Weddings are torture on the trotters. From 12pm onwards we women teeter on the front two inches of our feet waiting for the ceremony to begin. After the ceremony is the mingling, and then, several agonising hours later is the dancing. And for most female guests, all of this is done in that most debilitating stalwart of sartorial grace, high heels.
These days my feet are mainly found swathed in Nike’s finest and are definitely not high-heel-hardened. Predictably therefore, at last week’s family wedding I found my self sitting on a sofa in the corner of the marquee by 9.30pm.
There I was doing the jerky-head-nodding-full-body-jigging “dance” beloved of all those who have fallen foul of uncomfortable footwear but who don’t want to look like the only person not having fun at the fiesta – “I’m not the moody one,” your pathetic rhythmic patting of your knees says, “It’s just that my feet really fucking hurt” – when I struck up conversation with the couple next to me.
We exchanged the usual pleasantries, “How do you know the bride/ groom?… Have you travelled far?… Hasn’t the day been wonderful?” and when the pyjama-clad BSCB scampered over and began to clamber all over me, talk soon turned to our respective children.
The couple were accompanied by their 8 year old daughter and as we chatted, they said that they would be leaving soon as it “wasn’t fair” on their daughter to stay out much longer.
At this point I paused in my pitter-patter to reflect on what to say next as there, snoozing on the sofa next to mine, was The Eldest. She was sleeping off the catastrophic crash that had followed the heady heights of hyperactivity following extreme sugar-consumption at the Candy Bar. Meanwhile directly in front of where we sat, now dancing around like a punch-drunk Uncle Fester, was the Bat-Shit-Crazy-Boy in all his bat-shit-crazy glory. A belly full of contraband candy courtesy of The Eldest, and turbo-wired with over-tiredness, sleep was still another hour-and-a-half away for him and teetering on the brink of that disaster, it dawned on me that I was the unfair parent.
Until that point I had been perfectly happy with our plan to stay out until the kids crashed, and then have a drink and a dance while they slept. It was the first time we had attempted it and I had congratulated myself for moving so far past the anxious, crippling hyper-vigilance of my early days of parenthood. It hadn’t even occurred to me that other people might see our plan as unfair, selfish or even irresponsible.
That other people might judge.
To be completely fair, to judge is to be human. But what I was so in fear of at this moment was someone being judgemental – that horrible excessive criticism that positions one person as another’s superior. And this fear was surely justified because nowhere is this pattern of behaviour more prevalent than in the world of parenting.
Bottle vs boob; co-sleeping vs cot; sleep-training vs sleep-deprived-hallucinating; baby-led weaning vs choo-choo-spoon steaming, the fashion for pitting parents, and particularly mums, against one another has been around longer than Kate Moss’s favour for fringing.
And as soon as one mum reveals her position as a dedicated baby-wearer, another only-by-buggy-swearer feels an implicit criticism of her choices abides, and seeks to justify her decision. Unfortunately, perhaps because motherhood is so personal, it seems that once a woman becomes a mother her opinions only seem to become stronger, and like aging cheese, some start to whiff a little.
Before one mum can crack open an Ella’s Pouch and confirm that Four Bean Stew tastes like farts, she realises that over there at the Baby-Led-Weaning table they are ducking direct hits from fistfuls of falafal while casting sideways glances. These mums explain their respective choices in a pretence of genial acceptance, but instead of clearing murky waters the competing heartfelt justifications lead us ever closer to that bitchy-mean-girls-you-can’t-sit-with-us attitude, that was a bit rubbish when we were all in the playground and has now taken on a stink of municipal dump proportions.
But sometimes I just wonder if the strength of all this opinion actually comes from a place of insecurity. Despite all our self-assured proclamations, the truth is that even the most vocal amongst us know that we don’t have all the answers.
As such we constantly worry that we are getting it wrong and wonder if others making choices different to our’s are the ones who are getting it right. So when we chance upon someone choosing to feed their baby nothing but “clean” food, have them wearing nothing but ethically sourced 100% organic cotton clothing, or who has decided not to teach their child to say “please” and “thank you” until they know the full meaning of the words (feel free to insert whatever emoji you feel would be appropriate at this point), we feel all of the threat.
We end up wondering if other people are simply doing “it” better than us. Thus the resultant inner-monologue of questions and comparison provokes us to shout a little too loud, a little too forcefully, and a touch too fiercely in defence of our own decisions.
At the wedding, I’ll admit that my twitchy-bitchy-trigger-finger was quivering over an arsenal of ammunition to justify our choice – “Of course this is way past their usual bedtime… we don’t want to be too strict with their routine… routine is important, but so is flexibility… We’re making memories (cringe)”. But contained in these words were implicit judgements of my own – “You’re being too strict… you’re too restrictive… you need to lighten up… your daughter won’t be able to adapt…” and ultimately I realised, it’s all nonsense.
Whereas feeding a day-old baby Ribena, or blowing smoke in a newborn baby’s face while adjusting the car seat straps are both (real-life) examples of piss-poor-parenting that quite rightly should be (gently) challenged, too much of the noise around what we should or should not be doing is unwelcome interference blurring the bigger picture: that we are all just doing our best.
When Convenience-Food Carol* chooses to feed her children fish fingers for the third day in one week, Clean-Eating Chloe* from down the road does not need to know that she prefers to spend time outdoors rather than tethered to the Tefal, because the stimulation of
carrying sticks around and posting mud into the under-buggy basket being in nature is so very important for the healthy development of the small people.
And Clean-Eating Chloe does not then need to counter that she chooses to cook from scratch because avoiding the chemicals contained in processed foods is so very important for the healthy development of the small people.
Do you see? Ultimately, they are both interested in the development of their small people and surely that is all that matters.
When I am asked by friends who are about to board the crazy bus of parenthood, what tips I have to divulge, my answer is always,
don’t be fucking ridiculous, have you read my blog? don’t do things because someone has too you, you “should” – do the things that make sense to you. There is no one way to do this parenting thing “right”, there is no magic formula.
Instead there are only your priorities, your beliefs – there is only your way, and you don’t ever need to explain why.
*names were chosen purely for alliterative purposes. I am sure there are clean eaters called Carol, and there are plenty of Chloes who enjoy a dirty burger from the van in B&Q’s carpark. Please don’t be offended if your name is Chloe or Carol.