Are you good enough?

Are you a “good enough” mother?

The first time I heard this concept, I was horrified. It’s kind of the “Cs get degrees” of the parenting world, right?

The idea comes originally from a serious pediatrician and psychoanalyst type who talked about mothers starting off entirely devoted to their babies, sacrificing their own sleep to respond to the child’s needs (you know the drill). Then as the child got older, the mother would sometimes allow the baby to cry for a few minutes before a feed – so the child would feel a little frustration.

This was part of navigating the transition from the dreamlike baby-state of “have a need = have it met” to something more like reality.

The idea has now been drawn out to a more literal sense by lots of parents. It’s become the idea that we should be okay with not being perfect every day, nor should we strive to be. Because we are only human (much as some of us might not like to admit it) we need to let ourselves off from time to time. To have days where our parenting is perfectly adequate, but not exactly Pinterest-worthy.

I could not understand this a year ago.

I am not okay with being “good enough” in any other aspect of my life. If my boss told me I was “good enough”, I would be horrified. Why should it be okay for my little people, who are the most important things in my universe?

But since having my daughter in November, I’ve started to recalibrate my thinking.

I was not prepared for how hard the shift would be.  I figured I had done the hard bit in becoming a mother in the first place. Having another would be relatively easier, I assumed.

I was (mostly) wrong. It seems one of them is always awake. One is having a meltdown when the other needs me. The older one wants to roll around on the floor just as the little one needs a feed.

I find myself being less than I would like to be, for both of them. I’m telling the older one to wait a minute and it’s taking me longer to scoop the little one up. Tonight we had fish fingers and chips for dinner. Not perfect. But good enough?

I’ve accepted for my sanity that good enough is going to have to be acceptable, for now.

I’ll aim for better each day and sometimes I’ll succeed. Sometimes we’ll lie under the trees and find shapes in the clouds and learn new words and sing new songs. But sometimes our quality time will be watching Shrek while I jiggle the little one on my knee and worry about when I’m going to be able to get my work done.

Striving for perfection just gives me too many opportunities to fail. My kids are fed, they’re warm, they’re happy, they’re smart (so far as you can determine when one proudly professes that his achievement of the day was eating sand and the other tries to latch on to anything that passes) and they know they’re loved. I hope when they look back on this time in years to come – if they can even remember it – they feel my good enough was near enough to okay by them.

Things you shouldn’t say

Everyone wants to stop and talk to a parent with a new baby. They’re just so squishy and cute, right? You can’t help but want to get a bit closer.

But it seems everyone is reading from the same phrasebook when it comes to making conversation with new mothers in particular, and some of those phrases are not really helpful.

If you’re confronted with a parent and baby, here are some things to try not to say.

Is s/he a good baby?
I have heard this one so many times I have lost count. But what does it even mean? And how do you answer it? “She doesn’t seem actively devious, but then she is only six weeks old, there’s still time!” Or “No, she is just awful.”  She is my baby and in my eyes, she is pretty much perfect. What makes a good baby, anyway? Generally it seems what people mean is – is she eating and sleeping?

Which brings me to…

Is she sleeping well?

It may be because my two haven’t been fantastic sleepers (by that I mean, they haven’t been the type to nod off to sleep without assistance – ever – and definitely aren’t the sleep-through-the-night-by-eight-weeks – or 18 months – type) but this one gets my back up. I get defensive because I have to say no and then feel that I must justify it. I almost cried the first time someone switched it up and asked me: Are you getting enough rest? It’s a nicer way to ask basically the same question, without making the parent feel that the lack of sleep is due to some terrible failure on their part.

This too shall pass

I’ve heard this one a lot, too, particularly when my son has been having a major public meltdown or I’ve been vomited on by a gassy baby for the third time in two hours. Yes, it will pass. But so will my life. So what I’m interested in is, how quickly is it going to pass? And what can I do to speed it along?

They’re only little once…

Yes. See above. I know they are only little once and I’m trying to relish every minute of the baby and toddler stages. But sometimes it’s just not that easy.  Sometimes I’m just so tired. Or I’ve got work I should be doing. Or the house is getting to a seriously embarrassing state of neglect. Making me feel guilty for not loving and making the most of every single moment isn’t going to help.

Well we did…

If you’re a random stranger, and I haven’t actually asked you for advice, don’t tell me what you did. At all. Ever. Especially if it was 50 years ago and you were able to live on one income and weren’t juggling the stress of work, kids and worrying about whether your work means you were shortchanging your kids, and vice versa.  Other entirely unhelpful examples in this genre: Well I was smacked/left to cry/fiercely told off and it never did me any harm (that’s debatable) and kids these days just need more discipline/less sugar/less screen time/more sport.  Just don’t.

