I had a bad day as a mother recently. Well, technically it was a bad ten minutes but the aftermath of emotion and exhaustion stayed with me for most of the day.
I took to my Facebook page to share the reality of parenting on a live broadcast in the hope that other parents would know that we all have those days where you are kicking ourselves after a seemingly avoidable confrontation or episode. Unexpectedly, I ended up in tears as I choked back the lump of my throat in a moment of vulnerability.
Why did I get upset? Partly because the incident I’d had with Harry had been distressing for us both (more so for me because he had forgotten it soon enough while I was left over thinking and feeling terrible). Partly, because as much as it’s important to me to show our life as honestly as I can (whilst protecting my children’s privacy and dignity) I hate to feel like I am failing at parenting, even for a moment. I wanted to reassure parents that it was okay not to be okay some days but it turns out that we are all really good at reassuring others but less so at reminding ourselves.
So, after some thought, here are my 7 reasons for myself, and for you if you need it why it really is okay not be okay on those bad days as a parent.
We need light and shade.
Life is never black and white and yet we need that contrast to appreciate the grey. To really know the incredible beauty of loving another, we must also suffer the crushing loss of grief. To experience the elation of joy, we must know how it feels to be disappointed. To feel pride, we must also understand shame and to really appreciate the days when everything goes well and are just fantastic, we must have lived through the days where everything has gone wrong. How do we truly feel the dizzy heights of one if we have never felt the depths of the other? The fact is, without the shitty days we would simply become accustomed to the good days. They would be the baseline and life would soon become stagnant. Yes, the bad days are awful but the great days are brilliant because we know the difference. Not only is it ok to have a bad day but in some ways its essential that we do.
No-one is perfect.
Every parent at one time another has had one of those moments where they know they have crossed a line, made an error or said or done something that was over the top or unnecessary with their child. Instantly, we know it’s wrong and want to take it back but no amount of worrying, berating or regretting can change it. I’d like to say that we always learn from these episodes but sometimes we don’t. Yes, we are sorry but in the heat of a tired / fraught / busy / over whelming/ hectic moment, we still shout too soon or expect too much. Why? Because we are human. When we become parents, there is an assumption (only from new parents, seasoned ones know the score) that with that new bundle, arrives an abundance of patience and diplomacy. In fact, my experience is often quite the opposite. Not only are children the original identity thief’s as they launch us into an unknown world and replace our names with ‘Suchabody’s Mum’ but they have a way of pushing us to our limits. And sometimes we lose our shit. It happens but that’s ok. No-one has it together all of the time (and if they say they do they are either lying or need to bottle their DNA for mass inoculation). We are only human and with that comes the capacity to make mistakes. Its how we grow but it can be a painful process especially when we feel that we have vented unfairly. Draw comfort from the fact that as soon as your children have a family of their own, they will realise just how hard this parenting gig really is and how often you didn’t lose it when you really could have!
Pretending is bad for your health
I discovered this the hard way. I smiled to everyone else as I pretended to be coping with a life I wasn’t prepared for and yet inside, I was imploding. Granted, my struggles were constant over a longer period of time after the news of Harry’s syndrome hit me like a truck. But the principle is the same, suppressing feelings which are overwhelming can have a negative effect both on our physical and mental health. The phrase “Its good to talk” is so true. There are countless helplines set up for people to offload their mental anguish and strains and while I’m not suggesting that every parent who ever falls out with their child calls the Samaritans, it does help to talk it through and stop the negative words we tell ourselves from eating us away.
Sharing is caring
You may not want to do a Facebook live to 5000 people to tell them how you screwed up that morning but you might want to call a friend or go to work and tell the people there that it’s been a tough day. Parenting is a universal and yet at times, incredibly lonely role and parents need to know that its okay not to be okay – for the days when they aren’t either. Your words might just be what someone else is needing to hear as they battle through a sea of Instagram images showing parents busily making crafts whilst raising their vegan children with impeccable general knowledge and manners. I’m sorry but that’s not real life for the majority. Crap days are and so we are united in a sense of relief that its not just us who make mistakes some days when we share those stories.
There is no shame in admitting its tough.
We desperately need to move away from the stigma that struggling is failing so we can move towards acceptance and understanding. The more we pretend everything is fine, the less we share it with others, the stronger the notion of ‘perfect parenting’ becomes. The language that we use is so powerful. It can create change but at the same time it can hold us prisoner to an idea that is outdated and sometimes dangerous (such as the term ‘man up’). Maybe we need to change the language we use from ‘having a bad day’ to having an upside down day or something with less negative connotations. I realise that will probably never happen but can you imagine saying that your day was a bit upside down, rather than “I’ve had such a bad morning”. There is absolutely no shame in saying that the day hasn’t gone to plan. We wouldn’t feel so bad about explaining we got lost on a journey or baked a less than successful Victoria sponge and yet we are less likely to confess that parenting on one day was a challenge. We may not feel particularly proud of those challenges but we certainly shouldn’t feel that it makes us a bad person. The only time, in my opinion, that shame should be attached to parenting is where the ‘bad days’ are the norm and children are suffering as a result but here, I am talking about the ‘upside down’ days we all experience amongst the good.
One bad day doesn’t make a bad parent.
Its just that simple. Forgetting a birthday one year doesn’t make us a bad friend, pulling that sunken sponge cake from the oven doesn’t make us a bad cook, a thunderstorm in July doesn’t make it a bad summer. We need to be slower to generalise and quicker to be kind to ourselves on the days when we have slipped up. We need to take a deep breath and find some perspective on the days when we feel that we are failing at a job that doesn’t come with a handbook or job description! Parent guilt is just one of the many ways we torture ourselves as soon as we have little humans to care for and so I really hope that we can be more mindful of the ways we talk to ourselves. We certainly wouldn’t tell our own children that they were failures for every slip up. We need to be as kind to ourselves as we are to them and we need to remember the moments that we reassured our children in the moments that went wrong for them so that we can feel the benefit of our own patience and love.
Life is too short.
On our deathbed we won’t be recalling the struggles as a parent. We will remember the touch of baby soft new skin, the fresh smell of an infant, the amusing stink of a teenager, the tears we kissed away, the giggles that became a fit of laughter, the quiet moments lost in cuddles and the times you watched your child sleeping. You’ll recall the car journey karaoke, the side line cheering at sports days and events, the times you all got lost in imagination, the overwhelming pride as you watched your baby transition through the stages of their life and the overwhelming pride that despite those upside down days, it was the good days that bring you comfort now and actually, a mixture of them both that created the people you became.
So, for me and for any parent who beats themselves up on the days that don’t go to plan, lets aim to be a little kinder to ourselves, more forgiving and more realistic and remember that while a bad day last a day, a great day lasts a lifetime.
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