When I was a younger woman, I thought I was going to make SUCH a good mother.
I was so patient! Tolerant! No troubles controlling my temper.
Besides, I knew so much about babies! Didn't I have a brother who was 8 years younger than me? Didn't I know how to change nappies and bottle feed? I was going to have no problem.
I got... unexpectedly pregnant, at 26, in the midst of my Generation X-er extended adolescence. My partner was living in another country. I was still flat-sharing in London and going to parties on the weekends.
Let's skip the birth for a moment, sweep past infancy and early childhood, and journey 11 years through time, across the world and back through space to a bourgeois English town on the outskirts of London... This is where our story begins.
The story: how to be a good mother/ parent. Or something like that.
I don't know what this story is, or what the end will be.
I just know - and I suspect I am not the only one - that there is a lot of scope for feeling like a BAD PARENT.
Has there always been?
I can't help feeling, when I read some of my favourite old children's books - Little House on the Prairie, for example, or Farmer Boy - that parents back then didn't spend time navel-gazing about how to provide educational opportunities for their children , taxiing them to after-school clubs and nagging them to do their homework. They sort of got on with their own Work, and the children got on with theirs, without complaint or much interference from their parents.
Of course, in 19th century Kansas the fathers did have to go out and shoot their dinner, and the mothers forage for food in their vegetable patches, cook from scratch and spend a whole day each week washing the laundry by hand.
In Enid Blyton's books, the kids made friends with adult strangers, spent all day away from home in the woods and climbed through secret under-sea passageways to mystery islands and tackled smugglers. What the heck were their parents doing all the while? Definitely BAD PARENTS.
I'm reading Gone With the Wind for the first time ever. Scarlett O'Hara is a shockingly BAD MOTHER. She even says she hates babies! Mind you, she had no choice, if she wanted to, ahem, marry and... everything that went with that. Babies were the natural outcome for a vibrantly healthy 16-year-old bride.
In my privileged, appliance-abundant middle-class world, I suspect that a GOOD MOTHER is one who provides OPPORTUNITIES for her children, who helps them uncover their talents and passions and nurtures those, who keeps her children SAFE and HEALTHY, helps them develop their skills and ACHIEVE, is calm, patient and loving. Something like that.
I've got a guilty conscience. I have realised, this week, that I have been letting plates slip and crash to the floor, hoping they were not irredeemably damaged. I've taken my eye off the ball: I've let my kids get away with doing, basically, no exercise for the past 5 months.
In my defence, we moved country last summer, back from Switzerland to the UK. I was fed up with taxiing the kids to after school clubs that they invariably seemed to tire of after the first few enthusiastic weeks.
What the kids REALLY wanted to do, after they'd been in lessons all day, doing what they were told (more or less), was to PLAY. Alone. Or with friends. Or with me (or their Dad, when he is home).
And I couldn't be bothered to fight that, to keep whipping out my bag of mothering tricks - WHEEDLING, CAJOLING, BRIBERY - to get them out of the house and into whichever activity I had paid for that term. NEGOTIATING, making deals: ok, just one week off, then you go back, your father and I have paid for this course. LECTURING about VALUES: you need to learn commitment, stick-to-it-ness.
But shouldn't they be allowed to play, follow their own curiosity, have plenty of unstructured time...?
Problem is, we are not talking Enid Blyton-style tree-climbing, forest-exploring-type play. There is not much cardio-vascular work involved in Barbies or Minecraft, besides the pounding stress of avoiding dastardly Endermen, or deciding between survival and creative.
My worries are the epitome of First World Worries. I am well out of survival mode and fully into creative. I don't have to worry about putting food on the table, or keeping a roof over my kids' heads.
I worry because they are behind their friends in swimming, and gymnastics, and neither of them plays football, or a musical instrument, or does judo.
I want them to learn COMMITMENT, but I don't want to force them to do things they don't like. I want them to find a PASSION. But what if they don't? Is that alright?
Anyway. I've asked around about swim lessons. I've signed my daughter up for gymnastics. We held a crisis meeting and explained that they needed to do at least one physical activity a week after school. My son signed up for a swimathon in March. We are going to start family swimming sessions at the weekends.
The thing I've always thought about parenting is: it keeps taking you right back to Square One.
What makes a good parent?
Failing, acknowledging it, and trying again?
That's the kind of 'good' parenting I am aiming for this week. ;-)
How do you go about instilling your values in your kids?
How do you manage the negotiations and taxi-driving?
Do you ever feel a sense of failure for not 'keeping up' in some areas?
Come on - make me feel better! ;-)
Elizabeth, aka The Writing Parent