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Things I miss about my old life

My life is a million times better since my kids came along.

I was never much of a baby person, so I didn’t really know what I was getting myself into. And for the most part, it’s been a wonderful surprise. Babies have such bad PR – I was expecting constant crying, endless nappies and mind-numbing tedium. But what I’ve ended up with is gooey gummy smiles, early-morning snuggles and giggles – often about nothing.

But there’s some stuff I really miss from my pre-motherhood life. If you’re yet to have a baby, this is what I recommend you make the most of.

Husband
You know, that man I loved enough to have two small humans with. I haven’t shared a bed with him for a whole night for more than four months. I realised how much I missed him the other night when he gave me a hug (as we were passing each other in the bathroom door – he coming out to make dinner and I going in to cajole our son out of the bath). I’m so used to hugging small people that the feel of a proper hug from an adult felt totally foreign.

He and I give each other sympathetic looks as we pass in the hallway trying to placate one child or the other. He reaches over to pat me when I’m off to feed the baby for the third time in one night.

Most of the time when I see him naked, it’s when he’s climbing into the bath with our son. We sit across the dinner table from each other – but spend the time trying to contain the mess of a small child eating, or trying to convince him that he should. I’m hoping against hope that my husband remembers I can talk about something not child-related and has the patience to wait it out until we get another chance to do so – maybe in 10 years?

Sleep
This has to be near the top of any parent’s list. I used to think I sometimes had trouble sleeping when I had the occasional 4am wake-up worrying about something to do with work. Or when the neighbours started up their electric garden implements before 9am.

How I hate the former me sometimes.

It’s now been at least three years since I’ve had a proper night’s sleep and I think it’s fantastic if I’m only up wandering around the house twice a night. Even when the kids sleep better than normal, I often wake up to make sure that they are still alive. Or I’m so conditioned to listen for a little cry that a meow from the cat has me bolting out of bed.

I want to sleep in but it’s pretty hard to relax and indulge when you A) have your baby in bed next to you squealing and giving you a hickey because she can’t latch on properly unless you lie in a contorted comma-shape next to her and B) you know your husband is involved in a Moana marathon in the lounge to distract the small person who wants to come in and visit.

Being able to go somewhere when I want to

You have to go and do something, so you go and do it. Drop something off to drycleaner? No problem. Go to the post office? Easy. Except when it’s not. Any time I want to do anything now I have to cajole the older one into getting into the car – bribes sometimes included, and strap in the little one to her capsule. Then when we get there I have to take the bigger one out and ensure that he does not run away while hauling the capsule out of the car – or the other way around except the capsule weighs about as much as a small car.

Then we struggle into the shop and I try to restrain the elder without permanently marking my legs with capsule bruises, do whatever it is I need to do, then pile everyone back into the car and hope no one starts crying on the way home. I have to have white noise or Moana playing on the stereo and I have to make sure I have a pile of nappies, wipes and a change of clothes for both on hand just in case.

Being able to accept evening invitations without hesitation

You invite me out and I say “yes”. Sounds simple, right? I have not done this for almost three years. Any time someone invites me out somewhere now I must first check with the husband. Will he be home? ThenI have to think about what should be happening at this time. Will a baby require feeding? Will a child refuse to sleep if I am not there? What work should I be doing that night that I won’t be able to do during the day because I am otherwise child wrangling? It’s usually easier not to try to do anything.

Speaking of which, being able to do nothing 
Before I had kids I sort of imagined they’d just do their own thing and I’d do mine. They might play with toys on the floor while I relaxed on the couch with a magazine. How wrong I was. If I try to work while my son is playing with his cars, he will often come bolting over and demand I stop so that I can help him build a hill out of his road mat. Or the only way to keep my daughter placid and happy is to walk in ever-decreasing circles in the living room, while pointing out birds in the tree outside and jiggling every third step. So I spend much of my day attending to the needs of one small person or the other, fitting in what I need to do around them. This means, when I get a minute to myself, I don’t get to just sit down and do nothing. There’s always something I should have been doing earlier that is becoming a “must do” now.

Not having to worry about where public toilets are
My son’s pretty much toilet-trained but he doesn’t give me a lot of warning. So when “I need to go to the toilet” rings out, I must take action. This means I have a better working knowledge of where the public conveniences are than I have any right to.

Listening to whatever I like in the car
See aforementioned white noise/Moana. Not only are my listening choices dictated by little people but should I dare to sing along, there is a shout from the back seat: Mum stop singing!

Breasts

It seems mad when there is so much more of them than there ever was before but I miss them just being part of me, not something that can get lumpy, hot, leaky or hard, and constantly the topic of conversation with Plunket nurses. I miss the time when it was I who had the final say in when I got them out in public, not a hungry small person. And I miss all my pretty bras.

