Picture the scene. You are in a cafe. Your toddler, having just had a floor-hugging, rigid back arching, high-decibel screaming meltdown over not being able to push his own buggy into the centre of the cafe and then spend the next twenty minutes using it to bash tables, and the legs of anyone who happens to be sat at those tables, while Mummy sips her coffee and gazes at him beatifically as though she has never clapped eyes on a more charming child, is now having another meltdown. This time it’s because he has spotted something on a high shelf that he wants, and which may or may not be a packet of crisps, the very Food of Satan, which you were not planning on allowing him to have until he is forty-two and probably capable of taking full responsibility for the resulting obesity.
As you desperately try to calm him down with your soothing Mummy-voice and consider doing a deal with him that he will be allowed to have said crisps, but only if he sits nicely in his high chair, which he is at that moment refusing to do, then finally give in and allow him a chocolate covered cereal bar and slump into your seat, relieved that nobody has yet launched a complaint with the management or chased you from the aforementioned cafe with torches, never to darken the threshold again, you look up. There is a woman on the next table who is looking at you with an air of sympathy.
“You handled that well,” she says, approvingly. “I would have given in ages ago.”
How do you feel at this point? I’ll tell you how I felt. I felt as though I had just received the Public Badge of Good Motherhood, the Order of Mothers, the OBE for Services to Motherhood, bestowed by the Queen herself. No, forget the Queen, her children were raised by nannies. This is an honour bestowed by Our Lady of Motherhood, the vision of pure motherly love, the Holy Mother of God herself, the Virgin Mary. I am literally going to Heaven for the day to be crowned with my own personal motherly halo.
That is how great that felt.
But why is it that we feel that we need the approval of others to validate our own status as parents? Why do we need that constant reminder that it’s OK, we’re doing a good job, we’re all still intact, it’s going to be OK and we’re probably not raising a monster? Is it because as women we are encouraged from childhood to seek the approval of others, to be liked, to be the popular girl with the impeccable manners and great hair? Being a mother is a high stakes job, and we wouldn’t want others to think we’ve got it wrong.
The following day, as I basked in the contented glow of sunlight reflecting off the gold from my Public Badge of Good Motherhood, I took Piglet to soft play. I could feel the approving looks of other parents on me as I played with Piglet in the ball pool and he squealed with delight, clearly deliriously happy that the Fates had given him such a wondrous mother, overflowing with such selfless maternal love that she had actually abandoned a full cup of coffee to watch him repeatedly try and climb onto a mini scooter.
It was only on the way home that my mask of motherly goodness began to slip. Around five minutes into the 30 minute bus ride, Piglet’s brain suddenly remembered that it had not had a nap all day, and proceeded to send him into a tumult the likes of which had never been seen throughout the outer suburbs of Bristol. He was determined that he was going to get off the seat, out of Mummy’s suffocating grip and walk around on the moving bus, and the more Mummy-the saintly Mummy, recipient of the sought-after Public Badge of Good Motherhood-tried to wrestle him back into his seat, the more he screamed, the more he cried, the more he thrashed about. Hot with shame, I desperately tried not to look around, conscious of the fact that everyone on the bus was looking at us, and thinking I was the Devil’s Own Mother.
The need for approval had struck again, and this time it was sending me right to the back of the class, confiscating my Public Badge of Good Motherhood, and replacing it with the dunce’s hat of Mummy Fails.
The moral of this story. None of us are perfect, all of us are muddling along, trying to be the best we can be, succeeding one day and failing the next. Never accept the Public Badge of Good Motherhood, even from the Holy Mother herself. It’s bound to slip. Far better to know that it doesn’t matter what others think. As long as Piglet thinks I’m doing a good job, that is enough.
Assuming he does think I’m doing a good job, and isn’t at this precise moment petitioning Brad and Angelina to adopt him.
21 Comments Add yours
This really made me think. Part of me thinks that as humans are innately judgemental, and that as part of socialisation means caring what people think – regardless of the situation – it is important to somewhat care what others think when we are in public.
I also thought about context. I don’t give a hoot about my girls having a tantrum in e.g. the soft play centre or a child-friendly pub. But I’d be mortified if they had a meltdown in a more adult place – like a cafe (again, depending on the type of cafe) because I wouldn’t want to ruin other people’s chilled coffee vibe! I was on the other end of that many times pre-twins and hated it.
It is interesting though that as mothers, we think long and hard about our parenting style, and constantly compare with others, when I don’t get the sense that fathers feel the same pressure. It’ll change in time I think, and by that I mean that the Parenting Pariahs will find a way of getting into the unsuspecting heads of men too, eventually, so that none of us is safe! Just like how it only used to be women who had to worry about a beauty regime, and now that is bleeding into the world of men too.
That’s an interesting perspective, and definitely part of it is not wanting to upset others when they are trying to have a nice time, for example in a cafe or restaurant. Similarly, I am mortified when Piglet throws food when we’re out and about, because I definitely would not want to be hit by food thrown by someone else’s children! It does always seem to be mothers who worry as well, although I can’t speak for fathers because I am not one so can’t lay claim to what they might be thinking, but the downside of equality may well be more dads worrying about these sorts of things as well, as you have predicted!
