Hey supermum, Sarah Wilkinson’s pretty happy with her parenting lot. So next time you see her in the park, don’t tell her it’s all going to hell in a handcart…
I fake-smile, lightly chuckle and stroke my son’s head while he tries to chew on my arm. I know what’s inevitably coming next. The advice. The repetitive and honestly quite mundane and self-explanatory tidbits. It’s always the same, and very often starts with, “Ooh, just you wait until…”.
In that moment, I turn from ‘proud that I got his shorts on the right way and have no poo on my face’ mum to ‘pathetic, inept but lucky-cos-it’s-so-easy mum of one child who I obviously look like I can’t handle now, never mind when he gets older/ever has siblings.’
So I listen; nodding, wishing that my child hadn’t decided for once to stay in the same frigging place longer than his usual one minute, smiling and grimacing at her sweeping assumptions that a) every child is exactly like her children; b) we all definitely want to have more than one child and spend forever complaining about them; and c) one child is sooooo easy and frankly, if you ever find they aren’t, then you’re just a really crap parent.
I’m not saying this mum is a monster – she is a wonder. Truly. How she gets clothing and shoes on both of those children and can shout at her son shoving another child off the slide behind her without even turning her head to confirm is pretty damn admirable. But perhaps I don’t want to be her.
I often get the distinct impression that some parents have just had their children thrust upon them without any sort of forward planning (though yes, granted, occasionally sometimes they aren’t planned). They’ve sold their younger, freethinking, choice-making souls to the devil and hopped onto the parenting train, destined for pre-determined futures, and they want to tell you exactly what it’s going to be like for you.
“Why not venture into the unknown and perhaps strike up a conversation about what amazing gifts these little people you’ve created really are?”
Somewhere along the line it seems to have become the norm that every family should have two children, with a statutory age gap of between two and three years, then spend a long time expressing the horror of daily life with said children and excitement for the day they’re ‘off your hands’.
If you have more (cue jokes about not having a television/enjoying labour pain) or fewer than the allotted amount of children, your statutory gap is larger/smaller, you decide that actually having children isn’t for you (or learn to live without the children you wanted but can’t have), you’ve broken the rules. You’re an outcast. You’re doing it wrong, and everyone wants to tell you.
I’ve never been good with rules, and I’m not about to start now.
Maybe, just maybe, there are different ways of doing things. Family can have a hundred meanings and, in the end, we are all family (*resists the urge to sing Sister Sledge*).
So if you’re in the park with your two children of statutory age gap and feel like offering your experiential tales of woe or ‘advice’ to the content mum-of-one, frazzled-looking mum of younger children than yours, or childless woman with her new puppy, maybe just stop and think for a moment.
Think about how you’ll probably make her feel really small. You have no idea what she deals with every day. Think of the babies she might have lost, the children she might not be able to have, the miracle she may have thought she’d never hold, the years she might have waited for her adopted child. But most of all, try to consider the choices she has made in her life, for her family.
Why not venture into the unknown and perhaps strike up a conversation about what amazing gifts these little people you’ve created really are? Watch them soaking up all the knowledge they can find, like little super-absorbent sponges. Celebrate them. Then go catch them before they dive head-first into the stream to chase the little fishy-wishy.
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Sarah Wilkinson is a musician, writer, general arty-farty creative type, animal and human rights supporter and home-educating mum.