After my recent half term headache and following on from conversations with my harassed mummy friends who all seem to be trying to work out the same thing, I’ve been wondering what constitutes bad parenting? Good question huh! But as with most good questions, there doesn’t seem to be a clear cut answer so perhaps it’s easier to define good parenting and work back from there…
Teaching your children to walk, talk and socialise = good parenting. (Inadvertently teaching your children to smack, swear and argue = bad parenting?)
Giving your children a healthy diet, plenty of exercise and educational stimuli = good parenting. (Giving your children copious amounts of pizza, hours in front of the TV and unrestricted access to the iPad = bad parenting?)
Teaching your children right from wrong and how to empathise = good parenting. (Teaching your children tit for tat and how to criticise = bad parenting?)
*Sigh!* I’m not scoring well thus far…
My efforts are wholehearted, if not always successful, and my methods are considered, if not always orthodox. But being a “good” mum to four different people with very different personalities, priorities and needs is a tricky task. And my kids are a canny lot! They know both how to push my buttons and stay in my good books. If one is being a complete pain in the arse, another will be as sweet and angelic as possible. If one loves my home-cooked lasagne, another will stubbornly pick out every onion and drag dinner time out into a feature length fiasco. If one wants to scoot to the park, another will refuse to leave the house unless we drive. And when a car journey is absolutely necessary (usually because we’re running late for school/Cubs/a party/the dentist etc), there will invariably be an argument about who gets to sit in the front, the boot or beside the baby (whichever seat is most sought after that day) that culminates in me having to manhandle at least one child into the car while the neighbours stare agog from across the street.
In the face of problematic parenting, Dave and I often resort to a round of Good Cop, Bad Cop. One of us issues warnings and punishments in a bid to achieve a desired outcome (bad cop) and when that fails, the other adopts a softly softly approach armed with tissues for tears (good cop). This is a surprisingly effective tactic that can really help when we’re trying to convince the kids to do their homework, eat their vegetables or simply wear wellies instead of crocs when it rains.
I also make valiant attempts at good parenting by reading books with the boys, praising good behaviour and ignoring bad, arranging educational day trips and serving broccoli at regular and optimistic intervals. But I still have sleepless nights worrying about the fact that Seb doesn’t belong to a football team, Reece’s favourite hobbies are plugging things in and locking things up, Leo only ever reads the Argos catalogue and Niamh’s first words are likely to be “aw, crap!” And as my Facebook fast continues, I have no barometer on which to measure my parenting skills. Without an opportunity to showcase the times I take the kids to interesting places or post photos of the baked goods we’ve made together, I’m missing those much needed metaphoric pats on the back from my mummy friends.
But as chaotic and makeshift as my parenting style might be, I try my best to do my best. I adore each of my children immensely and remind them of this daily. I can’t go to sleep at night without first checking that they are all breathing in their beds and I try to make time for them individually as often as possible. I buy them sweets on Fridays, I make their Halloween costumes and we take them to see Father Christmas every year. Do these things make me a good mum?
I recently saw a mother chastising her little girl in the school playground for refusing her breakfast – it was a chocolate bar that she was angrily waving in her face. The little girl looked upset but resigned as she uncomfortably tried to quickly munch her way through a Milky Bar; the whole scene left me feeling very sad. But who am I to judge, particularly when I have so many anxieties about my own parenting practises and are by no means the model parent?
Whether we’re good cops or bad cops, earth mothers or Gina Ford types, patient saints or stress ridden hotheads, it seems that guilt and self doubt are part and parcel of parenting. And every news report, talk show and new piece of research simply serves to perpetuate our insecurities and inadequacies. As Dave and I mused recently over dinner (as the baby bounced happily on my knee) maybe all we can ever do is our best. A moment later, Niamh pitched headfirst onto the dinner table, narrowly avoiding a plate of spaghetti as she fell….
A dear friend (and partner in parenting crime) directed me to this very funny and reassuring You Tube video: http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=dFZtyPgFT7I&sns=em
We are not alone!