The other day, a man called me a dreadful mother. I laughed it off, because obviously he was joking. Until I considered that maybe he wasn’t.
It was a particularly chaotic morning.
I was getting the bus to nursery. The Boy with No Name was apparently less than impressed with this as he wailed his way through the village (in my arms because I’d stupidly left the buggy at home. For convenience purposes, that now completely escape me. Idiot). My beautiful boy, who is usually so placid and well-behaved, whilst his sisters are usually up to mischief working out how to detonate a fire extinguisher or blag some free sweets (by which I mean steal).
When we got to the bus stop, his objection peaked. There was much back arching and my arms were literally ready to drop off (some pre-Christmas dieting is definitely required on his part). What with this and the fact that Godivy was dressed in a pink ballerina outfit (the only thing she will wear these days), on the coldest morning of the year, we weren’t exactly travelling incognito.
We may as well have been carrying a neon placard saying, ‘LOOK AT US! WE’RE DYSFUNCTIONAL!’
‘What a dreadful mother you are.’
As I sat down at the bus stop, feeling rather agitated, the elderly man next to me starting talking.
‘What a dreadful mother you are,’ he said. ‘What could you have done to make your daughter that upset.’ My ‘daughter’ who was dressed head to toe in blue, incidentally. Total gender stereotypes in our house.
‘He’s a boy,’ I said. And then I smiled. Because obviously he was joking. On my other side, a lady looked on, staring at me. Disapprovingly?
And it wasn’t until later, when The Boy had calmed down that I thought again about the old man’s comment. And considered that perhaps he hadn’t been joking.
Was he actually judging me?
Brilliant and crap. In equal measure.
Of course, I’ll never know what he meant. Nor do I need to.
I know that I am both a brilliant and crap mum, in equal measure and I’m ok with that. Being a mum of three has given me that gift. The gift of confidence (aka ‘I’m too tired to care’) that enables me to mostly let ignorant comments slide.
But I didn’t have that resilience as a mum of one or even as a mum of two.
I will never forget being in Turkey with two year old Beaver and four month old Godivy.
One evening at dinner, Godivy was in her buggy trying to sleep. Our fiercely independent girls have always self-soothed, which is great when you’re at home, not so great when you’re on holiday and they need to cry down a bit to get to sleep. She wasn’t hysterical, by any means, and we were sitting away from other people.
A few minutes after she’d started a lady in full burqa dress appeared from nowhere, removed the cover from our buggy and stuck her head right in. As she did so, a lady on another table started clapping. ACTUAL CLAPPING. Their judgement of me from the three minutes they’d ‘known’ me was unbelievable. It made me cry and we left the restaurant, without even having eaten. Daddy Pig confronted Clappy Lady the next day and politely suggested she never judge another mother again. She was a mother herself of a teenage girl, can you believe it?
Apparently, this gave her more reason to judge me, not less.
It’s ok to hang up your Supermum cape.
And this is the problem. People forget. They distort their memories. Or they just don’t think.
They forget how hard parenting can be. How relentless. How some days, as a parent, you have no choice but to let things slide because you are so damn tired you just don’t have it in you to fight another battle with your child over something stupidly ridiculous. You are done with negotiating. You are angry. You are hungry because, amidst the chaos, you didn’t eat breakfast. Again. And that’s ok. You are allowed to hang up your Supermum or Superdad cape and feel ALL of these things.
You don’t need someone to criticise you.
You need someone to hold out a hand.
Their problem. NOT yours.
So fellow mums, dads and countrymen.
Let these comments go. There will always be someone who chooses to be mean when they could be kind. That’s their problem, not yours.
Remember, that you are both brilliant and crap in equal measure. And that is what makes a well-rounded parent who is going to raise well rounded kids. Kids that will know that it’s ok to muddle through sometimes, to make mistakes and to not have to be 100% perfect or even tempered ALL of the time.
Kids that will one day be adults who, instead of criticising others, will hold out a hand.
Because that is how you taught them to be.
Encouragement is the only thing parents need to hear.
A year after Dinnergate, on a different holiday, a lady came up to me at dinner. I froze.
‘I want to say, I think you’re wonderful mother,‘ she said in her broken English. ‘I watch you with your children every day.’
I will never forget that either. But for altogether different reasons.
Because that, people, is the only sort of judgement us parents need to hear.