Last year I wrote a post about the world of the internet and parenting blogs presenting an overly polished face to the world, and whether that was a good thing. Or whether, and in what circumstances, it might actually be a good idea to own up to the realities of parenting. My conclusion was that we need to own the work we are doing as parents. It is hard work, and to make it all seem like sunshine and unicorns seriously devalues what it takes to parent, and parent well, with consistency, boundless love, patience and even more patience. It is a wonderful thing that we are privileged to do but that doesn’t always follow that it’s a piece of cake.
But one year later, and reading posts from Jess, Alice and Charlotte, I felt that my original thoughts needed a little addendum. If you haven’t read their posts then go do that because they are all brilliantly written, but the gist of it is that all three have come across parents online moaning about their children, and wondered whether this is a new trend, whether where once the ‘ideal’ was a picture of motherhood made up of rainbows, tea parties and pinterest worthy craft activities while fairies and woodland animals clean the house, bring in the shopping and do the laundry (what? they don’t do that at your house?), now we’ve lurched drunkenly to the other end of the pendulum to a point where it’s become acceptable or even desirable to out do each other in terms of the horrors of the impact of our children on our lives.
In the interests of clarity, I should say that just about everyone whose blog I read falls nicely in the middle of that pendulum swing; I don’t know which posts particularly sparked their reaction, and they don’t sound like blogs I desperately want to go in search of, and perhaps that ought to disqualify me from talking about it, but I just can’t not.
The idea that parents are are complaining about their children on a blog, shouting it out loud in to a virtual world with a very long memory makes me feel all sorts of stressed and unhappy. And not just because the internet is permanent and their school friends and then their employer are going to find it one day; though it does smack of the parenting equivalent of wingeing about your new job on Facebook and then being surprised when you’re fired.
It is, I suppose, all done in the name of keeping it ‘real’. But it’s not real, it’s nothing like real. I think it’s fairly uncontroversial to say that a lot of how our children behave towards us is not behaviour that we would tolerate from any other person. If H spent a morning repeatedly dropping small but surprisingly heavy wooden blocks on my toes, even after I’d asked him to stop several times, at a bare minimum I’d go out by myself for a bit. My children have at various times in their lives weed on me, been sick on me, smushed food into my hair and clothes, told me that “I just don’t like you very much Mummy, I like Daddy”, broken things I liked, screamed their way around supermarkets, and had epic meltdowns for reasons I have yet to fathom even many moons after the event.
But they’re not terrible people, they are children. Where their behaviour needed addressing we have had a chat about it, and that’s that. To bawl them out in public on the internet isn’t fair, it’s holding a child up to the expectation of an adult’s behaviour, and what child isn’t going to crash and burn on that one?
I still stand by what I wrote last year, I think it is important to acknowledge that parenting can be tough and I don’t think going all Pollyanna is going to help anyone, least of all ourselves when we know in our heart of hearts that it isn’t like that. But there’s a distinction. Yes there are moments where I feel I’m being driven to distraction, or mornings that my sister and I sum up to each other with the phrase “I really wished you lived closer”, but the challenge, the struggle and sometimes the progress are mine. If the edges of my patience start to get a little ragged it’s because I’m not getting enough sleep, or I haven’t made sure to take enough time to recharge, or I just need to up my game on the patience front. It is never because my children have behaved in an entirely developmentally appropriate way for children of their ages. We’ve all had the moments where in the heat of it you think “why are they doing this to me!?” but for me at least the answer always comes back loud and clear “they’re not, they’re just children”.
Childhood is the time for learning; learning physical control of your body, learning what behaviours are and are not socially acceptable, and for consolidating that knowledge under the umbrella of your family’s protection. And I can’t shake the feeling that for a child to be described negatively and unpleasantly in a public space is stripping away that shelter and protection. In my mind that’s never going to be a fair exchange for a the release of frustration, a little sensationalism and some page views?
Could we not find the middle ground; the one where we’re really real? The place where we can tell each other our stories, the ones of motherhood (or fatherhood), the ones that say this path of ours can be really wonderfully easy, it can be utterly uphill and hard, and it can be all the variations in the middle, and the ones that at the centre have our children, loved unconditionally and unwaveringly for the whole of our lives. Is that too much to ask?