The other day, I was drawn to this post by Paula at Battling On. God knows, we have all had times like she's having right now, and we will all have more to come. I blogged recently about being made to feel like a bad mother during a trying moment in the school holidays; a more trivial bad day, but I reckon we can all think of days, weeks, even months when they've felt like Paula does and she received a lot of support from her readers.
Earlier in the week, I had a Twitter conversation where I'd told Garry from Blog Up North (who'd described himself as a dad who was "fumbling along") that anyone that cares if they are a bad parent or not is a good one. And it's true, because the really bad ones don't care about anything or anyone except themselves. They don't care about their children which leads to neglect or worse. We all know the horror stories; I don't want to dwell on them here. It's not the place to do it, because that's not what this post is about. What I'm saying is it we know what bad parenting looks like and it's pretty extreme.
Bad parents are, thankfully, few and far between, leaving the rest of us muddling along, but basically good parents. Parents mostly do a good job but beat themselves up continually about everything that is not going right in their family or as they had hoped.
It's understandable, really, because everyone has an opinion about parenting. Other parents, non-parents, grandparents, health professionals, teachers, the Government and the media. They all have an opinion on how we parent and worse, they like to share it with us. They tell us where we're going wrong (not always through words - a look can say a thousand sometimes), and what to do to correct it to become the perfect parent overnight. Like right, that'll happen! Wherever we go, whatever we do, we feel judged - and we all judge other parents. Yes, all of us. Small wonder parents feel like they are drowning when things are going badly and show no signs of improving.
However, no-one else can completely judge the situation unless they're living it with us. When we're struggling as parents, all we need to get us through the tough times might be a hug, a cup or glass of something strong and a friendly listening ear, to get it all out and share some of the load. But also we might need advice, preferably of the "Have you tried?" or "We tried this and it worked for us" variety rather than the "Do this or you've failed as a parent" variety. And sometimes, we need the perspective of someone removed from the situation to help them see through the fog of panic or despair.
An advice-giver needs to remember that their advice might not be taken. We, as parents living our nightmare, know our situation and family best. After all, you, the parent, are the expert on your children - no-one knows them better than you; they are a unique mix of genes, parenting and education, as are you. I read parenting books when I was first a mother from "parenting experts" but do they know my kids? No. I used some of the ideas they had - because they gave me fresh perspective - but I didn't slavishly follow them because they didn't suit my family. All experts give us is a toolbag of extra shiny tools at our disposal. Parents can use them, and a few wobbly home-made ones, on their children and that's when it becomes a craft. That takes practice. Judging by my crafting abilities, it takes me quite a few goes and a lot of practice to get anything like that looking right, so by that parallel, I'm going to fail a few times at this parenting lark and have to have another go or six before I get that right too, then start from scratch each time I have to make something new.
Only this afternoon, I read a Facebook status from a friend who had had a bad night with her very young baby because she had not swaddled her and then had barely slept. It turns out that several people had told her to stop swaddling "because she'll get addicted to it", so she had tried stopping and it hadn't worked. She was panicking that she had already failed and that the baby was already addicted. Thankfully, lots of other people pointed out that she was just a baby and that if that was what helped her daughter to sleep soundly, then do it. Having already "given in" and swaddled her baby, who immediately slept peacefully, she's realised that you have to do what you have to do. She'll worry about it later, crossing that bridge when she comes to it.
Because after all, they change so quickly, our children. One minute, we're despairing that they will ever be able to do something, the next they're doing it. One minute, they are reducing you to tears with their behaviour, and the next, they are amazing you with their maturity and impeccable manners. My main mantra as a parent has always been "This too shall pass" because it will, for good or for bad. The bad times will go, however desperate and relentless it seems when they're hanging over you like a black cloud. The good times will go too, so it is double-edged, reminding me to appreciate when life is good with the children, and they're both amazing and delighting me.
So this is my bluffer's guide to parenting. Don't take it to heart cos it represents me and my style. You can always share yours in the comments if you like.
- Take advice if you want to, but feel free to ignore it. If I ever give advice, I try to qualify it by saying it worked for me if it has. I'd be thrilled if someone took it and it helped them, but I'm not going to be offended if they don't. No-one should make you feel obliged to take their advice. It's not the law to follow it. It's not their life, it's yours.
- Make it up as you go along. Cos we all do. Yes, even the perfectly turned out parents that seem to breeze through everything. They're just better at being the swans - serene on top, paddling like mad underneath. What worked last week might not work this week. But one thing is for sure - it will change.
- Do what you have to do to survive the hard times, whether it be shouting, crying, drinking wine, cake or a cup of tea away from the kids - without guilt. You just have to do it. It keeps you sane. What's wrong with that?
We're all bluffers at this parenting lark. The most important job of all but requires no qualifications, admission exams to pass or minimum standards to meet. Everyone has their own parenting style, and most are bloody brilliant at it, because we love our children and have their best interests at heart. If we can, we should support rather than criticise the parents having a tough time.
Because next week, next month, next year, it could be us.
(If you would like information on various aspects of pregnancy and early parenthood, the NCT provides evidence-based information which you can find here. Hope it helps)