Becoming a Mum has been one of the greatest moments in my life. It is fulfilling, life affirming stuff crammed full of unconditional love. It is also tiring, monotonous and challenging and that is just the school playground I’m talking about! When you become a parent it forces you to re-evaluate yourself, you are now responsible for an ickle human being whose development is completely in your nervous naive hands. You are up for the challenge, you want to make them happy and fulfilled in life, but this challenge comes with its consequences. And if you haven’t been competitive before, you will feel forced to be worried when fellow parents are achieving milestones with their children before yours get there.
Me and hubby joined NCT Antenatal classes when we were expecting our firstborn. Mainly because the only parenting skills we had were with raising our Collie Barney and I had a feeling children needed more than fresh water and daily exercise. We all gathered in our Antenatal teacher’s living room with other expectant parents. Our teacher was what the word stereotype was created around in her tie-dye clothing, crazy hair and mother earth tactics. She set about explaining that childbirth was a beautiful experience that we were all going to enjoy. She led us through a series of ‘getting to know each other’ exercises as me and the fellow Mum’s bumped our bumps and were forced to talk about bodily fluids in front of our puce looking partners. She also had an eerily calm nature, when one of the Dads complained of a severe allergy to dogs she fiercely defended the fact that her dogs ‘were not allowed indoors’, even though throughout our classes her two dogs glared at us through the patio doors as if to say ‘that’s my sofa you’re sitting on!’, while allergy husband’s eyes started to swell up as he tried to control his sneezing. We did gain a lot of tips from the classes, although the pain bit was heavily dumbed downed in her ’embrace the pain’ mantra which she demonstrated by pressing the base of our spines with her thumbs!!
It was a useful experience and we gained two very dear friends amongst the parents and we have watched our children grow up together. The one thing you don’t realise at the time though, is that this is the first time you are introduced to competitive parenting. The weekly comparisons of who has bought the best buggy or best baby toys and who is planning a water, pain-free, in the forest, natural labour to maximise the child’s entry into the world. We became parents but we also became paranoid competitors as well.
Throughout my three children’s early years I attended numerous baby and toddler groups, mainly to socialise my children, but also for us to have quality time together. From the swish ‘baby gymnastics’ classes at the local sportcentre, to the warts and all church run group in a hall of well-loved toys, I went to them all. And no matter what the surroundings or the people, you will end up at some point in a competitive conversation about who has the best eaters with the best behaviour. Eventually you wheedle out the like-minded parents so you can have an honest conversation about parenting stuff. But no matter how hard you try, at some point you will meet Super-Mum and be told that ‘baby wipes are not eco-friendly, my child absolutely loves dried apricots and doesn’t even like Smarties and I like to play Mozart to my child while we create living art in our lounge rather than let them watch Peppa Pig’. These parents are to be avoided, they will make you feel inferior.
I recently read an article about celebrity parents, you know the ones who name their children after fruit or inanimate objects? Take Gwyneth Paltrow, she declared that she only allows her children to watch television in French or Spanish so it has an educational purpose. OK. Fair enough if you are French or Spanish yourself, if your children are naturally bi-lingual but is English-speaking television that damaging? I read this interview, rolled my eyes at Gwyneth thinking who does she think she is? It’s not practical for us normal parents to do that, she’s off making movies and being forced to attend Coldplay concerts (that has got to be hard on her) and doesn’t understand day-to-day parenting like the rest of us. But I also still found myself asking whether Dora the Explorer counted as Spanish-speaking. No matter if we think another parent is OTT, we as parents still have to take everything on board and analyse whether we should be doing it too, even if it is not out loud.
Madonna was also in the news recently as she was shocked at her 14-year-old daughter Lourdes (its a place-name) being caught smoking! Shock Horror! And she is such an amazing role model, how did that happen? Now, I think Madge has an impressive career, has done a lot to make women feel empowered but this is the woman who made the SEX book after all. She believes her children should have NO access to television or ice-cream (why ice-cream), this is her right as a parent but with a woman who lives her life in the spotlight isn’t it a bit of a kettle, pot, black situation? I’m not saying one parent is better than the next, I certainly wouldn’t say I’m Mother Of The Year but we have to remember that Katie Price and Kerry Katona have won this title the last few years even though they don’t really ‘parent’ their children. I think Mother Of The Year should go to us mere mortals who are in the playground with our broken umbrellas in the rain, shivering on the football pitch and glazing over in a ballet class. Power to the normal parent I say.