A wise friend of mine recently commented that all the best parents don’t have children. And it’s true. Remember how good a parent you were, before you knew what you’d actually be up against? Remember those long, in-depth conversations you had with your partner or your friends about how you’d react in certain parenting situations? You were always right, right? You were calm and patient and kind and nurturing. You never lost your temper. You never hit a wall of exhaustion. Well, me too. And then I had two children. And I found out all the things I didn’t know, and realised what an idiot I’d been.
I didn’t know I’d always be tired
I thought I knew tired. I’d had long days at work, one piled on top of another. Nights out that had turned into all-nighters, illnesses that had knocked me for six. But here’s the thing. I’d always had time to recover, to catch up. You don’t get that once you’re a parent. I’m almost five years in and I don’t remember a time when I wasn’t tired. It’s in my bones. And it has an effect on my parenting. I wish it didn’t, but it does. I don’t have endless patience. I don’t always keep my snappiness in check.
I didn’t know that my children would push me to my very limits
One thing I knew before I had children was that I didn’t agree with smacking. I felt strongly that I wanted to teach my children that violence is never okay, and I didn’t believe you could do that by being violent towards them. This belief hasn’t changed one iota in the years I’ve been parenting, but what has changed is my levels of empathy towards parents who snap. I’ve come closer than I’m comfortable with to lashing out at my children. I always love them but there are times when I don’t like them very much. They make me so incredibly angry sometimes. And that anger, on top of the tiredness (did I mention I was tired?) is a potent combination.
I didn’t know that I’d be making parenting decisions in high-pressure situations
Debating how you would react to hypothetical scenarios while sitting around with your friends drinking wine is one thing. But when these scenarios actually arise, you’ve probably got one child hanging off your leg and another repeating your name over and over as if it’s some sort of competition. And it’s tough to decide whether or not you’re okay with one more episode of Peppa Pig or one more biscuit under those circumstances. Perhaps you know you don’t like guns and swords, for example, and you think you have a clear policy about that. But what about a gun that’s actually just a stick pointed at a sibling, when it’s the only thing that’s kept them quiet for ten minutes all day long, and you’re so tired you could weep. What’s your policy on that?
I didn’t know that I’d constantly be picking my battles
There’s always a bigger picture, and I’m learning that. So while my children might have too much screen time or not enough vegetables sometimes, I’ve got an eye on those things overall. And do I sometimes let my kids out of the house without so much as a glance at a hairbrush and without a thorough teeth brushing? I do. Because when my daughter is refusing to let me brush her teeth and refusing to let me put her clothes on, something has to give. And it’s getting cold outside in the mornings.
In conclusion: I was a better mum before I had children, but only because I wasn’t a mum at all. This is real life, and it’s far from perfect. We’re all muddling through, trying to juggle a thousand things and doing the best we can. And I’m a firm believer in the old adage that if you’re worrying about whether or not you’re a good mum, you are one.
You can read more from Laura Pearson on her website.