How do you think you’re doing as a parent? What mark would you give yourself out of ten? Because I’ve started to think that winning at parenting feels impossible when you try to live up to today’s expectations.
Expectation versus reality
I’d guess that we all find some days are better than others. Some days you feel like you’ve scaled K2 by tea time and give yourself a medal. Other days you finally turn off the gremlin’s bedroom light, scrape some leftover food into your mouth, grunt at whoever you live with, and collapse onto the sofa, blankly staring at the TV and wondering if you should have a shower.
I’ve been a full-time stay at home dad to our boys (aged one and three) since Mrs B went back to work this year after her second maternity leave. In that time I’ve learned a lot and much of it by making it up as I went along; all parents have to find their own rhythm and that’s ok.
For the first few weeks I think I survived on adrenalin. As long as we all got through the day with no serious injuries, were dressed (with a modicum of style), ate at roughly the right time of day, and were washed in time for bed by 7pm-ish I felt like I was smashing it and Mrs B agreed.
But as time has gone on I’ve started to feel like I’m not doing everything I should be. It’s like I’m stuck on level one of a video game called Ultimate Dad Skills and everyone else is getting bonus points and extra goodies.
Why do I feel like this? Some of it could be me expecting too much too soon but I also blame social media – that modern day vampire of self-esteem.
The social media drug
Like many people, I often spend what little free moments I have checking out what other people, mainly ones with kids, are doing in their lives.
When I put it like that it sounds a bit odd doesn’t it? But I suppose in the days before social media parents (mainly mums in those days) still checked each other out, they just did it at the school gate or in the street or out shopping.
I have never been someone who worried about what other people thought, and I really hoped I wouldn’t succumb to the ‘mummy guilt’ I kept reading about. But recently I’ve found myself looking at people getting the children cooking aubergine pate with olive bruschetta from larder leftovers, and making models of the Sagrada Familia from drink carton straws, or going on children’s literature themed fancy dress geo-caching. It’s gone 11pm and I should just put the phone down but I CAN’T STOP LOOKING! (FYI Mrs B is usually next to me looking at “just one more post” about kitchen extensions.)
Eventually I drift fretfully into sleep and my regular nightmare about being chased round a closing supermarket by Miss Rabbit trying to find wet wipes. And in what feels like milliseconds I’m awake in daddy Groundhog Day listening to the sound of our baby crying because his brother has yet again hit him with a toy pan when I specifically warned him not to 500 times.
Am I a parent or a referee?
I took this stay at home parent gig on for lots of reasons but one of them was that I wanted to have some positive influence on my boys and be a big part of their lives before they grew up and started going to school five days a week. And if all I am going to do is be a UN peacekeeper and cleaner that’s not really helping anyone.
The constant sibling rivalry is amplified when I have any one on one time with either of the boys. They have such different needs and I can’t keep them both occupied. If I’m playing a game of shops with Little B his baby brother will try and join in and cause a riot. “No Daddeeeeee! He breaking my toooooys!”
Likewise if I’m trying to have quality time with our baby, building a tower or singing nursery rhymes with him on my knee, along comes the pre-school bouncer to push in or start throwing his brother on the floor because I’m not paying him attention for one minute.
And I’m thinking…
The thing is it makes me feel all kinds of feelings that I don’t want to. Because I never wanted to be that person who is bothered about fitting in or keeping up with the Joneses or beating themselves up. Life is way too short for that shit.
Having now bought a lifetime pass to the pooparama theme park and got the stained t-shirt I think anyone who looks after their children, for any number of days, especially without any help is a hero.
I don’t care if you do it full time or part time or use a nanny or don’t or use a nursery or don’t or have your mum round the corner or don’t. It’s all good, whatever works for your family.
So why do I feel jealous that other people are doing parenting better, angry at myself for not giving my boys the first class experience?
Did I have unrealistic expectations? Maybe. But I had also heard daily reports from Mrs B on what it was like trying to manage a toddler and a baby. So I think the rose-tinted specs were well and truly trampled into the vomit-soaked carpet. No I’d say I went into this with my tired eyes propped wide open on match sticks.
Our best bits
It’s not all bad of course; there are wonderful moments.
Seeing Baby F start to crawl and now nearly take his first steps. Giggling with him as he tried to poke his fingers in my mouth again.
And there was that time I had my arm sawn off…
Just being with two of the people I love most in the whole world and not sat in an airless office answering a thousand emails.
The end of another day arrives. And what have we done? I can barely remember. I am not ashamed to admit I’ve shed some tears after eight hours of constantly stopping fights, having meals thrown on the floor, every room in the house trashed, no housework done, no time to do anything else.
That’s the other elephant in the room. I am meant to be trying to work. Well, to find freelance work. You know, be a ‘dad-preneur’. How does anyone find the time? As well as all the crafts and cooking and making videos to put on Youtube of course. I know I know, I need to do it in the evenings. It’s just sometimes I am QUITE TIRED.
We’re all in this together
If you are one of these super parents who get it all done i raise my cold cup of coffee to you – please tell me how do you do it. And if like me you feel like you’re at the back of the pack trudging along and just surviving each day here’s to you too.
After twenty years in full time work I can say that parenting two small children is the hardest thing I’ve done. I will look back on this time and feel proud.
Our boys won’t remember any of this time we spent together. They’ll be trying to get all the photos of them covered in yoghurt taken down from the internet but they won’t actually remember it happening.
So I like to think when they are teenagers there will be a small bit of their testosterone soaked brains that, midway through telling me I’m the worst dad ever because I said they had to revise instead of going to a party, recalls the hours we spent together lying on our tummies in the park pretending to be worms. And without knowing why, they’ll stop being cross and grunt and shuffle off and maybe even give me a grudging hug.
That will definitely be worth all the hours I’ve spent learning the names of the engines in Chuggington (even Olwin).
So perhaps I should stop worrying about why there are no dinosaur cupcakes on the kitchen worktop, only unwashed dishes, and my kids aren’t sitting quietly making tapestry maps of the world.
“You’re my best friend daddy,” said Little B as we sat on the sofa watching Cbeebies this week.
My heart melted and I forgave him for all the times he’d snatched toys out of his baby brother’s hands and refused to walk down the street because his shoes were the wrong colour.
So I’ll take the mayhem and run with it… run out of the door… to take my boys on an exploration of aesthetic relatavism in the natural landscape.
Or maybe we’ll go to soft play again.
Categories: Big Issues