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.