When my eldest was first born, I used to spend countless hours reading 'educational' news articles with titles like 'Why Women Mess Kids Up', 'Why Food is Evil for Children' and 'Why Mothers are to Blame for the Demise of Modern Society'.
These conflicted 'expert voices' all agreed on just one thing; that 'whatever you do for your kids, it is WRONG.' Far from being informative guides to raising a happy, healthy family, I found them unilaterally divisive, inflammatory and about as supportive as a pair of FF boobs swinging in a banana hammock. Didn't stop me from lying awake at night torturing myself with a list of 'what I did badly today' though.
As I became a more experienced parent I realised that half these articles are rarely written by experts but often created by politicians with an agenda, journalists with a need for attention and mummy-hating misogynists who also happen to hold a degree. They certainly should not be taken too seriously. But I also can't help but be concerned that many women are still taking these articles to heart, desperately attempting to balance everyone's needs and desires whilst trying to avoid raising the next Ted Bundy.
This is why this week in honour of the anniversary of commencement of my current eight years of parenting experience I have decided to de-bunk some of my bug bears around 'bad-parenting' myths:
- You buy everything second-hand: Call me tight-fisted, but I cannot help but wonder why anyone would pay full price for a tacky orange piece of plastic with a gun when you can get it online for quid. With a free egg-timer. A big bag of only-slightly faded clothes delights my children far more than one jumper with a big tick on it and at Christmas they are too busy creating Hurricane Gift-wrap to notice the slightly tarnished packaging. Not being able to afford every new thing the media says your children cannot live without is not bad parenting, it is a life lesson. If they whine talk to them about oranges and walnuts in a stocking. That should silence them quickly enough.
- You say something you shouldn't in front of them (which they then repeat): Let me tell you a story. It's about a little boy who used a very naughty word beginning with F at school. The boy's mother was hauled in front of his very cross Head. Shocked, they both asked the boy where he learned the word to which he mumbled some excuse about children in the playground. Once outside the mortified mother demanded to know the source of the obscenity, fully prepared to march round to another (obviously terrible) mother's house and insist she deal with her child's frightful potty mouth. At which point he replied 'YOU Mummy. You said it on Monday when that naughty man in the big car cut in front of you in traffic. I only didn't tell her cause she would tell you off and put you in detention". .....
I can confirm I promised never ever to swear again. I managed a week. The point is we all do it (toes and doors spring to mind) and kids always hear it when we do. Provided they don't greet you at the school gates with a cheery ''how the fxxk are you" it really isn't that big a deal.
- You work. Or not: What this comes down to is really simple. Freedom of choice. Whether you choose to go to work or not is your own business entirely. If anyone else tells you this is wrong ask them when the last time they questioned a man about their working priorities was. End of story.
- You don't make things: From cakes to costumes the list of stuff my kids need 'making' grows every day. There are always perfect mothers who magic up beautiful costumes and cakes Nigella would envy with a mere flick of a well honed whisk. This mother isn't me. I like to tell myself it really doesn't matter, those mothers might not do the voices in their child's favourite book as well as I do and if in doubt I just sprinkle some hundreds and thousands on an Asda sponge and call it my own. As I educate my own children every time I do it, this isn't lying, more 'managing expectations'.
- Your house is a tip: With homemaking skills that can optimistically be described as 'slovenly' on a good day I definitely don't believe that a perfect house begets a perfect family. I loathe ironing, hate the Dishwasher (in particular emptying it) and would prefer to stick spoons in my eyes then scrub skirting boards. So shoot me. The walls have fingerprints on them and my idea of tidying is "stuff everything in a cupboard and leave it there". If it looks clean, it is clean. Just don't look under the sofa.
"He said what?...."
Parenting is hard. There is no getting away from it but the truth is that the occasional chicken nugget (unless sprinkled with Crack) is really not going to harm them. Neither is the realisation that you yourself are not perfect. It is ok for your child to see and acknowledge your flaws, because the way I see it, if they aren't allowed to do that then how can they learn to accept their own and love themselves anyway?
If you really cannot give yourself a break, consider the alternative if we all got it 'right'....we would most likely end up with a world full of media-reared sheep-people without any character flaws at all, no food preferences and identikit lives straight out of the 'Stepford School of Parenting'. They write horror films about that sort of concept you know.
Next week - How to deal with social services turning up on your doorstep after you wrote a blog about swearing being acceptable in front of 7 year olds.