Congratulations, you’re pregnant or expecting a child any other way. Are you prepared for what happens next? I’m sure everybody has told you about the sleepless nights, the lack of money, the stretch marks and the destroyed house. They have knowingly looked at you with a twinkle in their eyes and told you to be ready, but that’s not what I mean.
Would you like to really know what’s about to happen as soon as you make the big announcement that another person is about to become your sole responsibility? You, my friend, are about to be judged. Openly and consistently judged for every single decision you make for that child for the rest of your natural life.
I’m sorry to be the one to break that news to you, but I really think you need to be prepared. I promise you that within minutes of telling somebody you are about to become a parent, swiftly following the congratulations will come the questions. Have you stopped eating cheese? Are you planning on a natural birth? Will you breastfeed? (Careful that one’s a minefield) Do you know who the father is? Ok, perhaps the last line is extreme but it happens. There is no right answer to any of these questions, it’s a trap
sprung by other parents so that they can tell you exactly what they did and how much of a better decision it was than you will make, ever, in your lifetime.
It doesn’t stop as they grow older, it can become harder and not only is judgement, now it’s comparison and criticism. You’re child isn’t walking yet? Mine was walking by 6months. Your child can’t talk? Did you try the baby Einstein, I did and my child could talk before his first birthday.
You make a decision to feed your baby a banana and somebody will tell you a story of another child having a toxic reaction once a long time ago in another country and now they would never feed their chid a banana as they are highly dangerous. Your give your child milk someone will tell you about the hormones in milk and how actually your baby boy will grow breasts and never have children because you are poisoning him.
They get older still, you choose to vaccinate. Other parents will sob and tell you how dangerous it is because they heard from somewhere that your baby will now most definatly develop Autism. You choose not to vaccinate and parents who did will tell you how dangerous a game you are playing with your child’s health.
By the way, in the vaccination debate I firmly know which side I come down on, but I’m not going to tell you where I think your chips should fall. That’s your choice.
They get older still, you choose a school. You are judged on where the school is, how well it performs, what the exam grades are like and well-meaning parents with children in other schools will try to impress on you exactly how much better their school is, and do you know why it’s better? Because they sent their child there and they will always make a better decision than you.
Every food item you put in to your child’s lunch box will be questioned; parents cannot wait to tell you how much better their lunches are. How much healthier and well balanced, how much time and effort they put in to the lunchbox. I have found in the lunchbox discussion it is far easier for me to stay very quiet. Unless you are providing nothing short of a bento style lunch with napkins and a glass of sparkling water then stay quiet. Even if that is exactly what you are providing, somebody somewhere will mention that actually your child is not receiving the exact amount of vitamins they need and will explain patiently where you are going wrong.
They grow older still, now there are exams and homework and special programmes for gifted children. Did your child get in? If they didn’t it’s ok, it’s probably because you didn’t play those baby Einstein we were talking about. It can’t be helped now. Do you have a schedule for homework? Is it enough? You let them play video games, are they the correct video games? Are you a terrible parent because your child has seen something violent in a game? Are you a terrible parent because you won’t let your child see something violent in a game and thus you are smothering them?
These are questions you ask yourself but I promise you other people are judging you on your answers for every single one.
I’ve been judged on working, not working, the things I feed my kids the things I don’t feed them. How they dress, how they play, how I play with them, the equipment I buy or don’t buy, all the above mentioned points and many more.
I have been the mother reduced to tears outside of a toddler group after hearing the words “look what the cat dragged in” because I had returned after working for a while. I’ve been the mother wrought with anxiety and guilt because people have told me how much I am doing wrong and I have been the mother in the park who took her eyes off her child for one second to have him disappear from my view and then forced to listen to the reprimands of strangers about neglecting my child after finding him and sobbing like a baby with him in my arms.
All of this, all of my doubt and insecurity and self-loathing about my ability as a parent has come from other parents, it never ends.
Parenting is rewarding, I can’t lie, but it also damn hard and as I have raised my boys I have struggled with the idea that other parents seem to want to tear down what you do instead of supporting and helping. I have hidden the fact I am struggling from people as I just couldn’t take the inevitable talk about how they can do it so much better.
But as I have gotten older and I’ve been a parent longer I’ve come to realise something. I will let you in on another secret. I know why they do it.
They aren’t doing it to belittle you; they aren’t doing it because they truly think you are doing something wrong. They are doing it to validate themselves. As much as that woman who looks like she has it all together gets to you, she is also being torn apart from others around her and by passing it on to you she can make herself feel better about the choices she has made for her children. Because you can bet anything you have there is another voice in her ear telling her she’s doing it wrong and you can bet at some point she has sat and cried in despair too.
She wants desperately to feel like she is doing the absolute best she can, so she will talk at length about her choices and why she made them. She doesn’t really care about your choices, she just wants to say out loud, I did this and it’s ok then go home and just for a little while feel like she’s a good parent.
As tactics to make yourself feel better go I can’t deny it’s pretty lousy. It’s a vicious circle of our own making. But once I figured this out it was like a new beginning. You don’t like how I parent my child? That’s ok. I just realised it’s not actually my child you’re worried about, it’s your own. Maybe next time you are about to comment on somebodies parenting you stop and think for a second about how your need to make yourself feel better will make them feel, remember if we don’t pass that judgement down we break the chain and just maybe give another parent a much needed boost in their day. If you are on the receiving end just remember you are doing the absolute best job you can and nobody can tell you any different, you have got this, smile and wave as the penguins say.
That’s how I can write about the fact I struggle with my kids, that I’m not the most perfect parent and that there are days I wonder exactly how I’m going to make it through. Because I know the secret, I know we all do it, we all struggle and make stuff up as we go along and I know that that’s ok.