Isn’t the internet great? It’s amazing, a wonder, we live in a revolution of communication that defines this time in history. We can share information and ideas with each other from anywhere across the world in an instant. As a race, we now have so much information at our fingertips. With all this combined wisdom and experience, just think how quickly we can progress.
Before I became a parent, I didn’t read much about parenting on the internet. Since becoming a parent, I’ve turned to the internet for information, desperate for quick answers and insights, like never before. We waited a long time to become parents, but that doesn’t mean that we spent that time doing our research. No, better for our mental health to focus on things that we already had in our lives. And after all, how hard could it be?
It’s really hard. I know, what a major break through statement. It’s really a wonder that no parent has ever mentioned it before come to think of it, but parenting is really hard! In those early weeks and months, we found ourselves, like all parents, in charge of these little humans that we loved more than anything we could imagine and at the same time that were more vulnerable than anything we’ve ever had responsibility for in our lives. On top of that, it turned out they were complicated and we had no idea what we were supposed to be doing. Immensely important, fragile, complex and clueless – it can be a bit of a stressful combination.
So I have turned, often, to the internet for advice. And golly, I found it. I found all of it. All of the advice, mostly earnest and well meaning, mostly eager to share valuable learnings, and each piece completely contradictory to the next.
We have access to wisdom and knowledge from around the world, but the trouble is that that can add up and create this pressure to do it all. To be everything. To be more than perfect, embodying every bit of good thing that is meant to be best for your child. It’s impossible. Yet it exists, this phantom monster of a perfect mum – because of course, all of this is on mum – that nobody is but everybody strives for. And it’s crippling.
As parents we care so much and want so badly to do the best for our children. So when somebody says that something is definitely the best and the right thing to do, it’s not so easy to dismiss it out of hand. Women, together in their all female cohorts because of their mutual maternity leaves, may meet and talk. When they do, and when one shares some brilliant thing that she has done, that she has achieved with her little one, it’s hard not to feel a pang of worry, when you haven’t been doing this thing yourself. You hadn’t seen that piece of advice. Dear lord, you’ve been neglecting your child for months! Damn it, how could you have allowed yourself that one relaxed cup of tea three weeks ago – that was probably when you should have been on it.
Or maybe you’re a bit more cynical. A bit more arrogant, critical, and well… a little bit more like me. You still don’t want to say to your friend that the thing that she’s been investing her time into is worthless. That she’s been fooling herself. She is caring for a tiny infant with all of the intensity that that involves – let her have her moment of pride. So you congratulate her, while simultaneously panicking over your own potential neglect, and sourcing a good news story to share of your own. You find one, let’s keep the chat positive, and you share your snippet. (So then it’s her turn to panic).
I’ve often thought how lucky I’ve been not to have been a teenager during this hyper-perfectionist time. In the 90s and 00s the pressure that we experienced, to look and behave in certain ways, came from tv and magazines. As someone who never bought those magazines, (already too cynical), that pressure was plenty enough. Teenagers now seem to have so much more skill and self awareness, they manage their appearance and behaviour like we sloppy millennials never did.
There is a phenomenon of people getting plastic surgery to look more like the instagram filtered versions of themselves. This feels worlds away from my reality. The phenomenon of women cutting themselves up to be the instagram filtered version of the mum they think they have to be feels a lot closer to home.
It is common to come across rhetoric about how every baby is different. This is often offered as an antidote to the onslaught of advice that pervades. Things that worked for one baby don’t necessarily work for another. Having two very different babies at once has given me my own insights into this and while I am most certainly not here to give parenting advice, with absolutely no desire nor qualifications to do so, I like this train of thinking.
I just wonder, at what point does being an individual with your own nuances and differences stop mattering? Every baby is different, and different approaches will work for different babies. Is there a point at which that baby is supposed to stop having their nuances respected? Is there a point when they’re supposed to row in with the rest and adapt to a world where there is a singular way of being? Maybe it’s when they become a mum.
You don’t hear a lot about how every parent is different. Exceptions, like Philippa Perry’s “The Book You Wish Your Parents Had Read: (And Your Children Will Be Glad That You Did)” stand out in glorious relief. She writes about, within parenting, recognising your own limitations. Aha! As a parent, you have limitations, and they need to be respected too. As parents we have to work, to do our best, with what we’ve got. A big part of what we’ve got is being the flawed and human people that we ourselves are. We should surely make the most of ourselves.
Trying to live up to the Monster Ideal Mum, that impossible phantom, can only be crippling. You might be capable of coming close, of taking on a hell of a lot, and trying to do it all. But how good can that be for a child if you’re making yourself uncomfortable? Surely the best thing for a child is seeing their wonderful, individual parent, being the best version of themselves that they can be. Or you might feel that the Monster Ideal Mum, that others seem to be capable of being, is so beyond you that you give up, decide that you can never even try to be a good parent at all. Sorry kid, what a shame.
There is no one type of woman. There is no one type of mum. There are no things that mum has to do instead of dad. It’s time for us to celebrate every type of parent for all their flawed, human individuality. If anyone wants to join me I’m off to start a joyful parade in which we’ll burn an effigy of Monster Ideal Mum down in flames for all to see. She’s impossible and the idea of her should no longer have a hold on parents in this world. See you there. #takeithome