Rushing to put on my jacket at the front door this morning at 6.27 precisely, meaning I have 8 minutes until the train pulls in at the station, I look back to see two sad little faces at the top of the stairs.
Both in their Batman & Toy Story pyjamas, both still warm from having just woken up, hair disshevelled, rubbing their eyes and hugging their respective favourite sleep teddy bears, Sniffy & Doug who are both limp and floppy from all the squeezing and being slept on. Two little faces looking sleepy and sad at the fact that I’m about to run out the door to work.
‘Bye guys, I love you!’ I say, trying to avoid eye contact more for myself than anything else. I look back though and see them start to move down one step at a time, as fast as little feet can go while one hand clings to their respective teddy and the other holds on to the banister. The protests begin, ‘oh just one more hug, Mam!’ from Rian, and ‘Mama! ‘Uggie!’ from Alex and even though I know I’ll probably end up missing the train if I stay any longer, of course I can’t go without giving them another hug and then an ‘uggie.
I call their Dad to come and distract them to rescue me, and then I’m gone, and make the train with about ten seconds to spare. I find a spot on the train, it’s the early one so getting a seat is safe enough, catch my breath, and commence feeling bad about leaving them again.
I’m fully aware that in lots of ways I have my proverbial cake, and I eat it too – since moving to part-time it means I have four full consecutive days with them. If you’re a regular reader of my page then you’ll know I spent a good chunk of last winter feeling very sorry for myself and full of working mother guilt. I say it somewhat lightly now but at the time, it was very tough trying to balance it all especially at the height of viruses and the juggle of childcare that goes with them, so at least that should be easier this year (note – they better have immune systems of STEEL after last winter!!) and I won’t be under as much pressure at work for missing too many days. And to be fair, for the most part, part time is the answer I was looking for, giving me a perfect balance of both worlds. And yet here I am still feeling the hit of sadness and guilt that I had to go, deciding between hugging them and running for a train. The hugs will always win of course, but you know what I mean.
Am I never happy? It can only mean one thing: there is no such thing as a perfect balance. Because on the flip side, there are certainly days when I would almost prefer to be out of the house just for a few minutes to myself to have a coffee or even a toilet break where I’m on my own.
I don’t know if it’s just me, or if it’s something every parent does in their mind, but often I think about the boys when they’re grown up and they reminisce about their childhood, or someone asks them ‘what type of parents did you have?’, what their answers might be. Will they have images of their Mam running out the door telling them there’s only time for one more hug?! Yes, that’s where my brain goes first! Why doesn’t it default to all the fun things I do with them?! We are our own worst critics for sure.
At work, every year, we have annual appraisal meetings for our performance. As a mother though, I tend to do it on a much more regular basis for myself, sometimes even every day (usually directly after I’ve done something like shout at them). Every now and then I start thinking about what kind of mother they see me as, what parts will stick out to them, what will be the review highlights?
Very often I completely underestimate just how much they take in and how much they remember. Personally, I can’t really remember the early ages.. I don’t remember my first day at school for example, I have very early memories but I don’t really know how old I was in them. So it takes me by surprise when Rian will remember something from when he was very young, or talk about things that happened ages ago, things I’d have assumed he wouldn’t have remembered – day trips we went on or people he met for example.
On the days I feel I do it all wrong – the shouting, letting them watch too much tv, giving them beans on toast for dinner, I worry that these are the things they remember. Why though? I love beans on toast, and I love watching lots of telly! Ok, I don’t love shouting, but that does happen of course despite my best efforts not to, it is hard being at home with small kids and the days can be long. Fun, but sometimes hard.
But why do I hold myself up to some imaginary bar of perfect parenting?
We’re inundated with How To’s when it comes to parenting – from how to prep the perfect lunchbox to how to create sensory play activities. I’m certainly guilty of it, I often show our attempts at arts and crafts on my Instagram stories and I don’t really show the hard days there because I don’t feel the need to remember those days. That’s a story for another day perhaps, but it’s important to remember that Instagram is basically the highlights reel of how people present their day to you. And yet, despite knowing I do lots of fun things with them, and that I teach them lots of good things, I still criticise myself heavily for the other side of it, like running out the door at half six in the morning as they’re asking me for cuddles.
I can’t help but think back to my own childhood. If I was asked about mine, I’d say it was full of happiness. I remember sunny days, lots of fun, playing games, magical Christmases. But my Mam didn’t set up sensory tables for us, or arts and craft stations. She didn’t consult with her community of Mams in the 80s and 90s to see what the latest lunchbox trend is, or knock into the neighbours to ask what art and craft ideas they might have.
So why do we do it to ourselves? Working mothers are not a new concept – it’s not something unique to our generation. Will the boys really grow up saying ‘Well, we had lovely lunchbox ideas for school and we had some amazing toilet roll craft projects so overall it was an amazing childhood’ ?! Unlikely.
I remember my childhood – how I felt, not what I did.
I felt loved.
No doubt there’s many more guilty days to come, even if we won the lottery and I never had to go to work again, I’d still find a way to criticise myself and feel guilty. What mother doesn’t after all?
Maybe I need to remember that it’s more about perspective – as I focus on how to be a good mother, they’re focusing on nothing and just being kids… chances are, they only remember the fun parts, the exciting days; the time they got to watch tv all day and eat nothing but jellies followed by beans on toast for dinner.