You know how you always hear these random tales about mothers being approached at the park/shopping centre/local cafe/public toilet while their eldest child is having a wee and being critiqued for their parenting? Perhaps I’m an unusual case but it’s never happened to me. I’ve never actually faced anything other than warm positivity and empathy, even when the eldest kidlet had a motza meltdown in the lolly aisle of Coles during a very busy shopping period and lay completely draped across the aisle and unmoving. Instead of harsh criticism I got solidarity and ‘I’ve been there’ whispers. Recently, I was running around the park with the kids, alternatively chasing the biggie on his bike and holding the littles hand as she toddled when a lovely grandma approached to tell me how gorgeous my children were and how easy I made juggling two little ones look. After checking behind me to high five the mother she was actually talking to, I realised she was complimenting me on my mad parenting skillz which was incredibly soul bolstering. Her words were a soothing salve to my otherwise relatively fragile nerves as the hours that had proceeded the park visit had been filled with tantrums, lost socks and an obscene amount of bodily fluid. It also got me to thinking how often we assess abilities from the snapshots we see, usually in public.
Ever since I was young, I’ve had a tendency to latch onto ideals about life and those who seem to represent them and project them into being more important than they should be. Maybe it’s an escapist thing? A misplaced strategy for self improvement? I’m not really sure, but since becoming a mother, I’ve noticed those tendencies can become a little uncontrollable. I fall hook, line and sinker into the ‘Comparison Trap’ without even realising I’m doing it.
I am quite exceptionally lucky to be surrounded by a group of fellow mothers who really, truly rock at this parenting gig. Their innate ability to nurture while juggling the chaos that is multiple children, work, money, travel, life in general, is amazing. They just do it and do it so well. There’s a bunch of different parenting styles going on. Different methods of feeding, settling, entertaining but the common factor is that the kids are happy, well adjusted and so, so loved. I consider it a privilege to have these women in my life. And it’s probably because I respect them so much that I find myself comparing my parenting and skill level with theirs and going down the ol’ “If only I was more like her” path.
Any of this sound familiar to you?
- She’s so calm
- She just seems to be able to enjoy the moment more than I can
- Her daughter is so attached to her
- Her son is so independent
- She never seems stressed out
- How does she manage to make all that organic food?
- She must never worry about her weight/income/regrowth/overgrown eyebrows
And the kicker; “She’s better than me at this”. Which boils down to; “If i had her life then things would be different. I wouldn’t be anxious. I wouldn’t have PND. I wouldn’t be stressed about money and work (and my eyebrows). I would enjoy my kids and turn off my phone and never serve up fish fingers for tea.” If I was MORE like her, if I parented the same way, if I tried to emulate her lifestyle and attitude, perhaps I’ll feel less anxious and stressed and more on top of this motherhood business. It’s like I observe a fellow mother who looks for all intents and purposes like she has she shit together and I immediately create a backstory as to who she is and why she’s so darn good at this parenting lark.Thing is though, I’ll never be ‘her’ largely because ‘she’ doesn’t exist.
What I see of my friends mothering is exactly that; what I see. As honest as we are with each other, I don’t see them at home, 24/7. As much as stalking their homes and peering into their window to see them mothering ‘in situ’ has crossed my mind, I fear getting arrested and potentially losing friends due to the whole ‘invasion of privacy’ thing. I don’t know what goes on behind closed doors and inside tired minds. It’s always refreshing in a way when I ask a friend how they are and they answer with; ‘kind of crap actually.’ Not only do I appreciate their honesty but it also lifts that veil just a little on the fact that things aren’t always perfect. Sometimes they’re a bit ‘meh’ even despite having great hair or beautifully behaved kids or a breastfeeding child who doesn’t bite.
My default when asked how I am is always something resolutely positive and cheerful. Even when I was in the absolute depths of post partum OCD hell with Oliver, I don’t ever recall not chatting away easily at Mothers Group, sipping my cappuccino and politely sharing that I was ‘great, fine, you know a bit tired.’ I never ‘broke down’ as such, even in front of my closest mummy friends and I think they were as shocked as anyone else when I slowly started to reveal, months later, exactly what I’d been going through during that period. I’m trying these days to be a bit more honest about what I’m actually feeling. No, I’m not going to answer the mother I’ve met for the first time ever while pushing our children on the swings with a ‘I’m actually having the worst day. I think I might be losing my mind. My medication doesn’t seem to be working. Do you happen to have any chocolate?’ but when asked by a friend who knows me and cares about my health, I may just give a slightly edited version of the above.
I’m also trying to own being ‘me’ a little more. To not start falling down the rabbit hole of comparison and imagined stories. I’m reminding myself daily to step away from thinking that everyone else ‘has it all.’ It’s a slow process but one i’m committed to.