fighting it, stop comparing and just be you for your baby.
Rather than compare, have courage. The courage just to be the way you are, the way your baby is, without the need to compare.
I’ve come to realise that all most parenting advice out there does is help us feel as if we’re at least trying to do something to change or improve whatever situation we find ourselves in. Is simply a way to make us feel as if we’re in control of this whole baby rearing business in some way or other. The truth? We’re not. Not at all. AT ALL.
This is a hard one for most of us to swallow. My name’s Emma While and I’m a control freak and I know I’m not the only one.
How many of us, before we got into this mothering business, had jobs and careers involving structured days?
Projects to be managed?
Timetables to stick to?
Routines to follow?
Procedures? Rules? To do lists?
How many of us were at the top of our game or trying to get there? Ambitious, being the best we can, pushing and goal setting and smashing?
And how many of us, without realising, have brought that same headspace into our mothering journey? I know I did.
Well it turns out our babies aren’t another project to be managed. They don’t care about our plans, our goals, or our timetables. They’re not interested in following the rules, they haven’t read them. The level of control we once had in our day to day lives before is gone, no matter how much we grasp for it.
I used to sit for hours with my brand new baby in the rocking chair getting more and more frustrated.
When was he ever going to stop nursing?
When was I going to get dressed?
When was I going to be able to get on with ‘everything’?
I did this for weeks. I would get SO cross.
Then one day it just hit me. This IS everything. This is my new everything. This is my job now. I have nowhere else to be, nothing else needs doing.
It seems ridiculous now, it seems so obvious, but at the time a huge, huge weight lifted.
I started to surrender to my new role and started to enjoy it a lot more. Don’t get me wrong, those 4 hour nursing sessions still got boring as hell at times, I still had breastfeeding struggles, I got a dead arm and a numb bum and blah blah blah.
But I stopped fighting.
Fighting the need to just sit there and be with my baby and it made it so much easier and so much more peaceful in my own head. I read. I watched film upon film. I stared at my baby. I took pictures. I grew to love our time together. And I let the piles of laundry grow and the to-do list in my head float away. And I asked for help when something else really did need doing.
The same thing happens when I try to ‘control’ when or how my baby sleeps or for how long. Or if I try to plan a very time specific outing.
All that happens is I end up fighting and getting frustrated and stressed. When I just surrender to the process, I feel much calmer. And calm mummies is what makes for happy bunnies. Now I don’t mean I just float through my days without a care in the world or without a ‘plan’. Of course there are things that need doing and places to go to and plan we must. But I have a loose plan. A vague idea that between this nap and that nap we’ll do X. I don’t commit to very time specific arrangements unless I absolutely have to and if I do I try not to be too hard on myself when the ‘plan’ goes wrong.
So, next time you can feel your control freak getting out of control. Stop, take a breath, can you really control whatever it is, do you really need to control this right now? Or do you need to surrender to it and just relax?
Loosen your grip on control and instead find calm. Find calm in the chaos.
And by that I mean self-criticism. The inner critic. The niggling little voice. The self-doubt.
The constant questioning and second guessing yourself, your decisions, your actions.
I do this. And I do it a lot. And guess what? The old gremlin has a lot more to say when comparison and control freakishness are thrown into the mix.
I would never speak to any of my friends if they came to me with a dilemma the way I talk to myself sometimes.
I would be kind, compassionate, understanding, caring. I would listen, encourage, support and offer advice if asked for. I hope I would not judge, I would not blame, I would not insult. Yet that is what I do to myself if I make even the tiniest of mothering slip ups. And again I know I’m not the only one because I see it happening over and over.
We beat ourselves up constantly when we really haven’t done anything wrong but the more we do it the worse we feel. All we are ever doing is our best. Even when we’re not actually doing our best, even when we’re just being there, it’s good enough. It’s more than good enough.
And if we really do make some kind of bad decision or see a way we could have done something better, then let’s chalk it up to experience and learn from it and move on. Know better, do better. Did that work last time? No, then let’s try something else, no need for any additional commentary from the self-hate gremlin. Did I do my best, to the best of my knowledge, with what I had at that given time? Yes. Then do one self-doubt.
Do you know what I like to do if that niggling voice is really getting at me? First off I give it a name. My gremlin is called George. Second off, I give him a stupid voice. Do you know why? Because it separates the talk from me, it makes it ‘other’ to me. It’s just words, it is not me. And because it makes him sound like a total, laughable idiot, so why would I listen to anything he says anyway!? And it means when he pipes up, I can say “shut up George, I did my best”. And possibly look like a raving nutter in the process but it works for me.
So next time you’re busy berating yourself, or paying any attention to that bloody gremlin, just tell him to shut up and shove off. Give him a name. Give him a stupid voice. And most importantly, give yourself a break.
Instead of criticising ourselves, let’s find ourselves some compassion. Instead of self-doubt, let’s work on our self-confidence.
This parenting thing is hard enough already, let’s not make it even harder on ourselves by comparing ourselves to others we’ve already put on a pedestal, by trying to control what we really can’t control and then criticising ourselves for no doubt failing as a result. Instead let’s have the courage to just be, the calm to just let it be and the compassion for ourselves be what may.