It happens the first time we sense our parenting choices are being judged. I’ve never felt so defensive as I did when I had my first child. I was woefully unprepared for the reality of being a parent and overly-sensitive to the slightest possibility that I was somehow doing it wrong and thus failing my child.
My life as a first time mother floated along on a low tide of guilt. I was aware that my husband was unlikely to be feeling a similar level of guilt, even though he returned to work months before I did. It was particular to women this guilt, we know that the Mother is the one who gets blamed if anything goes wrong.
My sense of guilt increased when I returned to work. Someone else was doing the daily work with my child, someone else was there for their milestones and even worse than that, it was someone I paid. Not a loving Granny or Grandad, but a paid childminder.
It seemed that all kids come with a surprise download of a horrible virus called You’ll-Never-Be-Good-Enough.
It took me a long time to realise that my stay-at-home parent friends felt just as guilty as I did. It seemed that all kids come with a surprise download of a horrible virus called You’ll-Never-Be-Good-Enough.
We all want to be good parents, we all want to give our kids the best start in life, but there are no role models to show us how to do that. There’s no definitive, real life “perfect mother” to aspire to (though there’s plenty of fictional “Perfect Mums” in movies and TV). Every family dynamic is different and unique, so I doubt there could ever be a one-size-fits-all approach to parenting. We’re all essentially making it up as we go along to fit the circumstances of our family make-up.
No one wins when the primary caregiver in the house is run-down, stressed, tired and feeling unappreciated
The trick is, I think, knowing that everyone thinks they’re failing their kids too.
We need to have more compassion for ourselves; we are all just people who are doing our best in a society that has created an unrealistic, unattainable persona for us to aspire to. In truth how could we possibly provide for a child’s every need? Isn’t our job to lovingly teach them how to provide for their own needs?
The best way to teach children is by role modelling. Children learn through socialisation and they will copy what they see around them. So my aim is to raise self-loving, self-aware children. I can’t do that if I’m not role modelling self-love or self-awareness myself.
I believe the “Happy Mum =Happy Child” approach is the way to find peace with the expectations placed on us as mothers. It’s the, “Put your own oxygen mask on first” approach. Look after yourself first. How you role model self-love will be picked up on by your kids and will (hopefully!) form the basis for their own sense of self love and awareness as they move through life. What greater gift could you give children than a love for self and the self awareness to know when they’re not living according to their values?
They know I will help them and spend time with them but they also know what my boundaries are. They can see and hear me saying “I’m vulnerable right now, I’ve had a stressful day — this is what I need to keep right
You might be wondering how does this self-love role modelling play out in real life… If I’ve come home from a busy day at work and my kids are all wanting my attention at once (I have 5 kids), I will say “I’m happy to see you all but I’m very tired and I need to just sit and relax with a cup of tea for 10 minutes before I can get the dinner on/help you with your homework etc”.
I’m telling my kids what I need in that moment to keep my emotional and physical health balanced (and if I’m lucky one of them might make a cup of tea for me). This teaches kids emotional intelligence, self love and self awareness as they see it role modelled for them. They know they are loved, they know I will help them and spend time with them but they also know what my boundaries are and what I need in that moment to stay healthy. It also teaches them empathy, they can see and hear me saying “I’m vulnerable right now, I’ve had a stressful day — this is what I need to keep right, please support me in this”.
There are times when I can’t take that 10 minutes of course. When I’ve needed to change a nappy or if someone is hurt etc but for the most part life throws up endless possibilities for me to role model self-love to my kids. When my children were very little my self-love time was a long bath after they went to bed but each person will have something different that works for them. As long as it is something where you are demonstrably telling your children that you are going to meet your own physical and emotional needs first, whilst also letting them know that you love them, you’re happy to see them and that you follow through on your commitment to spend time with them after.
I try to stay true to my values as a person, my values as a parent and my values as someone who works outside of the home.
Sometimes I overtly say to my kids, “My love for myself and my self awareness are telling me I need to have a few minutes to myself”. By doing this I’m not only role-modelling but also teaching them the language of emotional intelligence and self awareness. (So you can ditch the guilt you might feel over taking time for yourself by thinking about all the valuable teaching you are doing as you enjoy your cup of tea!)
When I hear about family/work or work/life balance I think of how I integrate my need to work into my life and family — not the other way around. I start with what is most important to me (and for some people that might be work), and look at how I can make sure that I stay true to my values as a person, my values as a parent and my values as someone who works outside of the home. When you are living a life that is true to your values you have an excellent foundation to build “balance” onto.
How that balance looks is different for everyone, but no one wins when the primary caregiver in the house is run-down, stressed, tired and feeling unappreciated. So take some time for yourself, enlist your kids to rub your feet, brush your hair or make you a cup of tea. I can assure you it will do them (and you) a world of good.
About the Author
Taryn de Vere is a writer, a colourful fashion activist and a mother of 5.