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28th Sep 2023

Mam to mam: Why are we so hard on ourselves as parents?

“We made these tiny humans our priority without missing a beat”

How many times have you comforted a fellow parent at their wits’ end? Probably as often as you’ve told someone that their gorgeous child was a credit to them. Weekly, if not daily, I heap praise on to my friends and feel pride and occasionally awe at how well they’re managing the white knuckle ride we call parenting.

We’re more than happy to big each other up, it seems, so why then do most of us struggle to afford ourselves the luxury of recognition?

I didn’t think parenting was going to be easy. I knew I’d be tired often, sometimes stressed, occasionally overwhelmed and constantly worried – I just wasn’t prepared for the extremity and relentlessness of each. There is no break. Even when they’re elsewhere, you never stop thinking about what they need, worrying about them, planning what you’ll do for them today, tomorrow, next year and so on.

It’s hard, but it’s natural. We do it without thinking and without condition. We’ve made these tiny humans our absolute priority without missing a beat and without receiving or needing any thanks. And yet, all we seem to do is pick holes in our own methods.

One of the things I give myself a hard time about is the percieved notion that I’m not a ‘fun mam’. The truth is, I hate imaginative play. I also have no interest in sport of any kind and I would rather staple my tongue to a moving train than spend another second in a bloody playground. But I do it, of course, all the while feeling guilty because I don’t enjoy it.

Even typing those words, I realise how stupid it is to feel this way. I didn’t enjoy pushing people on swings for half an hour at a time with them shouting “higher” at me before I had a child – why would I suddenly think it’s great craic now? And doesn’t the fact that I do it anyway make me a fun mam? Someone tell my brain this.

Every toy in our house, I chose carefully for him because I knew he’d have fun with it. I bring him to shows, to swimming, to the forest – even when I don’t feel like it. And sometimes when I really can’t bring myself to do the boring kids’ stuff, we watch a (boring kids’) movie and eat sweets instead – the type of fun we can both get down with.

I also give myself a hard time about how impatient I can be. Nobody warns you about the level of negotiation involved in being a parent and just how testing that can be. For example, there is no greater patience test than trying to get a toddler out of the house in the morning. Every tiny element involves another debate, which can swiftly turn into a meltdown if not handled correctly. We negotiate about what t-shirt to wear, what socks are the right length, whether or not brushing our hair and teeth is necessary, about eating breakfast and putting on shoes. When we eventually leave, the discussion about why we can’t bring seven different toys with us including a toy hurl and a piece of broken bicycle ensues. Don’t even get me started on getting in the damn car.

This daily dance is often dotted with spills, throwing, the odd kick and occasional being told you’re not someone’s friend anymore. All this and it’s not even 8am.

My rational mind thinks it’s a miracle I manage to keep as calm as I (mostly) do – but if I lose my cool just once, you can be sure that’s the thing I’ll think about all day after I’ve dropped him at play school. When perfection is the bar, it’s no wonder we think we’re failing.

“How am I meant to succeed if I’m not even on my own team?”

I could go on, and I’m sure you could too, about all the parts of my parenting I view through an unnecessarily harsh lens. It’s a realisation that’s made me determined to switch up my thinking. How am I meant to succeed if I’m not even on my own team? I’m going to try – and I hope you’ll join me – to focus a little more on the positives.

I want to give myself a break and recognise all the ways I’m winning. This gorgeous, friendly, funny little boy – I made him. He has my eyes, my dimple and my sense of humour. And he knows I will never, ever let him down.

When my back hurts, it’s from carrying him or sleeping weirdly in the small portion of the bed he isn’t starfished in. When I’m overwhelmed it’s because I work through all of his wants and needs before I ever get to mine. When he has a nightmare, it’s my name he calls and I’m there in seconds making everything ok. Every single time.

Before and after anything else, I am his mam. And I’m a good one.

Repeat that until you believe it.