With baby in primary 3 I realise with relief that I’ve just one last lap of competitive aspiring mumminess to endure.

Maybe ‘endure’ is the wrong word. I endured the first time round with rebel-eldest – when I didn’t know any better and when interrogatory assertions such as ‘what reading level is Meg? My (substitute the name of the precious – usually only – child) is just doing so well and is on level 4′ agitated me, making me feel that Megan wasn’t simply my daughter, but was really a signal of my worth as a mother. As if the worth of every remarkable thing she did – whether it was farting fragrantly or blowing her nose – was to be found in that competition between me and the other mummies. I was asserting my significance as a woman through the numerous qualities of my child. The ‘better’ the child, the more fabulous I could claim to be.
What utter bollocks.
What’s triggered this tirade?
Well…I’ve worked full-time for a long-time now. The down of this is that I get tired – and weekends are spent cramming the so-called ‘me-time’ and the ‘quality-time with the kids’ into 2 days.
The upside?
That I get to avoid the professional mummies. Those raptor-like companions of the school-gates. Hawkishly eyeing other women’s children for signs of weakness, inferiority. Consoling themselves that runny nose in P6 might be clever but really, she sniffs and snorts like a pig and is just so leadenly lumpish and fat (shock horror) for a 10 year old; that Oscar-Wilde-child is wonderfully theatrical but small, weedy, can’t play football. plays with the girls and is tres tres camp; that small-smurf looks like a hobbit and can’t count despite being 11yrs; that the beautiful auburn fairy child still can’t read and there’s no sign of learning support achieving anything with that one….
Occasionally, on a day spent working at home, I get to collect the wee ones from school. And I can feel the unspoken competition in every weasly word that’s spoken. Thing is, the little ‘digs’ at other people’s children are subtle. I’ve listened over many years and 5 children and can now translate the language of competition and envy:
Re runny nose for instance: ‘Gosh she’s just got so, well, so, big, hasn’t she’ (said with a benign smile and chilly darting eyes) ‘but just think, she’ll fit right in – being that size – when she gets to High School’ (said in a pruedo-comforting tone to runny nose’s mother who clearly, until that point hadn’t realised she needed to be comforted – implication being: runny nose is currently a misfit) ‘maybe she’s got allergies?’ (as runny nose sniffed again for the snorty millionth time) ‘well just think, the ugly duckling became a beautiful swan’…(very cruel when said about a girl – and by this stage, runny nose’s mum was clearly wrong-footed and puzzled by why she felt hurt).

Re Oscar-Wilde-child: ‘well, he’s soooo creative…but then that type of boy always is, aren’t they’ (said with same benign smile – recieved by O-W-child’s mother’s rictus-grin.
Anyway…I had the supermarket misfortune of meeting one of the competitive mummies yesterday. She decided she’d start with me and my black mini-skirt and my deliberately outre jewellery: ‘Yvonne’ (said with exclamation and dragged out over several imginary syllables) ‘Gre-at to see you! And you’re looking fab! You’ve got your legs out! My! You’re brave! I just feel too old for skirts like that now!’ (she’s younger and thinner than me). ‘Just love the earrings! Are they Megan’s?’ (mmmm no – their mine – Megan covets them, but the implication was: mutton dressed as lamb…).
The mummy then started on familiar lines. She didn’t know where time went to. She’d sooooo many after-school clubs to take little mitsy and bitsy to. But it was worth it, wasn’t it (rhetorical question as a) she didn’t pause for my answer and b) she knows none of my kids (at any rate, the ones who are the same age as her’s) have involved themselves in ponies or dancing or mini-theatre or …). The conversation moved to the contents of her shopping basket (she had fish fingers and a pizza) – she brought it up, not me – and she explained how she was ‘slumming it tonight’ they ‘usually ate organic’ and she ‘hand-prepared it all’ as it was ‘just so much better for the kids’…
The conversation stressed me. I wanted to sit her down and tell her to chill, take it easy, it wasn’t a competition. But reckoned that would have been as effective as a chocolate teapot.
Oh maybe it’s me.
Maybe – as Mum once pointed out – I intimidate other mothers. I work; have 5 children; qualifications; wear make-up; generally look non-plussed or relatively laid-back… Mum says I look as if I have it all…
But I’ve always thought that parenthood was more about making sure your kids were equipped to eventually leave you; childhood was to be happy, enriching, relaxed – a time of exploration and discovery. I don’t want to organise every moment of my child’s life. Aside from the fact that actually I’m too lazy to do that – I think they all need space to be children and to learn for themselves. That means making a den in the woods at the top of the garden. It means going fishing and hunting rabbits. It means learning to walk home and not expecting a mummy-taxi to turn up. It means writing. Making models from a variety of things they find in the house – themselves – and making a mess which they have to clear up. It means that they have to think for themselves and fill their own time. And when they express interest – music or football or rugby or theatre or…. – then they get to go do whatever it is that the interest demands (but only one interest at a time).
It’s the best I can do. I hope that they are happy. I’ve watched two of them reach adulthood – with some bumps along the way – and realised that, largely, my job is done. I’m proud of them. But they’re under enough pressure, finding their way in this life, without carrying the weight of my reputation, acting as some measure of my self-worth….

