Something happened this week that had me, once again, questioning my parenting skills. I know that we mums are naturally predetermined to feel like guilty failures, but seriously, sometimes I would love to know that I am getting it right! Just occasionally.
Just once, in fact.
So I was at parents evening, talking to Sackgirl’s teacher about how well she is doing. Mrs B told me what a lovely and polite girl she is, and how Sackgirl always behaves so nicely, she never has to tell her off.
How wonderful I thought. Score 1 for mummy. Picks up mummy medal and mentally starts preparing acceptance speech.
In fact, Mrs B continued, she is really very quiet in class. She rarely asks questions, or even asks for help. Whereas some children will follow her round the classroom, waving pieces of paper in her eyes, demanding to know if they got everything right, shouting for attention, Sackgirl never leaves her chair, or lets Mrs B know if she didn’t understand something.
Mental moment of hesitation, while I decide if this is a good thing or a bad thing.
Actually, Mrs B concluded, I think she is quite lacking in self-confidence.
CLANG. Mummy medal drops from my hands, and hits the floor.
My first thoughts are defensiveness. Defend Sackgirl, make excuses as to why she doesn’t shout and how much better that is than one of the ‘in-yer-face’ kids.
My second thought was ‘Crap, I’ve fucked up my daughter.’
My third thought was ‘Crap, that’s what his teacher said about Botboy earlier. I’ve fucked up both of my kids.’
Every phrase that followed was another nail in the plaque on the wall -
‘Piper George, failed mum. Broke both her kids before she was done!’
Mrs B said, “She doesn’t seem confident she is getting things right.”
I heard, “You never tell her she is doing well.”
Mrs B said, “If she doesn’t know something, she won’t ask.”
I heard, “She never gets any help at home.”
Mrs B said, “She doesn’t draw attention to herself.”
I heard, “She expects to be ignored, you must pay her no attention at all.”
I went home, put on my hair shirt and beat myself a bit longer.
Then I wondered if this may be hereditary. After 37 years of living with myself, I am aware that a lot of those sentences describe me.
I am called loud and confident – but I know that being the noisy class clown is a great way of hiding how actually shit scared and lonely you are feeling. Sackgirl is like me in that she is the life and soul of playtime, has a great range of comic expressions and is fast developing her own rapid fire sarcastic retort – I wonder now if this is all a flashy, screeching camouflage and inside she is feeling alone.
I know that in class my attention would wander off out of the window to see what much more interesting stuff would be happening outside – because I expected to be ignored in favour of the bouncy, popular class favourite, even by the teacher. I wonder if Sackgirl believes she, too, is less special than anyone else.
I know that, even for my hen night, which I mostly arranged because I didn’t want to pass the burden of booking hotels and thinking of a place to go onto anyone else who probably really didn’t want to and would only be doing it because they were too embarrassed to say ‘oh, I didn’t realise we were that close’, I felt guilty for making all these lovely women leave their families to be forced to spend time and cash on me. I even bought the obligatory hen night memorabilia (personalised shot glasses) because I didn’t actually, really, think anyone else would want to spend any extra.
As it turns out, my sister-in-law had already bought the same glasses, because she actually wanted to, and one of my fab internet mums arranged cakes and games, because she, actually, wanted to, too. And all of my friends turned up and appeared (see, still slightly unsure) appeared to have a good time and in fact DID want to be there with me. So, actually, all of those people who I sometimes think put up with me because they are just a bit unsure of how to get rid of me – like a stray cat with the most annoying miaow, that howls outside your door every night until you give in and feed it to shut it up, even though you know that just makes it think you will feed it again next time it comes round – all of those people maybe really do like me, just a little.
And – with issues like that, I think that it is not surprising that my daughter may be loud and funny with her friends when really, inside, she feels unwanted and un-likeable. Because I know that inside I feel unwanted, and un-likeable and find it always just a little unbelievable that I am loveable at all.
SO, I left parents evening feeling shitty. And I made yet another promise to myself to do this mothering thing better. Starting with Botboy, who tells me that his friend Alfie gets read a story every single night (with clear implications of fault on my part). And starting with spending time with Sackgirl and asking about school and being interested and praising her.
And then I had another little moment of beating myself up because I make the same promise to myself at least once a month.
And then . . .
Yesterday I had a text from my sister-in-law who, amongst other things, said
You always seem so together in yourself that I do shy away in case you think I’m a crap mum
To which I of course replied instantly saying not to be so daft, because she is a fab mum who spends loads of time with my niece doing one on one things and crafty things and being there with her, all those things I think I am shit at, and so I reassure her that, actually, all us mums think we are failing at something and we are meant to feel guilty, it’s a part of being a mum, and . . .
Well, I guess I am normal.
Of course, after I did all of this thinking, and worrying, and beating myself up, and identifying my flaws and faults and deciding without any supporting evidence that I was, in fact, the source of all my children’s issues, both suspected and yet to be identified . . . I figured this was actually not about ME at all.
So now, instead of beating myself up over what I think I am doing wrong, I guess I’ll just go spend some real time with my girl, and find out if there is anything she wants to tell me.