An open letter to anyone who has ever thought they could do better,
When O was born, I had very definite ideas about what kind of mother I wanted to be. I went to all the classes and read all the books and I was determined that I was going to be brilliant. I would sail through the experience like a magnificent ship on a calm and beatific sea.
Of course, life – and especially motherhood – doesn’t often go to plan, and I don’t expect you to always agree with the way I parent my children.
You would probably feed them different things. Maybe organic recipes, cooked from scratch. But you’re probably a better cook than I am. You can try and make me feel bad about this if you like, but I might as well tell you now that I’ve felt bad enough over the last few years that I’ve finally reached the point of “Don’t Give A Shit”. My children are healthy and happy. Some days they eat well and other days it’s all I can do to persuade them to eat half a decent meal and a biscuit.
That whole “boys should look like boys” rhetoric – what does it even mean? I get this all the time because F’s hair is quite long and he wears leggings a lot. The suggestion has even been made that I “dress him like a girl” because I wish I had a daughter. I can’t even describe to you how angry this makes me. Firstly, no, I do not dress him like a girl – whatever the hell is even meant by that. Secondly, no, I don’t wish he was a girl, nor would I trade him for one if I could. Why is his hair long? Because he’s not keen on having much done with it, and on the few occasions when I have allowed it to be cut, he’s just ended up with a mullet. And why does he wear leggings? Why does anybody wear them? They’re comfortable and unrestrictive. It’s as simple as that. Don’t you have anything better to worry about?
So tired am I of the suggestion that I don’t do enough with my children that I have now started taking them out most days. Of course, this means I don’t get anything done in my house – which I’m sure you’d also love to berate me for -, but fuck it; the kids are getting out and having fun. That being said, because of the judgement cast on all mothers who “don’t do enough” with their children – by the way, who gets to decide what is enough? – I’ve started to embark on outings which can only be described as suicide missions. Solo beach trips. Taking them out for lunch on my own. Attempting to turn a trip to B&Q into an educational experience with the promise of a park or feeding the ducks afterwards. The endings of these outings were, respectively, THAT lost bag disaster incident. Food on the floor, in my hair, all over the children but not, at any point, in anyone’s mouth. Also; TUTTING. And, lastly, F attempting to get me arrested by hastily making for the exit whilst clutching a fistful of pilfered goods. On Sunday when I explained to my mother that I would be taking the boys up into the woods for a ramble while N was at work, I finally accepted the offer of an extra pair of hands. But I didn’t half feel ashamed for not tackling it by myself, which is all your fault for being so bloody judgy in the first place.
No, actually, I don’t have enough “mummy friends”. You’re absolutely right. But how does one procure “mummy friends” if one’s existing friends do not have children? You have to go out and try and make them, don’t you? And that is, to be blunt, absolutely fucking terrifying. The whole thing can be so Mean Girls sometimes that I can’t even bear to try. I’m sort of friendly with a mum who is also friends with a lot of other mums who were absolutely petrifying when I was at school with them. And they might be really nice now – who knows? – but I don’t want to find out, to be honest. I have recently made friends with the very lovely mum of one of O’s playgroup buddies and we took our boys out to the park together yesterday, but it’s taken me FOUR YEARS to pluck up the courage to suggest “we should meet up with the boys and go do something” to someone I haven’t previously known. Who knows how long it could take for me to find that courage again? So I probably won’t be making another mummy friend for a while, but I’m actually okay with that and I don’t get why anybody else even cares who my friends are anyway.
If I can be completely serious for a moment, I can’t post this without mentioning that it wasn’t anybody else who saved us when F started to get sick. Nobody came charging in with advice or empathy or love. It was me who fought that battle. Every breakthrough happened and continues to happen because I have pushed so damned hard to get him the help he needed and to bring our family through to the other side of what his illness did to all of us. I know that I could have done better in the beginning, but I was out of my depth, lost, had no idea what was happening and didn’t seem to be able to make anyone understand that we needed HELP. So if I could have done better then maybe you could too.
So if you ever happen to watch me with my kids and think to yourself “she’s making such a shit job of raising those boys”, first of all, realise that somebody else is probably thinking the exact same thing about you and that doesn’t feel very nice, does it? Second of all, understand that there are some days when I really do agree with you.
Know with absolute certainty that no one could love them more or better or harder than I do.
And that they like me best of all anyway.