I have misplaced my three-year-old a number of times in the last six months. Thankfully, on each occasion, he has emerged from his hiding place with a triumphant smile on his face. In those few frantic, tearful minutes though I have truly felt like the world’s worst mother.
You could say I’m in the midst of it in terms of 21st century mothering!
My kids are nine, seven and three. I work, study and try to make sure they eat healthy home-cooked food more often than not. I read with them, listen, umpire, step up, pick up and clean up. I sign notes, wipe tears and noses and take them to their sports. I worry, make mistakes and over-think most things. I literally spend each day moving from one task to another. The to-do list never gets smaller.
And the kids? Well, they argue, they don’t listen, they fight, they haggle, they make a mess, they yell, and if you’re in it for all those appreciative pats on the back they’re going to give you; well you should rethink your vocation. The most impressive skill I have developed in the past 10 years is my ability to repeat myself!
Modern parenting is set in a whole new landscape. We are more stressed and over-scheduled than parents of generations past. We live our lives at a frenetic pace and in the age of social media our choices as parents have never before been so public or commented upon.
Information is so readily available to assist us now, but how much of it is really helpful?
A quick search on Google netted the following articles – ’10 simple ways to slow down and make your child’s day’, ‘encouraging good eating habits respectfully’, ‘what to feed your kids for maximum brain power’, ‘5 simple ways to connect with your kids’ (shouldn’t it be obvious?), ‘6 tips to make you look more awake’ (I must admit I read this one). You could look at this as a fantastic way of improving yourself and your relationship with your kids or you could cynically regard it as the new guilt frontier. On the internet, there is always someone who does something better than you, who knows more than you, who is parenting in a more thoughtful way. And the focus is on the negative – it’s always about what you’re doing wrong!
The internet is a great tool, no doubt, but with parenting it so often complicates what should be blatantly obvious. Our kids need our love, attention and support. It’s pretty simple. I would rather follow the example of my husband who never looks at parenting articles, but instinctively knows exactly how to do it really well. Last week he said to the kids, “Let’s paint” and when they asked what they should paint he replied “Each other!” They had a ball and he didn’t need someone in a book or on the internet to tell him what would make them happy.
A recent article by psychologist, John Rosemond, on the Essential Kids website was titled, ‘How to stop worrying and just be a mum’. Rosemond believes that the first modern parenting book, Between Parent and Child by Haim Ginott, published in 1965, marked the beginning of the age of the over-stressed parent. Ginott’s focus was on the need for parents to “correctly read, interpret and respond to their children’s feelings properly” according to Rosemond.
Rosemond points out that there are currently more than 103,000 parenting books listed on Amazon. These parenting books “cause mothers to agonise over minutiae, second-guess themselves and believe they must be constantly on their parenting toes lest they miss or mishandle something”, Rosemond says.
The truth is that we’re all a work in progress, parents and children alike, all trying our best. When it comes to our kids, the majority of us want them to be happy, to be kind and to embrace the opportunities that come their way. In this age of information overload, internet trolls and the picture-perfect illusions staring out at you from social media, I believe we have to get back to basics and start focusing on all the things we’re getting right (most of the time!). It might be a good idea to put down the books and the tablet and trust in our own common sense.
American author Jennifer Senior, when discussing her book All Joy and No Fun: The Paradox of Modern Parenthood with Jennifer Marquez in Parade’s Community Table, said, “I think the best thing you can do is to let go of any idea of what it means to be a 'good' parent, and just do your best day today. We’re living without a script and everybody is improvising wildly. We are not supposed to know the answers. There are no answers!”.
Being a parent will always be stressful because from the minute you know they’re on the way, your children will invade your heart and fill you with an incomparable love. Stress is surely the day-to-day act of hoping against hope that your precious, irreplaceable children are ok.
And it’s important to remember that even though it takes a military operation to get them ready for school every morning (oh how we long for school holidays) and they can be more exasperating than anyone you have ever met before, they are also the funniest, sweetest and most irresistible loves of your life! Who else will tell you that your eyebrows are like a forest of monkeys, or hug you like a koala for whole minutes at a time or open their hearts to you and lay themselves bare because they trust you so implicitly?
Yes, we are busy and modern parenting can be hard, but we are also privileged. Let’s tune out the noise and trust our instincts. Take it day by day and enjoy it while we can. These moments will be all too fleeting, good and bad.
So on Mother’s Day 2015, I want to say to mothers – you are doing a wonderful job! Your children are lucky to have you. For those who have lost their mum, and mums who have lost their children, we remember you especially on Mother’s Day.