One of the greatest things I’ve taken away from middle-age so far is the necessity to eliminate toxicity from my life.
The toxicity that culminates out of everyone’s idea of how best to parent is one of the most offensive.
Because I read many blogs, a lot of articles about raising and parenting young children pop into my Facebook newsfeed on a weekly basis, and even though I’ve reached a very different stage of the parenting game to new mums, occasionally I find myself reading about their plights and sighing with relief that I’m no longer stuck on that particular treadmill.
Because if parenting isn’t already fucking challenging enough, there’s a tribe of holier-than-thou people out there judging the rest of us on how we parent. If you need any proof, think back to the gorilla scenario of only a few weeks ago.
On the surface, it makes sense to assume that young mums have it better than the new mothers of my generation. For starters, I find it impossible to recognise the wealth of gear you can buy in baby stores these days – designed to make the daily lives of modern mums more convenient and efficient. Kids eat on-the-go sachets of ready-prepared organic meals for dinner, and there is a whole range of distracting contraptions to dump them into for the purposes of distraction, while mums nip off to the loo or prepare food. And although there’s still a way to go, childcare facilities and options for working mums are on the whole improving, which means that young mums have more choices.
Yet some aspects of parenting young children remain reassuringly unchanged (cackles smugly). Getting your bundle of love off to sleep is still a chore akin to root canal surgery – although the invention of sleep clinics offer a new line of support, something my generation of mums who sat in the hall all night, boobs lactating and weeping uncontrollably as they tried to control their baby’s screams, might have benefitted from.
Getting your child to eat solid food was another of those massively competitive parenting milestones, and always the topic du jour at any mother’s group. Some kids refuse to eat no matter what you throw at them, like NC – FACT – and I did end up throwing food at her, many times. She was one of those babies who zipped her mouth firmly shut the minute a spoon containing solid form got close to it, even though I’d have fed her chocolate cake doused in Oreos if she’d have taken it.
Things got so bad, I convinced myself that I would be processing her meals through high school. I should mention that her favourite food is now Thai.
It was the wisdom of a friend that turned that particular world of parenting pain around for me, when she reminded me that ‘babies won’t starve themselves’. That kind soul saved me from the terrifying belief that my child would be the first child in our middle-class suburb to die of malnutrition, and her words of assurance came exactly when I needed to hear them, at my hair-pulling breaking point, when I’d begun picking at scabs irrationally, banging my head against the wall and the old man was terrified to come home.
Perhaps if we’d had social media back then and I’d read a post from another mum with a similar predicament to mine, that might have equally provided me with the comfort I craved – to know that I wasn’t alone in this hellhole called parenting that everyone had tricked me into, and lied about being fulfilling.
However, social media can be a double-edged sword and some of the ridiculous expectations that are rammed down parents throats in the guise of advice nowadays can also be responsible for increasing anxiety in many new mums, particularly those who live far away from their parents, hence experience the isolation of what they see as personal failure that much more intensely.
New mums are exposed to so much information out there that they must second-guess their decisions all the time, whereas in our day, the only real expectation forced upon us was to get on with things without complaining too much. There was much less pressure in terms of judgment from our peers. It was rather like when we were little and went crying to our mums if we hurt ourselves, only to be told to cut it out or she’d give us something to really cry about.
Sure, we had family who interfered – the mother-in-law who always got the kids to sleep or delighted in reminding us about how they did things in her day. But we didn’t have Mrs Psycho Smug on Facebook, thankfully, whose child is vegan, walked out of the womb and commences her advanced pure maths degree by the age of ten.
In this age where mental health issues are becoming more prevalent, women and men need to support each other more openly. When we find ourselves in a difficult place, or simply aren’t coping with the shite that can smear our lives at different junctures, we don’t need judgment, we need someone to listen to us, to be held and supported in whatever way possible.
Likewise, when our self-worth is on the floor and the inflated, glamorised success stories of others begin to make us question our value, we need to discipline ourselves to move away from that toxicity and learn to celebrate our difference and individuality instead.
Our ability to raise a child that skips merrily through each milestone without tripping over once is one minuscule aspect of what we have to offer.
One of my favourite quotes that I often cite in relation to ADHD is this:
Everybody is a Genius. But If You Judge a Fish by Its Ability to Climb a Tree, It Will Live Its Whole Life Believing that It is Stupid. (Albert Einstein)
Says it all, really.