I was the best mother in the world until I had kids. I had principles, goddammit. No child of mine was going to be put in front of the television for my own selfish purposes. No child of mine was going to carry on in the supermarket because I wasn’t giving him what he wanted Right Here Right Now. And no child of mine was ever EVER going to be put on a leash like a dog.
Of course I didn’t realise that the TV would be my Bestest Friend Ever when I needed to get dinner ready or hang out the washing unencumbered or maybe even just have five minutes Time Out before I started throwing furniture. Or that succumbing to unreasonable demands in the supermarket might just happen because I’d only had three hours sleep (in five bite-sized chunks) the night before and just didn’t have the strength to ride out the ensuing tantrum. As for the leash? Well it took just one incident where Mr Justice, at age 2, ran out on the road and I couldn’t catch him in time, being somewhat heavily pregnant. And voila! My son, the dog.
Over the past six years, all the things I’d previously seen other parents do and declared I would never do as a parent have fallen one by one: computer games, co-sleeping, war toys, using chocolate as bribes, dummies, controlled-crying, breast-feeding past 12 months, delivering a quick sharp smack on the leg, fast food, putting 100s & 1000s in yoghurt, shouting like a crazy bitch, etc etc. Pretty much the only “rule” that I didn’t transgress was formula-feeding – but that’s only because I was very lucky to have fully-operational mama-jugs.
We mothers don’t make it exactly easy on ourselves. There’s a whole lotta finger pointing going on out there, particularly in online parenting forums, where anonymity seems to give people a licence to be Truly Outraged without having to declare their own small failings as a parent. The other day, I read a post which laid into some mother seen at a food court feeding her 18 month old chips… imagine: chips! What was worse was that she, the mother, was eating sushi. The gall of the woman! She obviously knew better and yet she chose to feed her child junk. Junk!!
I guess I got a bit riled by the post because I could so very easily have been That Dreadful Woman feeding her kids chips. Yes, I do give them chips (and worse) from time to time, and – judging from the sheer volume of similarly outraged responses to the post – I have no doubt been severely judged for doing so. But what the judgers fail to see in an isolated chip incident, is all the healthy home-cooked meals my kids eat the rest of the time (okay okay, so maybe there’s the promise of ice cream for dessert hanging over their heads). Especially since my children are all normal-sized and show no signs of being permanently hooked up to some intravenous chicken-grease food supply. But even if they were morbidly obese, I can tell you this with no uncertainty: no-one ever saved the world by tutting disapprovingly.
Am I saying we shouldn’t always try to do what’s best for our children? No, I am not. We should try. We should try damn hard – because these little souls entrusted to our care are the Most Precious Things Ever. I guess I’m just saying that sometimes our grasp isn’t going to quite match our reach – sometimes we’re going to make small mistakes or lose sight of the ball momentarily, no matter how hard we try. It doesn’t mean we love our kids any less, it just makes us more human.
And in any case, isn’t that why they invented psychiatry? Here’s something for nothing: keep trying your personal best, but be sure to cover your arse by putting money away each week for your kids’ inevitable shrink bills. And if they use their couch time just to talk about the time you fed them chips in a food court, I should think that you haven’t done too badly as a parent at all.