Going to the toilet alone
I only realised how far this barrier had broken down for me when I was standing, talking to my husband in the bathroom the other day, and went to sit on the toilet in front of him. I know some couples are more than comfortable with this, but it never used to be our thing. Now, I’m so used to peeing with an audience that I don’t think twice.

The ‘I’m more tired than you are’ game

There is a game some parents like to play. You may be familiar with it.

It’s called “I’m more tired than you are”.

It goes a little like this. Picture typical family chaos. Maybe the parents are trying to do something as outrageous as sitting on the couch together after dinner. Kids are playing around their feet.

Suddenly, someone has a meltdown, or in some way needs attention.

Parent A hopes against hope that the other parent will deal with it. Mutters: I’m so tired.

Parent B is annoyed at the other parent not dealing with it and deliberately ignores the suggestion that they should be the one to pick up the ball. Sighs: I’m sooooo tired.

Parent A: I’m so tired because I’m at the office all day. I have to deal with clients, manage my staff, handle all my meetings then I come home and make dinner, do the dishes, get the kids off to bed… I never get a break.

Parent B: Well I’m even more tired because I have been at home with these two alllll day and I have been trying to get work done and I had to get them in the bath while you were working late and now it is almost bedtime and I still haven’t even managed to brush my hair and I never get any time to myself.

Parent A: But you don’t have people calling you wanting to talk about work at 8pm so I am obviously more tired than you are.

Parent B: But you get to go to the toilet on your own sometimes so I am clearly the more tired one.

Some version of this conversation plays out at least monthly in our house.

The problem is that it is completely and utterly pointless. We could go back and forth all night but there would be no winner.

Say, for example, that I concede that he is more tired than I am. Or he agrees that breastfeeding all night wipes me out (just saying).  I do not feel any better. I am still very, very tired.

Unfortunately for us, tiredness is not a zero sum game. His tiredness does not take away any of mine, or vice versa.

We just end up annoyed with each other. And even more tired.

My biggest mum fails

It’s fair to say that, when it comes to food, our son is not wildly adventurous. He has a few things he really likes – chocolate, banana smoothies, chicken nuggets and Grain Waves spring to mind – and a few he’ll tolerate – eggs, chicken, porridge…
So my husband sought some inspiration online. Today, I heard him asking our boy: Do you want Monkey Toast for lunch?
This was some Pinterest-inspired (or something) creation where you turn a slice of toast into something that resembles a monkey through the clever use of bananas and raisins.
“Maybe we can get him to eat something other than Easter eggs,” my husband hissed at me as the two of them went off to the kitchen.
A minute later, I heard shouting. “No banana! No raisins! Nooooo! That’s not what a monkey looks like!”
Mental note, darling husband: Unless you are actually toasting monkeys you’re at risk of over-promising and under-delivering if you suggest Monkey Toast.
It got me thinking about the times I’ve had significant mum fails.
Skype calls
These look super cute when other people do them. I see my friends’ kids madly Skyping their grandparents overseas or aunts and uncles in other parts of New Zealand and think – surely we could do that? We have tried, several times, particularly with one relative in the UK. Although my son will watch something on my iPad or phone avidly, as soon as we turn on Skype it’s all over. We might get a little view of his forehead or up his nose but then he puts down the device, turns away and wants nothing more to do with it.
Homemade birthday cards
So cute! I remember making birthday cards when I was little. Turns out it’s quite hard to get kids to do this. The first time I thought we had success, he was outraged when I was going to fold the masterpiece in half and give it to someone else. The second time, he assured me one streak of black across the piece of paper was sufficient. I ended up having to help colour in. Luckily my creative skills are pretty weak so it was believably from a small person.
Face painting
We went to an arts festival where there was face painting. “Would you like your face done?” I was upbeat, ready for him to decline. “Yes please.” So we waited about half an hour in the line only for him to get to the front and decide he didn’t like the idea of it after all.
Toilet training
We decided we were okay with “rewards” for using the toilet. Little did we realise that those rewards would turn into bribes. Within a couple of weeks, our son was using the toilet competently – but only if he knew he was to get a treat in return. Wee in the toilet? Better give me a biscuit. Poo? That’s got to be worth some chocolate. Now we’ve got a nascent capitalist on our hands whose expectations only grow. One of my friends said to me the other day: Shouldn’t they go to the toilet because they need to go to the toilet, not because they think they are going to get something? Yes, I agreed. Absolutely. Result: Wet bed for the first time ever.
Baby sensory
This sounds like such a good idea. Expose your baby to shapes and sounds and whatever else you can think of to build up their little budding genius brains. My son had a little box full of treasures – a rock, a feather, a pasta strainer (don’t ask). He paid absolutely no attention to this carefully curated box until he was old enough to use the pasta strainer to hit things – mostly me. My dog ate the pieces of macaroni. I also took him to a music class at the library, feeling very virtuous. He cried when I tried to give him a handheld bell and kept crawling off as the other kids got into their singing and actions. Now my daughter’s baby sensory experience involves being splashed in the face with water when I try to bath her at the same time as my son, and winding bits of my hair she has pulled from my head around her fingers.
Newborn photo shoot
Ah bliss. Beautiful photos of your new one while still sleepy and compliant enough to oblige. Sounds great but I left it too long so my son had a smattering of baby acne virtually everywhere. Someone hadn’t wiped his bum properly so there was also a nice smear of yellow poo across the cheek in the photos of his naked behind. Not one for the mantelpiece. With my daughter, I completely forgot.
Puddle hunts and other flights of whimsy
A woman posted on one of the mums groups I’m a member of something along the lines of: The kids are going nuts. It’s raining, what do I do to avoid mutiny? Someone suggested a puddle hunt. What a good idea, thought I. Son would love that. So the next day when there was a bit of rain, then sun, I told him to get on his gumboots and away we went. We walked for about half an hour. No puddles to be found. “I wanted to have a ‘venture,” he told me as we got back to the house. Sorry darling.
Similar things have happened when I suggested we paint rocks to hide – the paint went all over him and then the rock was chucked into the river instead of hidden. And when we made play dough – he poured the whole bottle of food colouring in so I was too scared to let the playdough touch any surfaces. Treasure hunt in the garden? We only found dog poo but he still wanted to put it in the collection basket. I might just have to accept I’m never going to be a Pinterest-worthy mother.

