It’s the mummy disclaimer: “I’m such a terrible mother.”
It seems to pop up at the start of sentences and anecdotes time and time again. It’s as though we’re proclaiming: “You can’t judge me; I already know I did a terrible thing.”
This disclaimer has lots of variations:
“Oh, I’m not going to be winning mother of the year for this one”
“Parenting fail number 268”
“I felt like such a bad mum, but …”
What normally follows this disclaimer is some anecdote about said parenting ‘fail’: the time the toddler fell while unsupervised; when the baby was left to cry because mummy was at the end of her tether; when the toddler chose dog/cat food over the sandwich mummy lovingly prepared; when a sock was lost, a feed forgotten, a favourite (read: annoyingly repetitive) book was conveniently misplaced.
In short, any tiny little thing or big calamity that may or may not have been in mummy’s control, and may or may not have been that big a deal.
Why oh why do we beat ourselves up so? I would like to say it’s simply a fear of being judged; that the mummy disclaimer is only uttered in social scenarios to herald our awareness of our own incompetence. But the fact is we say these things to ourselves all the time.
When I first told my own mother about the guilt I felt when I had my son (about what? Well, everything), she told me I’d better get used to it. It seems this guilt; this assumption that we’re always getting it wrong, not doing enough, not meeting some elusive golden standard; is something we simply have to accept.
Is it though? Really?
I hope not. I don’t fancy the idea of spending the next 20 years of my life focused on the things that didn’t go exactly perfect. Quite frankly, I’d rather spin it around and focus on the things I do right—like loving my son so much I could tuck him in cotton wool and hide him in my pocket (which I won’t do because I know it would be wrong).
How then do we shift the focus from our failings to our triumphs? I like to think that every moment in this crazy world of parenting is a triumph. Even in those moments where things go ‘wrong’, surely it’s the way we react, the way we love and comfort our little ones that really matters.
I know I cannot watch my son every minute of the day—it’s inevitable that he will eat some dog food, lick the dirt, fall and cut his knees, and eat cake for dinner sometimes.
I accept that at times I will feel like I’ve failed; I’ll feel like a bad mum. Then I’m going to let it go and focus on the triumphs.
I’ll remember that at the end of the day, my son has a mummy who loves him dearly—a mummy who is not perfect.
A mummy who is ok with not being perfect because she’s the perfect mum for him.
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Ed: Bryonie Wise
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