Rather like hearing about other peoples sex lives (What? You do THAT? Oh wow, I didn’t even know what was a THING) watching how other mums do mothering can be bemusing, bewitching, breathtaking, eye-watering, torturous and astonishing. I get how weird it is to watch someone do something you’d never do, whether its putting their kid into a disposable nappy or shouting or giving processed sugar to a newborn. When I need a little cheering up as a stay-at-home-mum, I just head to my local playground and while my kid is on equipment, I’m on safari. I’m the gawping brunette who has put down her tin of M&S Mojito to pull on her judgey pants while you micro manage your five year old down the slide. And this is not to dismiss this shock of difference. I do experience it, like everydayallthetime. Because, it turns out, unless you literally actually join a cult, and I am not – repeat NOT- obliquely referencing baby led weaning, parents are all different and they transmit their own idiosyncratic logic and values and ideals and fears into their kid. It is obvious that everyone has got their own idea of what human flourishing and the Good Life looks like, and the job of every parent out there is to show their kid their particular brand of it. Every choice we make as parents – conscious and unconscious- is an attempt on all of our parts to teach the next gen the survival skills they need to flourish in their own different social milieu.
I take enormous pride in the fact that my mum-friends often make radically different choices than I do- in regards to childcare, discipline, play, education and nutrition. Everything. I feel that somehow, in the battlefields of the muummywars, somehow I managed to find a quiet spot just out of earshot of the screams about organic broccoli purée and use of screen time, where the fighting has ceased. The broadswords have been wiped clean of the blood and guts, and here we sit, plaiting one another’s hair and conspiratorially tucking Katherine Mansfield novellas into one another’s satchels as our children join hands and circle us singing.
And maybe this speaks to my own ruthlessness as a mother. I know I’m not very interested in defending turfs or creeds or tribes. What I am interested in is looting motherhood for personal growth. And my friends- who have all made such different choices and live such different lives than I do- have ushered me into epiphanies. Some epiphanies about mothering, but the most valuable ones have been about me. They have challenged me and expanded my intellectual and emotional horizons. I am often dazzled by their capacities- I admire her resilience or her clear headedness. They literally do tuck books into my satchel. And sometimes we go dancing together, the way only mothers of three year old boys can party. She introduced me to Mezcal and decent Mexican food in London. And I screwed up the courage to put my kid in a cot after the first year because another mum- who is kind and compassionate and so tender with her kid- challenged me with her different sleep-practices. Watching her gave me permission to claim more for myself, to emerge from that first year of parenting and ask for a little more of my own soul back.
I learned so much from other mums through admiring their difference. I am so lucky to know mums who have decided to send their kid to nursery, to get a nanny, to stay at home. Parents are under so much pressure to be perfect, as if there was one right way to parent, and it is a relief to exist in the middle of such diverse practices- I feel more confident in making the right choice for me and my family when I see how differently other families are constituted and how different their logic is from mine. It (maybe counter-intuitively) gives me permission to be my own person and to admire the mum friends who are very much their own people.
Copyright Diana Smith 2018