Parenting has to be one of the most challenging journeys any of us embark on. It doesn’t help that we have such impossible ideals of motherhood, such as some fairytale figure in a flowery apron, always calmly smiling and coping with whatever is thrown at her, as she whips up a batch of scones before driving the kids to sports practice.
I remember a conversation with mothers at the school gate about all the activities their kids were up to. I’ve never forgotten the reproachful look I got from one when she heard I hadn’t yet enrolled my kids in Suzuki violin.
However, I did quickly learn that there’s no rule book, no one setting tests – and certainly no one marking you out of 10 for being a good mother. You just do the best job you can.
It has been enlightening discussing it with my adult children. They certainly didn’t mention in their 21st birthday party speeches their trauma at not being breastfed until they were three years old – or that they once (on a particularly frantic day) had McDonald’s for breakfast, lunch and dinner.
My son Guy recently told me he was secretly pleased he was the only boy he knew who didn’t own a PlayStation. The angst we had over denying him that – but now he admits he preferred the freedom to sleep out under the stars and build mud-slides and scary flying foxes.
Both my kids now appreciate that “all that nagging” (their words of course, not mine) meant we really cared. And they loved that we trusted them and had confidence in their ability to make choices – and learn the consequences.
I think children both need and enjoy the predictability of rituals in their lives. Mine have said they loved our family traditions and involvement in the Christian fellowship. Through this they had solid guidelines and knew right from wrong, plus the value of things (not just the price), from an early age. They know how to pray and therefore to never feel completely alone.
Kids don’t remember the tiny details of the decor (or lack of it), they don’t recall if the fridge was full of name-brands or generic cheapies. But what they do know for sure is whether their parents loved them, were committed to them, and created a home that was a safe haven.
We fought off the monsters from under their beds and helped them become resilient. We taught them important social skills, such as hand-shaking and small-talk. These need to be learnt; they don’t come in your DNA.
My son recently said to me, “Mum, you weren’t always my friend, but you were always my mother. You listened, encouraged – and I learnt from you that supporting another person’s success would never dampen my own. And do you remember you always gave me the biggest bit as well as the last bite?”
I wasn’t perfect. I have vivid memories of shouting at my bickering children, “Go to your rooms,” and the cheeky kids defiantly saying, “No.” So I would do the only sensible thing and say, “Right I’m going to mine then,” – which I did, usually with a glass of wine!
I don’t spend too much time replaying my mistakes. It’s all a process, you don’t have to justify or explain your parenting technique to anyone – just trust your instincts and do what is right for your family. And looking back, there were some perfect moments and memories, which when shared with my adult children are all the more rewarding.
And now for that perfect-mother, after-school scone recipe…