I’m a mum who tends to worry a lot. About whether my child is hitting their milestones, about whether he’s happy, if I’m doing the right thing sending him to nursery, if I’m doing enough crafting with him, if he should know his colours by now. These are worries that I can put aside, but then will pop into my head again, just when I think I’ve got past them. I’m clearly not alone in this, as I read similar concerns from other parents on a regular basis. It seems to be the curse of modern parents.
Testing, testing, testing…
Generation Y parents are used to being tested. My school year was the first to encounter SATS testing in Year 6, before being tested again in Year 9, GCSE’s in Year 11, A Levels in Year 13, then for some of us, on to university for more testing. And then we entered the world of work, thinking that we’d left scoring and testing behind. But no! The workplace these days is another world of testing – performance ratings, peer feedback, annual appraisals; the world of employment has embraced the culture of scoring and the need for continuous improvement. Is it any wonder that our generation are always aiming for perfection and constantly seeking approval? From beautifying our life for our Instagram feed, to checking our Facebook to see how many likes we have on our latest post; we’re all doing it.
It’s this kind of subconscious thought that leads us to put pressure on ourselves. You can’t browse mummy blogs for 5 minutes without reading about the dreaded ‘mummy guilt’, and having written about this myself, it’s not something that’s easily put aside. But when you think about how this kind of scoring and need for external validation has been drummed into us from such an early age, is it any wonder we’re constantly trying to be the best parent we can, measuring ourselves against some imaginary ‘perfect mum’ and finding ourselves wanting?
Ditching the Job Description in your head of The Ideal Mum
Although as mums we might crave the transparency and validation that the world of job descriptions and performance ratings offer, they just don’t fit easily to being a parent. Each child is different, and although we are all doing the job of ‘mum’, I think it’s fair to say that every mum would need a different job description.
There are so many different parenting decisions to be made on a daily (even, hourly!) basis, and all of these decisions need to be made based on the child you have rather than what your ‘ideal mum‘ might choose to do. I was really keen on the idea of baby led weaning – from everything I’d read it sounded great and certainly lots of my friends really rate it. But for me and my child it just didn’t work. Max wasn’t able to pick up small things at 6 months, and continued to struggle with this for a few months longer. He also has a very sensitive gag reflex which means that even now, at two, he is often sick from choking on bits of food. It just wasn’t for us.
You might have a child that sleeps well (lucky you!), but who is a fussy eater. Or you might have a bad sleeper but a great eater. Or a bad sleeper and a bad eater! All of these combinations (and the many more I could list) are going to mean that you have different stresses from other parents.
And as for ratings and rankings – when we enter ourselves in this subconscious competition, it’s one that we can never win. We see all parts of our parenting day, the good and the bad – not the selected highlights of someone else’s. And when it comes down to it, you are a good enough parent in the eyes of your child, and that’s the only person whose opinion matters. So we need to stop stressing about our small failings – they won’t matter to your children when they fling their arms around you for a bedtime hug.
The Internet – A blessing and a curse
Although it’s without question that the internet has given us huge advantages as parents, it’s also upped the stakes in our ability to compare ourselves to others, to read about various different parenting techniques and to question ourselves more. Looking back to my mum’s generation, there was no google to search, no blogs to read, and although my initial instinct is to think ‘how awful!’, as a result there seems to have been more of a reliance on instinct. If your child was happy and healthy, then there was no reason to worry about things or question what you were doing as a parent.
I’ve always been a avid reader, so it was inevitable that I would read lots of parenting books and articles. Naturally some of them have been really helpful, but many of them are contradictory (unsurprising, given that what works for one child may well not work for another), and some of them have been downright unhelpful. If we’re going to embrace the internet and books as a source of parenting information, then we need to have the self-confidence to dismiss the information that we instinctively know does not work for our children.
Let’s forget the external validation and focus on our own instincts – who knows, maybe we’ll end up happier parents as a result.