Thursday, 17 February 2011

Olympic Standards and Keeping up with the Jones'

One of the reasons I hate mother-baby groups with a passion is that they are a breeding ground for competition, insensitivity and that most detestable fashion, stiff-upper-lipness. I used to go to a baby music group with Harris when he was a few months old, which he loved, though he often felt a little overwhelmed. But he wasn't the reason I had to stop going and get his granny to take him instead. I just got sick of other mums' false sympathies when they learnt he was not letting me sleep at night, followed by declarations that their little angel had slept through from a few hours/days/weeks old, and had I tried this/that and the other? Now I know that a fraction of new parents are lucky enough to have a "sleeper" from the start (and by god, weren't we thankful to get one in Molly!) but I cannot believe that those are in fact the only parents to go to such groups! It wasn't until I started to go to some slightly more alternative parenting groups that I found other mums willing to "fess up". In fact they, like me, found relief and joy in the process. Rather than covering up what they could otherwise have thought was a result of poor parenting, and giving false claims that they and their babs were doing stupendously, they would happily moan about sleepless nights, difficulty feeding, their guilt over losing their rag and abandoning principles etc etc etc. How much easier! How much more relaxing! And what a weight off to be able to offload in such empathetic company!

The Superiority Complex
Another reason I have tried to avoid such groups, and mums in general, is that I have always felt inferior. Or rather, I have always been made to feel as if I am inferior in some way. Much like the fact we drive an old, dirty and forever-untidy banger rather than the latest model, recently washed and polished, I constantly feel judged for having our little ones either in a sling, a cheap and basic buggy, or worse, loose about our persons! We have always believed in travelling light, and that became even more important when we had kids (though obviously harder!). So we were not about to go out and purchase the shiny, springy and super-spacious 4x4 version of a buggy or pram that would never fit in our car and make life on public transport  or even walking around the shops hideously hard work. Yet this appears to be the norm. I am constantly amazed and bamboozled by the sheer quantity of stuff many parents drag around with them all day. What's it all for? The most we ever took out with Harris, on occasion, was a change of clothes and a couple of nappies. More often than not we didn't bother with either as we'd change him before we went anywhere, and then change him again when we got back. We only ever had an accident once I think, where we had to remove trousers and he had nothing to put back on him. But again, unless it's the middle of winter, that's not the end of the world is it? We just snuggled him up close and put a blanket over him once he was back in his car seat. On another occasion I was berated by a woman in the library for having him loose on my lap whilst I did some work. Put him in a carrier, she said. Quite besides the fact that I wanted him close to me instead of sitting apart on the floor, what she didn't realise (or rather, failed to think about) was that if I strapped him into a carrier he would bellow the whole library down. And why should I anyway? He was quite comfortable with me, and isn't that what matters most? A few weeks back I witnessed something which highlighted just how nonsensical we have become in our desperate need to keep up appearances. At a supermarket, a woman pulled up into a parent-and-child bay (in her shiny, spotless, saloon car), got out, opened the boot, and spent the next  10-15 minutes extracting and putting together her designer buggy. She then proceeded to zip her child into a huge sleeping-bag type affair and, finally ready, locked the car and headed into the supermarket - which was all of 2 seconds walk given her parking proximity. I couldn't help but wonder, why didn't she just plonk her child in a trolley? And how was she going to manage a separate basket/trolley anyway? Clearly her desire to look the part of a caring, indulgent parent precluded any form of common sense when it came to getting her shopping done in a light and easy manner.

The Baby Olympics
When I was pregnant with Harris we knew someone who had rather different views on parenting to us. One of her proclamations was that all children should be able to walk by the time they are one year old. Because hers did. And, she said importantly, she had had to take a friend's child and 'teach' them to walk because they hadn't started yet.

I have long since learned to hold my tongue and laugh inwardly at this particular form of parental competitiveness. It's clear that the kind of parents who worry unduly about whether their (or even other people's) children are "achieving" developmental milestones in a timely fashion are those that are harbouring - or hiding - their own insecurities. Of course it's normal to worry a little - it's the most essential part of being a parent after all - but to put strict and uniform time limits on childhood development can only ever be damaging to both parent and child. Would you be the type to force them to have piano lessons, or play rugby, simply because you want them to? They must learn to be their own person and that means allowing them to mature at their own rate, however frustrating that may seem to you.  As a mother of one 18-month old who is still not running around on his own two feet, I can fully appreciate the temptation to 'push' them on, but knowing my son only too well, I also recognise how pointless - and detrimental - this would prove.

And if you need more incentive to be patient, remember that every adult achieves in different ways. Some of us are a little bit good at everything, whilst some of us excel at one or two things in life. Who knows, your apparently lazy toddler could in fact be another Picasso, Einstein or Florence Nightingale!

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