8 thoughts on “Parenthood…

  1. What an apposite and brilliant post. I admire the fact that you have the courage to say the things that so many of us just think or, if you're like me, just blurt out when someone annoys me enough.

    How many parents spend their time at home saying to their children or at least thinking 'I wish that you would just get on and amuse yourself for once' and then removing all incentive so to do.

    I had a sort of reverse problem when mine were young (a long long time ago) in that I wanted to take them hiking and doing the things my Dad did with me. They wanted to do their own things which, for my elder as a very young teenager, involved writing programs in Basic for his Spectrum ZX.

  2. Thanks Graham! Words of praise are always gratefully accepted!

    I think that I am renowned for calling a spade a 'sheuch shovel'…(I've spared you the stronger non-scottish word – so maybe I have some sensitivity…)…

    I recognise your 'reverse problem'…I spent too too long trying (unsubtly I am afraid) to get my kids (any one of them would have done) to take up playing flute. Not one of them has. So far… 😉

    PS So I take it you didn't learn 'Basic' then??

  3. As it so happens I did learn Basic (and at Uni did some Cobol and Fortran but as I couldn't even master binary arithmetic I'll give that a miss). Andrew went on to do a Masters in Computer Science and was doing his PhD in it when he died. I couldn't even understand the titles of some of his books!

  4. So he wasn't deflected by your hiking attempts…:D

    Children…sometimes I think they achieve great things despite our best efforts!

    Impressed that you learned Basic – always good to at least attempt to understand the language our kids 'speak' – though always good not to master too much of it!

  5. Fascinating post. Beware toxic women who speak in code like that woman in the supermarket.
    And I don't think you should apologise for being who you are. So you have five children you work, you wear make up and a short black skirt – frankly I think that's great and all power to you I say.

  6. Thank you Chloe. It takes a long time to learn how to handle the toxic ones, doesn't it. And if I could visit the 20+yr old me I would give that very same piece of advice you just gave – never apologise for who you are! It just takes time to learn…

  7. Thanks for pointing me towards this post, which reflects my sentiments exactly! It is sad when a mother's role as child-raiser consumes them to the point where their children's progress is their only measure of success and self-worth. The trouble is that children are not projects. They are not “work”. They are small individuals who we are guiding through life. Their achievements and disappointments and strengths and weaknesses are their very own, not ours. You are so right, too, that using children as a measure of your own self-worth puts unfair pressure on them.

    I feel very sorry for that mum in the supermarket. She was clearly jealous as hell of you and your great outfit and your confidence. What a shame she felt she had to try to bring you down. A smarter woman would have gone out and bought herself a couple of short skirts and a pair of fabulous earrings!

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