A nice Mum whacked me with a compliment this morning, as I was quietly eating the froth off my coffee with a teaspoon. 'You've got your four kids - You always look like you have it all together', she gushed causing me to drop my teaspoon and peer up at her with a deer in headlights expression.
In that mildly paranoid sleep deprived way, I considered the phrase 'look like you have it all together', which automatically denigrates that my having it all together could well be a superficial assumption e.g. 'You look like you have it all together - but it may well be that you do not.'
Don't we all look like we have it all together? I was only aware of two options here, 1) looking together and 2) looking slightly mad but definitely making a brave attempt at looking together. Since having a fourth child I'm more the second option, scraping through, wondering why life requires me to breathe whilst drowning - and how some women can do it smiling.
I blame the overload of parenting advice, books, and sappy baby media for the message of 'perfect parenting', the holy grail women seem to think we should at least attempt to find. It's the next stage on from the 'perfect appearance' holy grail. Some women are looking for both, you know? Have you ever asked yourself why those amazing parenting experts tend to have just one child? Super Nanny doesn't have any. Oh the pressure in the house of the 'parenting expert' - there's nothing like a real, live, kicking, screaming child, shaming you up in the school playground to blow all your expertise out the water.
We fall unknowingly in to the social comparisons and make our adjustments accordingly. In the words of Shakespeare's Viola from Twelfth Night; 'Good Madam. Let me see your face'. If only we were free to be a little more transparent in how we show up in the world and admit that building a life around multiple children for a woman today, is like building a house of cards. There's no right way to do it, and it regularly falls down. Did we ever stop to ask each other 'Is this possible?' and 'Are you happy trying to do all this?' Or are we morphing slowly in to Stepford Wives?
Here's some transparency. I have four children which means that my hair is falling out. However, people often tell me I seem calm. I'm not calm, I'm bored. Gravy adverts make me feel terrible, all those lovely Mums cooking delicious pies for tea, with children that will actually eat a pie and gravy. I always forget about the homework, fail to organise swimming lessons, and my baby's first finger foods were chips. I'll admit that I'm a bit of a short cutter really. I go for speed not perfection, and that creates a lot of mess. When I was little, I chopped all my dolls hair off and coloured her face in green, and to this day my children are not the groomed kind.
I also left my career for dead after having children, and have regenerated in to a sort of woman gone rogue, or gone wrong perhaps, for which I torture myself daily. And I wonder why my seven year old daughter is having a rather loud existential crisis at the bottom of the stairs, wailing 'I don't even know why I'm here? I don't even know who I am..?'
But I'll tell you all this if you ask me, it's not a secret.
I'm not sure I want to look like I've got it all together anyway? I'd like to rebel altogether against looking together. It's no wonder under this pressure of perfect parenting that there are a whole lot of women at home in their pyjamas too anxious to do school pick up. I don't blame them.
But I promise you, even the women looking fabulous, battling for status in the school yard have been at home in their pyjamas at some point. I would put money on it. And if you choose not to wear the armour of career status, or maybe you and your partner are battling a difficult situation, when all around you seem to have it warm and rosy, that's brave. That's like entering the gladiators' arena with out a shield.
The day you meet a perfect child, you'll know you've found a perfect parent. I for one, would like to set myself free from that inner voice that criticises, 'it's your fault', 'you should have done that', 'you didn't do this', 'you should be more loving, more consistent, try harder, be there more, be there less, you're not enough'. How liberating would Motherhood be without all the pressure?
We have moments with friends, where we let each other know things we didn't handle well, mistakes we made - as if we're supposed to get everything right all the time. Honesty is healing. Honesty is the sword you need to carry in to the arena. We're all the same behind the masks we wear - and that, as Shakespeare's Viola says is, 'beauty truly blent'.
Anne Marshall writes at Untamables
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