My parenting standards are high – it’s the execution of those standards that can sometimes let me down. And I am admitting this to give hope, or at least immediate solace, to new or inexperienced parents who set themselves the impossible task of getting it right all the time. Hell, getting it right at any point is where my parenting bar eventually ended up.
It began with breast feeding. For a child no bigger than a half bag of boiled sweets, my first baby girl fed like a blue whale. Blue whales, the largest animals on earth (I think), can apparently eat up to 8 tons of food per day. In a Man vs Food contest, my money would have gone on the little whale constantly attached to my human teet. Bear that in mind for this next bit.
My mother visits and is a little concerned at baby girl’s constant grizzling. Her following words changed my parenting life.
“That child’s hungry.”
“That’s not possible,” I whimper. “She feeds all the time.”
“I know a hungry child when I see one.”
Then my head imploded and my breasts shrank into my ribs never to be seen again as I spat at my husband, Bronnie:
“Go and get me the largest can of baby formula you can find.”
“What kind, hun?”
“What kind? I DON’T CARE WHAT KIND. GET THE “ANY KIND” KIND.”
Bronnie ran and I avoided everyone’s eyes as I dumped baby girl into her crib and went to the bathroom to make an appointment with a good old cry.
The point being, as baby girl is now nearing 21 years of age, I’m guessing formula milk didn’t actually kill her.
Although, accidentally squeezing her fingers in a heavily sprung hotel door when she was a toddler nearly did…
And when she fell from our bed onto a hardwood floor – which wasn’t noticed until morning – is a contender…
And when I opted for the nuclear strength nit treatment – the kind they now sell on the hidden internet in brown unmarked bags…
And maybe when I squeezed her arm in a supermarket when she wouldn’t stop screaming. Possibly because I was squeezing her arm in a supermarket to get her to stop screaming.
No, I’m not proud of that last one, but it did happen and happened, again, because of the nature of the measuring stick I was using, which brings to mind a favourite quote:
“Everybody is a genius. But if you judge a fish by its ability to climb a tree, it will live its whole life believing that it is stupid.”
I was not a perfect parent and never would be. On balance, however, when I stopped measuring myself against the impossible standards I had swallowed whole during my pregnancy, real life with real children became much more manageable and actually, you know, do-able and enjoyable.
And I get we didn’t have the pressure then of the internet and social media holding a constant mirror up to the numerous ways in which to get perfect parenting wrong. We had Dr. Freud and the Joy of Parenting – or was that the Joy of Sex? No matter, whatever form perfect parenting is fed to you these days close the book or shut down the computer page.
If we must hold ourselves to a standard, let it be that our children are happy. Having to struggle with this particular standard on my own after Bronnie’s death hasn’t always been easy. That said, the first time I saw my four children laugh – really laugh – the gut holding, can’t breathe kind of laughing, I did put a mental tick in the “It will all be alright” parenting box.
So, new parents, I can’t guarantee that it will always be “alright”, but I can somewhat promise you will feel satisfaction at the end of every day you strive to do your tip-top best. Any standard above that should be a deal breaker for happiness and parental sanity.