In medicine, we sometimes talk about ‘imposter syndrome‘ – where a doctor (or other professional!) doubts his or her accomplishments, feels insecure and feels like she is just pretending to be accomplished at her job. Essentially, she feels like an imposter.
I think I currently have the mum version of this. This lovely woman emailed me a few days ago and said that she loved my blog. Then she called me a ‘supermum’. I had to email her back and explain that I’m not a supermum, a lot of the time I’m not even sure if I’m an average mum!
I doubt myself a lot. I question my decisions. My family tease me for being sensitive about any implied criticism of my parenting and they’re right, I am.
Because being a parent matters. If I get it wrong, it matters.
So today I’ve been asking myself – what makes a bad parent?
What is a bad parent?
I’ve written before about how difficult it is to define a good mum. This holds true with good or bad parents. Leaving aside the obvious – abusive parents are clearly bad parents – it is difficult to know what a bad parent really is.
There are many different parenting styles and many parents don’t fit neatly in to one category. Strict parents may see more laissez-faire parents as ‘bad’ parents and vice versa. Parents who home-school may believe that their way is the best, whilst those whose children attend school may think they’ve made the right decision.
Sometimes as a parent it feels like we can’t win.
My eldest is 3 and a half years old. In the time since her birth I have been told that I: am too strict, am too lenient, am not setting enough rules, am setting too many rules, put her to bed too early, put her to bed too late, don’t let her have enough fun, let her away with too much, spend too much time with her, don’t spend enough time with her… there are probably more that I’ve forgotten about!
People seem to find it hard not to offer an opinion on my parenting. Part of that is strangers because I invite it by having a blog like this, but part of it is also friends and family. Everyone means well, but it can be difficult not to let it knock my confidence.
Parenting books and the Internet don’t help – you can find thousands of resources on how to be a good parent and avoid being a bad parent, but hardly any of them agree.
So faced with a total lack of consensus and conflicting opinions from everyone, what on earth am I supposed to think?
Am I a bad mother? Some days, yes…
The truth is that I know myself when I’m being a good or a bad parent.
Yesterday I was a rubbish mum. Baby J was teething and I couldn’t get him to feed or nap all day. He was overtired and cranky and by the afternoon, so was I. I picked 3-year-old L up from nursery after lunch and we went to gymnastics class, which was really the only bit of the day when our little family were happy.
From the moment we got home both J and L were miserable and grumpy and tired. L wanted me to play with her but I was busy with J and kept telling her I didn’t have time. I stuck the TV on for L and made dinner with J hanging off my leg howling.
Our usual bedtime routine fell apart as J was screaming with tiredness and sore gums, L was exhausted and upset that she’d had next to no attention all afternoon and evening. She started acting out by switching lights on, jumping around, singing, shouting and screaming whilst I tried to get J to sleep.
The evening culminated in me letting my daughter run wild until I got J to sleep, then me screaming ‘why are you being so naughty?’ and dragging her back to her room, where she finally climbed in my lap in tears and fell asleep after five minutes of cuddles, which was clearly all she’d wanted all along.
I believe in positive parenting and treating my kids with respect and understanding. Yesterday that went right out the window. It didn’t matter that I knew why L was upset and acting out, I was tired and stressed and I didn’t have it in me to sit and talk through her feelings and how she could manage them – I couldn’t even manage my own.
Yesterday I was a bad mother.
But not always
Today wasn’t perfect either. L was tired as she went to bed late last night after all the messing around and she got up earlier as a result, so she wasn’t in the best of moods.
However, today I did a better job. It was partly that J was a bit happier – he fed and napped better. He was a bit restless so I let him sleep on my chest for an hour and a half to make sure he was well rested. No matter how tired I am, I can’t be grumpy with my baby asleep on me.
I picked L up from nursery after lunch and we played. J crawled about playing with his toys and L and I had some snuggles and did some colouring and glitter.
We all made dinner together, we talked about yesterday and what a hard day it was and why.
L and I talked about how we felt and why we did and said the things we did. I said sorry and she did too. We talked about how when we’re tired we get cross. We made J laugh by playing at being ‘grumpuses’ and stomping around throwing pretend tantrums. Then we acted out what we could have done differently so our day would have been different.
When L got annoyed later in the evening and shouted at me for telling her to stop pulling on J’s leg, we did an ‘action replay’ and both rephrased how we had spoken to each other.
The kids had a great time in the bath laughing their heads off and splashing everywhere, but when I said there was too much water on the floor L said ‘don’t worry mummy, we made the mess so we will clean it up’. She went round clearing up (or at least trying) the water with her towel and deferred to J to ‘check’ the quality of the clean-up since ‘we both made the mess so we clean up together’. It made me very proud of her.
We did stories and snuggles and then I sat in the room whilst the kids fell asleep. I thought L was asleep and I was just leaving the room when she suddenly said ‘I love you mummy… even when we are both being grumpuses’.
Today I was the mum I want to be, I handled conflict with my daughter with empathy and humour but still ensured that she behaved the way I want her to. I got to spend time with and snuggle both my kids. They fell asleep feeling happy and loved.
There will always be good and bad days
I would like to be a ‘good parent’ every day. I have good intentions, but a lot of the time I fall short of being the mum I want to be. I can be tired or grumpy or impatient.
But the great thing about kids is that they are immensely forgiving. L isn’t focusing on the rubbish job I did yesterday, she’s just glad that we had fun a fun day today.
So if you have fallen short of the parent you want to be today, then please don’t beat yourself up – just try to do better tomorrow.
There’s no right answer
I asked my husband what makes a bad parent and he said ‘one who doesn’t care’. I think he’s right – being a good parent means caring – caring about your kids and caring about the job that you’re doing in raising them.
If you’re doing that, if you’re doing your best, then I think that makes you a good parent.
Your version of what ‘good’ is might not be the same as mine, but then your family is completely different. We all define good or bad parenting differently, but if we’re honest with ourselves then we know deep down whether we’ve been the parent we want to be today or not.
And really, that’s all that matters – trying to be the best parent we can, for the little ones that we love.
I hope that you’ve found these thoughts on what makes a bad parent interesting, please leave me a comment and let me know what you think defines a good or bad parent!Please follow me on social media!