We must be kind to ourselves first and foremost. I think it can be so tough when you feel watched or anxious when your kids act out in public-even the most well-intentioned comments can feel like pressure and there is a real ‘thing’ about back-seat parenting. I’m sure the lady went well though, I would rather that than disapproving looks. I think people too easily forget they were babies once too. You are right, perfection doesn’t exist. Thanks for linking up
Yes, the lady in the cafe was great, and overall (touch wood) I seem to have far more positive comments than disapproving looks. I do need to stop worrying what everyone thinks about my parenting skills or lack thereof, as I’m sure most of them are probably thinking nothing at all! Thanks for hosting and commenting.
My children are a bit older now and I always try to be The Woman in the Cafe, because I remember feeling the glow you describe do well when (occasionally!) receiving an encouraging word from a stranger. I hope it comes over in the way it’s intended! The need for approval I think is very deep rooted in women in particular, as you say.
Thanks for an interesting read.
Yes, I will make a point of trying to be like the woman in the cafe in years to come. Definitely made my day! Thanks for commenting.
I can really relate to this post! I very rarely get the opportunity to feel smug as my kids are usually the ones having a rage against something or other, but on the odd occasion that they do fool strangers into thinking they’re angels, I must admit a positive comment makes me feel like I’m not quite as crap as I usually think I am…!
It really helps, doesn’t it? I’m sure none of us are crap and all our kids have their moments!
I love your posts.
I think there’s an element of feeling as though we are winging it and sometimes its good to have reassurance or at least someone notice when something is going well as a counterbalance to when it all goes to a non-stop screamy hell at 4pm.
All our lives from nursery to school to work we have some form of performance appraisal and marking to let us know how we are doing. As parents we don’t really get that. Our kids will love us for giving them crisps and then hate us because the sky is too bright or we gave them the red cup instead of the reddish cup that today is their favourite and tomorrow will be dead to them.
Thank you! Yes, you’re right about that. I hadn’t thought about the fact that it’s actually ingrained in us from an early age to want some kind of feedback on everything we do. I guess the only way we can get that as parents is by looking around and comparing ourselves, most of the time.
This is such a thought-provoking piece.
It’s so easy to say “Don’t worry about what other’s think”, I said it the other day actually, but when you’re in the midst of those judgmental glances, feeling completely helpless to your screaming child, it’s hard to remember that.
Honestly, most days I feel like I have no idea what I’m doing. I’m constantly second guessing myself and, because of this, it feels so so good to get a compliment. It’s just that boost, a little boost, that says “At least someone thinks you’re doing something right.” #FabFridayPost
It feels great, doesn’t it? I was chuffed to bits when the woman in the cafe made that comment. Such a shame no one did on the bus the next day-oh well!
Oh boy, yes the approval of others really does matter to us women doesn’t it? It’s something that’s bothered me for a long time. You’re so right though, we really need to stop searching for others’ approval and simply get on with it. We’re all doing the very best we can.
Thanks so much for linking to #PoCoLo
Thanks for hosting and commenting!
Definitely, it feels good when someone notices our efforts and you get the age. But sometimes I feel a bit, meh, it’s what I do every day. I often much prefer the sympathy, the yep I’ve been where you are and I’m glad I’m not anymore. It feels more real. More understanding? If that makes sense. Plus it gives the light at the end of the tunnel!
Light at the end of the tunnel is definitely a good thing. I always feel relieved when people with older children tell me that their child wasn’t a great sleeper, eater or whatever, and now they are great!
I have also just written something about this too, but awarded by males. I do feel weird when I have been complimented by a male rather than a female. But why should I feel weird. Compliments are compliments. Good compliments are supposed to make you feel good about yourselves. You feel you have just achieved something that you have never thought you are able to achieve and you feel great. For bad compliments are well… if not critical then better not said at all! You are right there – people judgments can be rather uplifting as well as rotten eggs. I guess you really need to blank out the rotten ones as after all we are all not perfect. Thank you for linking up with us again Min on #FabFridayPost xx
That’s interesting. I will have to come and take a look at your post. I hadn’t really thought about it being any different whether you’re complimented on parenting by men or women. But yes, people’s judgements can be good as well as bad, and I’ve definitely had a few of these “good” judgements, but yet we always worry so much about the bad!
Oh my, it is so tough isn’t it. Cygnet kicked an 8 month old baby at rhyme time yesterday. I dutifully told him off, and then he went and did it again. It took all my restraint not to shake him as the mother of said baby whisked her away to the other side of the room lest my disobedient child kick her daughter again. Then later in the afternoon cygnet said peacefully in the high chair in John Lewis. Ate his pasta like an angel and then wiped the table with the wet wipe afterwards. I received congratulations from the middle aged women on the table next to me. If only they had witnessed the morning’s events. Pen xx
Haha, that sounds like Piglet all over-one minute he’s receiving plaudits for his exemplary conduct, the next minute he’s being carried out of a restaurant kicking and screaming. Must be all normal though!