As I was on my hands and knees, mopping up a cup of spilled coffee off the floor in my skanky dressing gown and my greasy hair yesterday morning I had a realisation that I am a very different parent to the parent I thought I would be. Before having kids, that is. I never saw myself as one of those flapping mums, stressed out and shouty. I never thought I would sit, unshowered, in my dressing gown at 9am on a Monday morning shouting commands at my kids whilst scrolling on my phone in desperate need of some escapism, trying to ‘enjoy’ a stale cup of brown liquid. For one I never used to like the stuff, now I zombie-shuffle towards the kettle first thing in the morning, like metal to a magnet.
I didn’t think I would be so fed up all the time, or that I wouldn’t have the patience or even the desire to sit on the floor playing with my kids (insert mum guilt here). I really pictured myself as someone who would be present with my children all the time, coming up with all kinds of pedagogical activities to stimulate their curious minds. The thing is, I didn’t think I would be spending so much time with them, and the fact that I do has removed the motivation to come up with fun things to do everyday. I didn’t think I would have to quit my job at the age of 26 – I naively thought I ‘could have it all’ as they like to say about women who want to carry on with their lives and continue supporting the welfare system by paying taxes after they have decided to procreate. I mean dads don’t have to change anything, so why should I?
In the past I have found myself sniggering at ‘those mums’ who drop their children off to school in their pyjamas but now I kinda get it. We all have expectations of the kind of parent we want be, and those expectations are based on an idyllic idea of parenthood – maybe because people don’t really share exactly how hard it is or how much you have to sacrifice – and when you find yourself in the thick of it, things are oh, so different.
People women give up a lot to become parents and it’s not totally surprising that the parenting style we thought we would adopt while we were living our childless lives change when we actually become parents and the life situation is totally different.
While I was working I had a certain picture of motherhood, and it is not the motherhood I am experiencing now, as a full-time stay-at-home mother. Realising that I am
a bit very shouty, my patience is limited to say the least and I don’t actually enjoy playing with the kids that much is a hard pill to swallow, because I find myself in a situation where I am the parent I would secretly judge in my quiet mind. There’s part of me that wonders if I would be a better, more present parent if I didn’t spend every minute of the day with them. The answer to this is probably YES. I feel sorry for my youngest who have never met the mother her older sister had, the one who worked and couldn’t wait for Thursday to come so she could be with her kids. Now some morning I wake up and think ‘ok, another day of wiping bums and splitting up arguments’ and the tone for the day has already been set (it includes a lot of shouting and some resentment of the other parent in the house who gets to leave the house and speak to other adults, which then results in passive aggressive texts exclaiming what a fucking state the house is in etc. etc. followed by apologies for being such a moody cow and finally wallowing in major mum guilt).
Excepting the fact that I don’t always have the energy to cook fancy meals for the kids or actively encourage getting the paints and play doh out at all times is a work in progress for me, and I am learning to remind myself that these things alone do not constitute a perfect parent, there are of course other aspects as well as the messy and fun. I know that I am a good parent to my girls despite the lack of creativity, they know they are loved and valued and at the end of the day this is what matters. And I got to see my youngest take her first steps in the living room at home, with her sister clapping and encouraging her and that’s a little bit magic.