(Photo: Getty Images)
(Photo: Getty Images)

OPINIONSocietyNovember 15, 2022

Why do I find it so hard to say I’m a good parent?

(Photo: Getty Images)
(Photo: Getty Images)

My husband looks at our happy kids and figures we must be doing something right. All I see is a mountain of things I’m getting wrong.

This story was first published on the author’s newsletter, Emily Writes Weekly.

As I sat down to watch The White Lotus with my husband, he tipped his wine glass toward me and said “cheers”. I said “chin chin” and wondered what we were toasting.

“I’m very proud of the boys – they’ve settled back into school so well,” he said. Ahhh there it is. Yes. Good stuff.

Then my husband said: “We’re good parents”. He says this a lot and it always astounds me. He genuinely thinks we’re good parents. When I suggest he’s a good parent but I’m not, he rolls his eyes at me and says: “I don’t know how you can think that. You’re a great mum and we’re a team. And look at the kids – they’re happy”.

It’s true that when we used to take long, sad walks on the beach with our old dog we used to talk incessantly about what we wanted for our One Day Baby. We never dreamed with all of our years trying to get pregnant that we’d ever have babies plural.

“I just want them to be happy” was a huge thing for us. We also said healthy but realised quickly in the first minutes of parenthood, holding a beautiful but very sick baby, that healthy wasn’t the centre of it all (at all).

In those early days of parenting we didn’t know what to do, but we had people we trusted to help us. We were cocooned and in love. We were in a honeymoon.

Then, so quickly, the outside world came in and suddenly – Breastfeed but not for too long no breastfeeding never hurts if it hurts you’re doing it wrong no formula why won’t you give them formula are you trying to starve them he isn’t gaining weight how often are you feeding don’t feed on demand feed to a schedule don’t feed to a schedule feed on demand don’t ever co-sleep keep your baby near don’t use a bassinet don’t use a cot you’ve got to put them in their own room don’t put them in their own room don’t use a dummy don’t use too many blankets don’t use a rattle don’t use a mobile make sure you read to them but not those books these books don’t bath them too often make sure you have baths with them for secure attachment make sure you baby wear don’t baby wear it means they won’t be independent buggies are bad for reflux…

It just went on and on. And now – ten years later – I can see that none of the things I thought mattered so much actually mattered at all. But gosh, when you’re in it… when you’re in it, it’s all that you can see.

I have happy kids. They get angry and sad and worked up sometimes just like we do. And they struggle with their emotions just like we do. But they’re mostly just happy kids. They delight and annoy me just like I delight and annoy them.

I’ve been thinking about all of this a lot. About how the endless noise about how to have a happy baby turned into endless noise about how to have a happy toddler and that turned into endless noise about how to have a happy pre-schooler.

My husband just tuned it out. Right from the get go.

While I went online and looked for advice and listened to podcasts and read endless articles about how to be A Good Parent. He just did what he thought was right and if he wasn’t sure if it was, he asked me or he rang his mother. If she didn’t know, he asked kindy teachers or school teachers.

If it worked, he kept doing it. If it didn’t, he stopped doing it.

All of the messages I was getting were:

  • You must do this.
  • You have to do that.
  • You should do this.
  • Don’t do that!
  • Never do this!

No wonder I’m the one who can’t say I’m a good parent despite the supporting evidence in the shape of two happy kids.

My brain is just a negative roll of all of the things I’m doing wrong. I have an endless list of musts and never-dos that I can never, ever stay on top of. And he has his gut and a handful of trusted people who care about us.

No wonder he’s confident and I’m exhausted!

I have spent so many years worrying so much about getting it wrong that I rarely see when I get it right. I feel so overwhelmed by love for my kids that I worry I’ll fuck them up if I’m not perfect. I feel like I should never raise my voice, should spend more time with them, should be more engaged in their play, should sit down with them more for meals, should work less, should read to them more, should, should, should.

I need to be better for them. I always think that. I need to be the best for them.

But I’m not the best. I’m just their mum. And I was always good enough for them. I was always enough for them. I was always going to do my best. And my best is enough. I feel like this is a mantra that I’ve been repeating since my baby’s first cry – how long does it take to sink in?

I said to my husband once that I thought I’d be a parent who enjoyed playing with my kids. “You know, playing Lego and shit like that? I just don’t want to do that.”

“Well, you don’t need to, because I play Lego with them. You take them swimming. It all works out.”

“It all works out” is his mantra in life.

And in knowing this and knowing he’s doing enough – he can see the joy and delight in it all.

That feels like the key to it all. To just know it will work out. That all the noise is just that. That you know your child better than some expert on a podcast who thinks all kids are the same.

To scale the mountain of guilt and opt instead to just abseil down the side not giving one single fuck about all the shoulds and musts and never dos.

Can we do it? I’m not so sure. I’m trying though. I’m tired but I’m definitely trying.

Keep going!