A few weeks ago I wrote a column about my children - I had been having a mad dose of the mammy guilts after they had one of their more challenging weekends and I decided to focus on what I loved about them.
In particular I wanted to focus on my son, who is seven and who has developed a certain personality of his own - which is mammy code for “has started acting the wee devil”.
I admit having had a child who has been relatively no bother at all since the moment he arrived, apart from a dose of colic when he was tiny, I had probably turned into one of those mammies who was a bit smug on it.
We were forever being complimented on his eloquence, his caring attitude and his impeccable manners. (The mother of a friend was impressed when recently he greeted her at a family barbecue with a smile and “Hello, I’m very pleased to meet you. I’m Joseph. Would you like to share my hotdog?”)
More recently though, even though he is well off his teenage years, he has become a Jekyll and Hyde kind of a creature - delightful and funny one minute, likely to do a great Kevin the teenager from the Harry Enfield show impersonation the next. He has a good line of back chat and has developed a defiant streak which make the terrible twos seem like a walk in the park. (If it’s a choice between him in strop mode and a toddler who wants to do everything “my own self” then I’ll take the toddler...).
I know being a parent means I have to take such things on the chin - ride the storm and try to parent him as best as I can and hope we come out the other end of it relatively unscathed.
But I will admit there have been times when I have despaired over where my pleasant child has gone. Being a mammy, and an Irish mammy, and an Irish Catholic mammy at that, I have wondered if the fault lies with me.
I’m plagued with guilt and when I see the children of friends behaving impeccably I can’t help but feel that I’ve some faulty parental wiring and I’ve somehow broken my own child.
A study this week, however, has shown me that I’m not alone in wondering if I’m doing it all wrong. Parents these days it seems are all plagued with guilt. We all think that if our child acts up or doesn’t do brilliantly at everything it is somehow down to us. The study said that somewhere along the lines we have forgotten how to trust our instincts and how to simply inject some common sense into our parenting.
I know I’ve felt it. If my child reaches for an extra biscuit, are they picking up my bad eating habits? Is his scrawly handwriting a product a by-product of my own rubbish handwriting genes. Do I put the toddler in front of CBeebies a little too often? Will she end up talking in a sing song English accent and calling the TV mammy? Is the boy’s challenging behaviour at the moment a direct response to me being mega busy and perhaps a little stressed? (I’ve had a few Kevin the teenager moments myself)
I’ve bought parenting books and watched Supernanny. I’ve been doing this for almost eight years. Surely I should know it all by now?
The wee mammy guilt voice in my head tells me that because I don’t know it, because our house is not as harmonious as an episode of The Waltons, that I simply must be doing it wrong.
Supernanny, with her prim tones and naughty steps and reward charts, makes it all look so simple - so simple and dignified. As if she never ever would or could feel that vein at the back of her head throb as a child says “No” for the 20 jillionth time. Supernanny would shriek in horror at such tried and tested responses as “Because I said so” or “because if you don’t you will be sorry” or, in extreme moments, the threat that you are going to pack your bags and leave them to it.
Parenting manuals would no doubt tell us we are scarring our children, or making them weak, or mollycoddling them or doing it wrong. I’m starting to wonder if it is actually possible to do this ‘parenting’ thing right.
What I think we need to do it start to trust our instincts a little more. Forget the supernannies and the parenting books. Forget about battering ourselves stupid with the guilt stick when things get a little tough.
The rational side of me tells me that my son’s Jekyll and Hyde personality is probably perfectly normal for a seven year old and if we are patient, consistent and fair he will come out the other of side of it.
The rational side of me also tells me that while the toddler’s terrible twos have been relatively painfree so far, there will probably come a time when I consider selling her on Ebay and at that time her brother will regain his perfect child crown.
Parenting is like that - swings and roundabouts, ups and downs. Children will always have their moments. I’m sure even I (perfect and all as I am - tongue firmly inserted in cheek) gave my parents a tough time every once in a while.
Maybe we should all leave our guilt at the door, realise we are trying our very best and that, sometimes we will get it wrong. But as long as care enough to try our best, we are doing the best that be expected of any of us.