What makes the perfect parent?
Is it the mum who attends five baby groups a week? The dad who bathes his child every night? The parents who teach their child three languages by the time they are five?
Is there a parent in the world who can, hand on heart, say that they have never made a mistake? Whose child has never banged their head on something as they learn to sit/crawl/stand/walk? Who has never given Calpol as a last resort when all attempts to stop crying have failed?
After recently putting J on the floor to have a go at crawling, a relative said to me: ‘His learning is very structured.’ I wasn’t sure how to take it. It wasn’t an insult but it certainly wasn’t a compliment. I asked what they meant and they explained that I have specific ways of doing things and structured time for things like ‘tummy time’. It apparently wasn’t a bad thing but just the way I do things is planned and it’s different to how it was in their day.
I don’t know why I took offence to this and why it has stuck with me, surely trying to be organised about my son’s development should be a positive thing. Yet it felt like they were saying that all the fun had been taken away from play somehow and that their impression of me was that I watched the clock, saw it turn 3pm and immediately put him down for some ‘tummy time’. This is not the case at all. I am very much led by what he wants to do, which, to be fair, is fairly limited at this age.
I’ve said it before but it’s times like this that remind me that there is no right answer with parenting. There is no one perfect parent. It’s a subject that everyone has an opinion on depending on the way they did it with their children and how it was done in their day. I swear I would be rich if I got a pound every time someone told me how it was in their day…move on people, times are changing.
I read something recently that said that parenting is even tougher now; there is no village community feel where everyone mucks in with raising the baby, if you’re lucky enough to have supportive family and friends then that helps a bit but mostly, you’re on your own (with your partner). With social media taking over our lives, there is more pressure than ever to show everyone how brilliant your child is, to post pictures of being a smiley happy family and make sure everyone knows what a good time you are having. God forbid if you actually said what a crappy day you were having, posted a picture of your poo covered child and questioned whether you had really considered this parenting malarkey hard enough. Parenting is a minefield already without the added pressure created by social media and often, by other parents.
Yet I subject myself to this online battle on a daily basis and am an active member of several online mummy groups. On one of the aforementioned groups we discussed how many baby groups we went to every week, suddenly the posts started coming in, 3 a week, sometimes 4, like it was some kind of challenge or competition as to who could attend the most. I felt like I fell short of everyone else, even when I tried to keep up to attending 2 a week, there were always those mums that attended Baby Sensory on a Monday, Baby Sign on a Tuesday, Swimming lessons Wednesday, Ballet on a Thursday and Coffee mornings on a Friday. Yet I sometimes struggled to get us out of the house and organised on the two mornings I dare venture out. I couldn’t imagine doing more.
Competition also came in the form of child development. Posts about babies the same age as J crawling everywhere, saying Dada and Mama clearly, standing up, feeding themselves sandwiches, completing the Daily Mail’s Sudoku. Ok so the last one I made up but I was constantly looking at J’s stage and comparing him. It didn’t matter if he was doing things they weren’t; he wasn’t keeping up with every other single baby on the group. Whose baby was? It was a place to show everyone just how amazingly clever your baby was and I was waiting for the post saying ‘My baby has solved world hunger this morning whilst eating her breakfast that I freshly prepared and reading the morning paper – isn’t she a clever girl.’
So, it seems that for many parents, we have created this environment where we must compete. Must win. Must be this impossible perfect parent.
No one can possibly live up to the high standards we set ourselves. It is surely not possible to attend baby groups every day, bake buns for play group, prepare every meal from scratch and teach your child Mandarin whilst they throw your freshly prepared banana muffins on the floor. So we compromise. We do our best.
If I aim to be a perfect parent I will forever fall short. So I strive to be the best parent I can be for J, one that aims to make him happy and encourage him in whatever he does.
I may not be teaching my son a different language or taking him to Baby ballet but he seems happy enough, laughing away with glee as I pretend to ‘eat his hands’,
For us, this is as close to perfect as it can be.