Mr Baffled and I had our little Button-Pusher a bit later in life. Many of our friends however didn’t wait, so for around 15 years before becoming parents, we were surrounded by children of various ages. We spent a huge amount of time with our friends and their kids and they (the friends) all said the same thing: you’re a natural! You’re fantastic with kids! You guys should definitely be parents! You’ll be a great mum!
So you can imagine my surprise to discover, I’m not. Well, I’m not a bad mum; rarely are people bad people. But on any given day, I guarantee that there’ll be at least a moment (if not many) when I certainly don’t feel like a good mum. And there are plenty of moments when I feel like I’ve spectacularly failed as a parent. All of those friendly declarations that I would be ‘a natural’, couldn’t be further from how I feel on any given day.
‘Parenting Fails’ have become things of hashtags and memes. Funnies we like and share on social media. Stories we tell our friends and laugh about. When B-P managed to get into my handbag, retrieve a Clinique Chubby Stick, somehow remove the lid with her pudgy little baby fingers, and nibbled on the end, my mummy friends fell about laughing as I shared the fail. Take your eyes off them for one second and they’ll be eating your lipstick (or locking themselves in the car!). It was funny (and she was fine I must add: the GP confirmed it!) and though I was panicked at the time, even I could see the funny side.
But those other moments, when it’s not so funny, when you shout in a way you never expected to, when your patience bucket is empty and you snap out an unconstructive response, when your child says or does something you’d rather they didn’t and you think ‘did they learn that from me?’, those are the moments that can feel like the kind of failures that don’t raise a hashtag smile. They leave you wondering, what happened? I had plans to be an amazing mum. I was going to be a natural. Everyone said so.
In moments when I’m thinking logically, and being kinder to myself, I know that no one particular thing happened. I became a parent and sometimes (much of the the time!), it’s tough, and sometimes, we don’t parent in quite the way we’d like to. So we phrase something badly, or we shout when shouting isn’t the best way to deal with a toddler, and we walk away feeling like we made a poor decision. Sometimes someone passes a comment about your child, about their child even, and a defence mechanism kicks in, or a comparison is drawn in your head, and suddenly, once again we feel like we’re failing.
It doesn’t mean we are failing; it doesn’t mean we’re a bad parent. It just feels that way in that moment. At least, this is what I believe when I’m not being so hard on myself. Thing is (and there’s always a thing eh?), throw in a bit of sleep deprivation, throw in an empty bucket, throw in a toddler tantrum or two, and it’s not so easy to give yourself a break. It’s not so easy to not be so hard on yourself. And what you’re often left with, is a feeling of inadequacy. The big button marked ‘failure’ has been royally pressed, but the only difference here is that it’s not your regular Button-Pusher doing the pushing. It’s not your toddler putting their chubby little hand on the big fat failure button: it’s you. Or rather, it’s me. I recognise that I’m looking at my actions, my behaviour, my perceived lack of ‘natural’ parenting skills, and I’m the one pressing the button.
So what can I do to combat those feelings of failure?
Perhaps I can take greater joy in the moments that are good, when it works well, when neither B-P nor I are having a meltdown. It’s too easy to dismiss or even ignore those times when life is good, and only focus on the bad stuff. Maybe stopping to think, ‘this turned out OK’ would be a good start for filling that empty bucket with some positive thoughts. And maybe, when it’s not going so well, when that dark cloud hovers overhead, and that feeling of failure starts to rise, maybe I’ll be able to catch myself before the cloud turns to rain. Maybe I’ll be able to tell myself that even though this moment isn’t going so well, perhaps I’ll do it a bit differently next time. And maybe, I’ll be able to accept that in fact, I’m a natural at some things, just not everything, and just not all of the time. No one is; no one’s getting it right all of the time. And if we’re just a little bit kinder to ourselves, maybe we’d realise that we’re all doing ok, and we’re raising fabulous little Button-Pushers, who will push our buttons for years to come!