When we become mums, overnight we develop the habit of focusing on all the stuff we do badly. Losing our tempers. Losing our patience. Losing our keys. What happened to cutting ourselves some slack and recognising all the things we do well? Why can’t we do this for ourselves when we so readily do it for our kids?
‘Oh, it’s such a perfect day.’
Since having a third child, I have had to let go of any aspirations of the perfect day. I’m not sure it existed before he arrived. It certainly doesn’t exist now.
But I still mourn it. And at the end of the day I have a tendency to berate myself if I lost my temper or screamed at the kids or just wasn’t as perfect a mother as I could have been.
Because at the back of my mind there is this alter-ego of a mother. She is always kind. Always patient and understanding. She handles tantrums with a smile.
And yes, you guessed it. She does crafts.
Mary Crappins. Coming to a cinema near you.
I blame Julie Andrews for this mental image. She should have done a follow up movie called Mary Crappins. Where she has her own kids, realises what actual hell it is and hits the booze. Hard.
Because quite frankly, there is too much pressure on women today to be the perfect mother. ‘Protect your children. From absolutely everything. Whilst being brilliant and composed. All of the time.’ It can leave us feeling overcautious, overwhelmed and that we are literally scarring our children forever with every wrong turn we make.
And I, for one, make a lot of wrong turns.
Being imperfect is a gift.
Recently, I’ve realised that wrong turns are par for the course. And there’s nothing ‘wrong’ with them, especially if you go back and try and make the right turn.
Because children learn from our mistakes. They learn from our reactions. They learn that it is ok to be human. And that they don’t have to live up to an ideal of perfection that is impossible to maintain.
Or, worse, live in the fear of disappointing us.
The other day, I was upset. Now, my alter-ego would have waited until her children were in bed to exhibit any signs of sadness. Even then she would have probably sobbed quietly into a tissue before giving herself a good talking to and pulling herself together.
But in real life things happen. Suddenly and without warning. And it isn’t always possible to compose yourself and deal with the fall-out later. So on this particular occasion, Beaver saw me cry.
Did she feel frightened? Did she feel insecure? No. With utter confidence, she put her arm around me and with a soothing voice she said, ‘Mummy, I know what will make you feel better. Get into bed with me and we’ll read your favourite story together.’
It wasn’t my finest hour but it was definitely hers.
P*** off now please, Julie Andrews.
When I retold this to my friend, I focused on all the negatives of the situation. How I shouldn’t have cried in front of Beaver. How she shouldn’t be the one comforting me. How I should be a better mother. Blah. Blah. Blah.
‘Where do you think she learned that behaviour?’ said my friend. ‘Where do you think she learned to nurture and care for another human being? From you. That doesn’t make you a bad mother. It makes you a great one.’
And yet, it hadn’t even occurred to me to think of it like that.
Be kind. To yourself.
So I have taken a vow. To be kind. To myself. To not focus on all the many things I could do better as a mother. But to look at what I have done well in any given day.
And there is always something. Yes, we might have to look for it. Because the positive things have the misfortune of sometimes getting lost under the negatives that are always so much easier to see.
But look and we shall find.
And at the end of each day, instead of dwelling on all the things we think we did wrong, let’s ask ourselves this.
‘What did I do RIGHT today?’