14/08/2014 12:54 BST | Updated 22/05/2015 06:12 BST

Why Can't We Be More Truthful About Parenting, The Highs And The Lows?

A smiling mother and daughter touching foreheads, close-up

When I became a mother five years ago I expected to be exhausted, stressed, saggy and desperate to go to the toilet on my own. What I didn't expect was to be told by other parents to "Shush!" whenever I spoke the truth about how parenting makes me feel.

I'd been told over and again that becoming a mother would be like joining a club but I had no idea that the goal of said club would be to shroud in secrecy the realities of raising a child in the 21st Century.

So why do so many parents seem ashamed of their experiences of parenting?

Let me explain.


While raising my daughter I've experienced staggering highs and plummeting lows and I've been honest about all of them, not least because if there is one thing I've learned it's that parents are human and humans aren't perfect.


That's why I have no compunction about admitting that I cried with grief for my old life during the first five months of my pregnancy and that when my daughter was born I felt nothing except a desperate urge for a coffee.

Similarly, when she was in a crèche as an infant I rarely recognised her at picking-up time (luckily the freakishly patterned outfits she wore gave her away), her works of art often find their way into the bottom of the recycling bin, her wailing has occasionally made me drink rum straight from the bottle and recent hospital stays were blissful because they gave me the chance to sleep and read.

Oh, and one more thing, although if you are easily shocked look away now: when I was in the throes of severe Post Natal Depression and Post Traumatic Stress Disorder I occasionally thought of smothering her.

Oh, don't look at me like that. And don't bother calling Social Services either because all they'll find now is me blowing raspberries on my daughter's ever-pinchable bottom and cooing over her appearance in her Harvest Festival.

Yet while I have no problem admitting that parenting doesn't come naturally to me or that it has driven me to the darkest reaches of depression why do so many parents have a problem hearing it?

Perhaps I am the parenting version of the Bogey Man, scaring mums and dads with the realities of what lies under the bed when bedtime hour starts taking a toll on their sanity.

Then again, I'm not the only Bogey Man. "Being able to forget about my son when I knew he was in safe hands kept me sane," explains Jen. "I also used to put him to sleep face down because it was the only way he would settle and the alternative would be to kill him during a sleep deprived rage.

"Then there were the times when I used to get drunk so I could sleep though the night when it was husband's turn to do the getting up.

"I regret nothing that I did, though, because he is a loving, well adjusted, adorable 13-year-old and at the time we were just winging it together."

Jen is as unashamed of her experiences as I am of mine, not least because the refusal to speak openly about what we, as parents, go through is nothing but an exercise in isolation.

However we raise our kids we all agree that it is a singular experience that irrevocably changes our lives, yet being 'shushed' when we dare to speak the truth – however ugly that truth can be – commits us to carrying the burden alone while also withdrawing a helping hand from mums and dads who need it the most.


OK, so there is a monumental amount of pressure upon parents to be perfect but that's only the pressure we put upon ourselves, as if the lack of sleep, endless questions, story-wrestling or snot-collecting isn't already tortuous enough.


Believe me, if that mum I meet in the school yard wants to go on pretending that her baby's potty smells like roses she's welcome to it.

Alison agrees. "I couldn't wait to get my son out to nursery. He was barely able to walk and I practically threw him through the door before running off home to sit on the sofa and look at the wall for two hours before picking him back up. I was just too tired of being mum and 'on' all the time.

"There's a huge myth around motherhood that we're all going to love it. I had to give up my job (editor of local paper) and as much as I adored my son, motherhood was just like sitting alone at the bottom of a well.

"The monotony, the incessant need of a child for you... I would happily have killed someone just to get out of the house and have an interesting day."

Alison's point about adoring her son also shows that a parent's struggle isn't actually a reflection on how much their child is loved either. We just deal with the relationship in different ways. I'd savage anyone who attempted to harm my daughter but that doesn't mean I didn't spend one night of her early years sitting in the snow in my nightie because I couldn't stand to hear her voice any longer.

That's why I'm giving Cathy the last word. She says: "I really hate this idea that we 'should' be ashamed of aspects of our parenting in the first place.

"There are many ways to parent and I don't expect everybody else to parent like me because they don't have my child."

So maybe it's not so much about not being ashamed, it's more about accepting that if you choose one path, another parent will choose another.

We all do the best we can for our kids but we are only ever human too.

Watch: The Parentdish community talk about their experiences of giving birth