As someone that suffers hugely with anxiety, I find the pressure to be the perfect parent completely and utterly overwhelming at times. Actually, about 75% of the time. Just when I think I’m doing a reasonably good job, someone comes along and pees on my bonfire. It’s one of the many reasons I left a well-known parenting website (no not that one, the other one) a few months ago. Whenever I logged on feeling remotely smug about something the girls and I had done together, someone would always trump my efforts.
For a long time I tried to keep up. I would work a 37 hour week and then do an activity of one form or other with the girls in the time I had left over. Any day spent in the house was a day wasted. We had to be out and about: trips to museums, zoos, farms. Playdates. The park. If we were at home the girls had to leave the house at least once in the day, even if it was a walk to the local shops or to post a letter. I became obsessed with doing ‘crafting’ and ‘activities’ with the girls. While they were sticking bits of paper to bits of card, I had to photograph them and post the pictures on Facebook.
I found myself taking photos of the girls when we were eating out and deciding that I couldn’t show them to anyone because they were eating unhealthy things, like chocolate brownies and I was worried that someone would think I only fed them chocolate and would judge me harshly. I found the pressure utterly overwhelming.
I had to do something, so I took a step back. What was making me act like this? I worked out it was not so much ‘what’ as ‘who’. I’m not going to name names, but a couple of people in my life were – unwittingly – making me feel inadequate. I think every parent knows someone that can do everything you do, but just a tiny bit better. They are, in true Mary Poppins style, Practically Perfect in Every Way. Complete a cross-stitch project and post up photos of it on Facebook? The Mary Poppins Mother will post up pictures of self-made creatures that develop their own personalities and have adventures*. Made a few cupcakes? The MPM will post up a beautifully-decorated self-made cake. It’s exhausting to even attempt to emulate it.
So why do I bother? I’m that deadly combination of extremely anxious and highly competitive. On my good days, I’m the best bloody mother in the world. On one of my down days, I can barely crawl out of bed because I know that simply letting the girls watch Peppa Pig won’t be enough. They have to do something good.
If I had a pound for everyone that told me I was too hard on myself I could afford to actually hire Mary Poppins. I know I am my own harshest critic, but it’s part of my nature and it’s probably the thing that drives me on to bigger and better things. It’s also the thing that propels me out of bed and makes me face the day – and the girls – when I’m feeling low.
I want to be the best parent I can possibly be, but I have to know my limits. The crucial thing is that the women I measure myself against are stay at home mums. They don’t have an office to go to, deadlines to meet, appraisal targets to reach and customers to keep happy. Their home is their work. It’s not always mine. One of the good things about giving the girls a nursery education is that it takes the pressure off me a bit – if they do papier mache there I don’t have to do it at home.
I’m not saying that I slob around in my pyjamas while the girls watch Peppa Pig from dawn until dusk – as much as they would probably like that! It’s just that I’m trying not to beat myself up now if we don’t do a something in the day. We can just, as my counsellor once told me, sit back from time to time and smell the roses.
* Don’t tell anyone, but I think that this is a bit…um…I’ll leave it there shall I?