Managing your mental health: There's no 'one size fits all' when it comes to parenting

Mental health blogger Fiona Kennedy discusses parenting guilt

I was going to call this piece ‘Mammy Guilt’ but I think ‘Parent Guilt’ is more appropriate, because for quite a significant proportion of time when it comes to our kids, we’re damned if we do, and damned if we don’t. Whether you’re Mam or Dad has very little to do with it.  There’s a quote doing the rounds on Facebook at the moment (I’m not sure who said it first) that goes like this:

‘How to be a Mom in 2017: Make sure your children's academic, emotional, psychological, mental, spiritual, physical, nutritional, and social needs are met while being careful not to overstimulate, understimulate, improperly medicate, helicopter, or neglect them in a screen-free, processed foods-free, GMO-free, negative energy-free, plastic-free, body positive, socially conscious, egalitarian but also authoritative, nurturing but fostering of independence, gentle but not overly permissive, pesticide-free two-story, multilingual home preferably in a cul-de-sac with a backyard and 1.5 siblings spaced at least two year apart for proper development also don't forget the coconut oil.

How To Be A Mom In Literally Every Generation Before Ours: Feed them sometimes.’

Yes!!!!!!!! This one quote sums up possibly every single reason why so many of us struggle with parenthood these days. There are so many experts, books, websites, bloggers, never mind the well-meaning advice offered by friends and family, it can be completely overwhelming.

From almost the second I realised I was pregnant with my first, the guilt kicked in. First, it was pregnancy related – the couple of drinks I had before I knew I was pregnant. Was I eating the right food? Oh my god, that can of coke is going to BREAK my baby. Labour – well, of course it had to be medication and epidural free, because resorting to either of those was admitting defeat in some way. Babies had to be exclusively breastfed, never mind that the lack of sleep that caused (while at the same time attempting to maintain pre baby levels of household efficiency) caused me to completely crack up. I could not give in. I would not give in. I was going to be the best mother that any child has ever had in the history of time, because I was going to do it RIGHT.

Fun story? There is no right, and I quite literally drove myself into the ground trying to make everything perfect. I was none the wiser when my second came along, and to an extent I still struggle with this, every single day. The days that I’m tired are much worse, they’re the days I’m convinced I cannot do right for doing wrong and second guess every single decision I make when it comes to my kids.

There are a couple of flashpoints that are almost constant:

  • Sending my son outside to play (he has a tendency to resist)
  • Screen time – yes or no?
  • Treats – how many is too many?
  • One on one time – have I given them enough?
  • Saying, ‘No, I can’t do (insert whatever) right now

Those are all fairly reasonable, to a point. Among the more ridiculous that lead me to believe I’m actively neglecting my kids:

  • Making dinner instead of spending time with them (yes, the dinner that they will eat)
  • Working. I work from home, and somehow in my head sitting in front of the laptop for any reason at all, work based or otherwise, is unforgivable when the kids are around
  • Taking a phone call
  • Housework
  • Leaving them to entertain themselves
  • Saying no when they want to play with me

I could go on, but honestly, even as I write this I can see how ridiculous these thoughts are.

I love my kids. I want them to be happy, healthy, secure in themselves, confident, self-sufficient, and know that they are loved. Part of that means teaching them that they are not the centre of the universe. There are times when I will not be available, when I have to do something other than pay attention to them. They need to learn this now, because it will be a far harder lesson to learn when they go out into the real world in a few years time. Letting them get bored is actually a good thing (I need this one tattooed to my forehead so I can see it every time I look in the mirror). They have got to learn to be happy in their own company, to not always be reliant on someone/something else to keep them entertained.

It's not rocket science. We don’t need to reinvent the wheel. There’s no such thing as the perfect parent, but the good enough parent?? That’s a realistic aim.  I’m a good enough parent. Some days I astound myself with how together I am, some days I survive on caffeine and sugar and rely on screens to get me through when they get too demanding. Some days I have the patience of a saint, others I snap far too quickly. Most days I land somewhere in the middle. What’s important is no matter how spectacular or mediocre my attempts at parenting at any given time, I am always, always doing my best. It’s all any of us can do. Might be time we considered giving ourselves a break?