When I was in my twenties, a married, carefree teacher with no responsibilities except my mortgage and lesson plans, I found it easy to dream about how I would be the perfect mum. How my children’s faces and clothes would be always clean. How my children would not play tag, lie on the floor and strop, or I want, I want, I want the entire way around the supermarket. I used to give disapproving looks to those who struggled with their children or let their babies cry, the parents who dragged their child from a play area sobbing, “five more minutes”, the ones who fed their children on a diet of chicken nuggets and jam sandwiches. I judged them all.
I happily labelled parents as useless and children as feral, looked at parents evening registers when children’s names were different to their mums in a disapproving manner. My children would one day come and they would be quiet, calm and book worthy, they would know how to have fun and help with everything. They would be woolen coat and posh boot children, they would write and drawer and be gentle. And I would be the calm mum, the one who gives their child a look and that’s all it takes. I wouldn’t be walking down a street shouting, I wouldn’t swear in front of my children or loose my temper, I would be amazing!
Then it happened, my first baby! She was perfect. Dressed head to toe in Next and M&S, never a dribble left untouched, never a nappy left unchanged, everything sterilised, everything perfect. She was a Gina Ford miracle, fed at exactly the right time, slept through from six weeks, made all the right noises and movements in the right places. She was weened on vegetable icecubes and nothing unhealthy used to touch her lips. In fact she was so perfect, we went for a second straight away and we caught.
And suddenly, I had two babies, a one year old and a newborn and I also had postnatal depression. And although he wasn’t textbook, he was pretty good. But my struggle had started and my life had changed. Suddenly the washing pile was enormous, we had to move house and I wasn’t in control of how I felt. He grew and he was not happy sat playing quietly, as he reminded me when he was a little older “I’m a boy!” and boy was he different. He made sure the world knew he was here, he climbed before he could walk and he ate like a horse. He was stubborn and moody and certainly not the laid back child I had had first.
Then just under two years later (with the coil fitted) I fell pregnant with a third. There were no more next clothes because money was tight, my partner didn’t get a job, so I went to work when my new baby was 4 weeks old. My control, my perfect images of parenthood failed. I couldn’t keep control of anything, not the washing, cleaning, cooking, not anything. We lived off scraps out of bakery bins and I would regularly come home to filthy children, no food cooked and dirty nappies. My children got harder and harder to handle and I struggled. And I still struggle at times.
Over time I have become the parent who occasionally (sometimes often) shouts in the street at her children, I am the mum who swears (a little) in front of her children, mine are the children playing tag in the supermarket and I am the mum dropping them to school in pyjamas when I feel like. I am the very parent I chose to judge. And shock horror, my children have a different surname to me!
But I have realised so much. Parents do shout because as much as you love them, it’s not easy. Children will run around supermarkets because they are not all perfect and shopping is boring. My children are not always clean because they enjoy being dirty, they love dirty fingernails, digging mud, eating sauce out of the bowl with their hands and scratching, picking and playing with bits they really shouldn’t. They quite often strop and besides the eldest, they’re not that fussed on reading. They have to be nagged and unlike in my perfect picture imagination, they have to be bribed, cajoulled and guilt tripped to help with stuff. They have messy bedrooms and I have a messy house, I have piles of washing and they wear piles of clothes. But they are happy!
They are happy and well balanced, they run and play and laugh, we often tell each other how much we love each other and every day is fulled with hugs and smiles. And just occasionally, someone who finds it easy to judge, will label them as feral, and when they do I know – they’re not, they are just kids.