Last week I had the loveliest day. It was a completely normal day – it was Thursday, the one day of the week when I have Max all to myself with no activities planned. I don’t often take Max out for a proper meal with just the two of us as it can often be a bit of a battle to keep him amused, but that day we stopped at Bill’s for some brunch as a treat.
From the moment we walked in, Max was the most angelic child – smiling and flirting with the waitress, sitting patiently in his high chair opposite me while we quietly read Postman Bear as we waited for our food, and then charming the two ladies who came in later and sat down next to us. Max and I were happy chatting (in as limited a conversation as you can have with an under two year old), playing with the few toys I’d bought with me, reading some books, and basically having a lovely time together. It was a moment when I realised that I was really genuinely enjoying my son’s company.
Are you ever aware of being watched? I was very aware of it while we were sat down – every now and again I’d look up and notice someone looking at us and I’d give them a smile. As the meal went on I caught numerous comments about how lovely and how well behaved Max was. I’ll admit – we walked out of that restaurant and I felt like a pretty amazing mother right there – complete smug mum moment that would no doubt bite me on the bum later on!
But then I got thinking – why am I basing how good a mother I feel on how well my child behaves? Or how other people are judging us? For one thing, he’s a toddler – he’s learning about how to behave in the world, how to interact with people, how to be polite, it’s only to be expected that he’ll misbehave. He’s testing the boundaries and learning how the world works and that’s completely normal. The same angelic child that those restaurant goers witnessed was throwing an almighty tantrum only that morning because he felt that shoes were an unnecessary addition to a trip out of the house (Mummy disagreed).
From little angel to screaming banshee in the flash of an eye!
But at the core of it is this: it’s easy to be that stereotypical ‘good mum’ when your child is behaving well. And I realised that I’ve been equating being a ‘good mum’, with how much of my time is spent doing the fun parenting things – reading stories, playing, laughing together – all the things that I pictured myself doing when I thought about being a parent pre-kids. My pre-kids, rose-tinted version of ‘good mum’ did not involve picking my screaming child up off the floor because I said he couldn’t have another biscuit. There were more trips to the park in my version, fewer moments of trying to wrestle another child’s toy out of my child’s hand. More watching Disney films, less being hit. You catch my drift.
But I don’t need to tell you that that’s not what being a ‘good mum’ is about. All of those nice things are just enjoying being a mum; it’s the fun stuff, and it’s great to enjoy it, but it really has no bearing on your parenting. That’s the stuff that comes easily.
It’s when your child is misbehaving that you have to work hard at being a ‘good mum’ – keeping your temper, saying the right thing. And like anything difficult, because you have to work hard at it, the obvious leap is to doubt yourself, to feel like you’re not doing a good job, to feel that others are judging you. Leaving aside the inevitable moments where you don’t get it right, where you do lose your temper and where if you could rewind time you’d love a chance to do it again differently.
As we charter our way into the stormy seas of the Terrible Twos, I hope that I can remember these thoughts and not see Max’s behaviour and my parenting standards as being linked. To have a more positive basis for my self-esteem as a parent – to recognise the good things I’m doing and focus on those.