Yes, you can pay your village

You know what I am really over? Daycare guilt.
We are constantly told it takes a village to raise a child. That it’s really important to rely on other people – leave your kids with friends while you go and do something to replenish your own stores, lean on grandparents to give you a night off.
But if you decide that some members of your particular village are going to be paid professionals working at a daycare centre, all hell breaks loose. Won’t your kids develop attachment issues? Haven’t your seen that study that said daycare kids were all aggressive and fat (or something)?
My son has been in a fantastic centre since he was about one. And for almost all of that time, I’ve felt that it’s something that the world thinks I should feel guilty about.
Every conversation I’ve had about daycare has been littered with comments like “I’m sure you’d rather be at home with him full-time” or “we do what we have to”. Like this is somehow meant to make me feel better.
I find myself hedging and justifying: “Oh, he’s only in three part-days a week.” “We spend lots of time together through the rest of the week.”
Why don’t we turn this on its head? Daycare shouldn’t be seen as a necessary evil. It escapes me how leaving my child with trained and skilled teachers he knows and likes in a centre designed to stimulate, educate and entertain him – and keep him safe – is somehow worse parenting than relying on a revolving roster of friends to pick up the slack when I need to work. I know of people who will proudly tell me their kids are never going to daycare – but then are happy to stick them in front of the TV at their aunt’s place for hours on end.
My son has developed a little crew of friends at daycare and is exposed to activities I would not have the stomach for if it were just up to me.  It’s messy, raucous and ridiculous but it works when you’ve got a team of adults overseeing a group of kids.
He goes for a walk to look at fire trucks with his little friends, does gorgeous art works and comes home full of stories about what he’s been doing.
The teachers are gentle and supportive and loving. Every so often I get a reminder of this – the most recent was when I went to pick him up yesterday and saw one rest her head against him in the same way I know I do.
And there’s what it gives me, too. I get to carry on working, which I love and which gives me a sense of self that is independent from my role as a mum. I’m a better mother for it. And to that beauty therapist who Iaughed and asked why I should need childcare when I work from home, I say: “Please refer to the BBC interview clip that recently went viral.”
The teachers have given me confidence by backing me with every parenting concern I’ve taken to them, regularly telling me the things they like about my son and not being afraid to smother him with hugs and distraction when drop-offs have been tricky.
There is ample research that shows, despite the scaremongering, good quality childcare leads to great outcomes. A study found that people who attended good quality daycare in the 1970s now are more likely to be more qualified adults, with better employment outcomes and had had their own kids a bit later in life than those kids who did not go to daycare. Another study showed higher cognitive and academic achievement scores for teenagers who had been through good daycare.
The key seems to be finding a great centre with low child-to-teacher ratios and well-trained staff. So let’s stop making people feel bad for using centres and instead put our time and effort into helping nurture good-quality care.
I’m going to do my best not to allow my daycare guilt to creep in any longer. My son is flourishing and thriving and I know that’s due in part to the wonderful care he gets – even if is only three part-days a week.