Is it time to ditch the parenting guilt?

Are we having fun yet?

Are we having fun yet?

The other day Toby told me that I was not fun, and he told someone else that I never laughed (only at the television).

Being told you’re not fun is up there with having poor personal hygiene in terms of popularity stakes. Let’s face it most people would probably rather choose to spend half an hour with a psychopath rather than a dullard; at least the former is fascinating.

So it’s fair to say I was a tiny bit bothered about it, and after a bit of soul-searching I decided that he was right; I probably am not a fun person. I don’t really like all those conventionally “fun” activities like fancy dress (ugh), dancing to bad pop music (really?) or any group celebration (organised fun, purr-lease). Damn it, I’m not even much of a fan of Christmas.

Desperate to redeem myself, I promised to be “fun mum” for a whole day. Big mistake. You see children are actually mini-manipulators who thrive on opportunities to exploit their parents’ weaknesses to further their own agenda.

Toby saw an opening, and he had the bit between his teeth. It transpired that our definitions of “fun” were somewhat incompatible. His idea of a “fun mum” was someone who basically said yes to his every wish. My idea of “fun mum” was someone who came up with lots of ideas for healthy and educational activities that involved mother and son bonding, none of which were met with any enthusiasm.

So I reverted to “boring mum,” and do you know what, it suits me a lot better. I have to do chores. I have to keep a rein on my spending. And I also have to set boundaries, otherwise our little family would fall apart. Toby will not understand this for at least another 15 years but so what. It’s not my job to be fun; it’s my job to look after him.

Parenting guilt-triggers revealed

It didn’t surprise me, though, that “not being fun enough” was ranked 12th on a list of top 30 parenting guilt triggers, and I felt reassured to see that it’s not just me who has experienced this slight anxiety.

The list was gathered from a survey carried out on behalf toy manufacturer Little Tikes. More than 2,000 UK families were quizzed for the study and common themes were all the usual suspects of working too much, over-reliance on screens, and not getting out and about enough.

The saddest finding of the study was perhaps that eight out of ten parents “put themselves under pressure with constant worries about whether or not they are a good enough parent.”

If I’ve learned anything after my six and a bit years of parenting it’s that it takes less than you might think to be a “good enough parent”. You just need to show up. Striving for parenting perfection is misguided, and sometimes in chasing an impossible dream you can be missing the target.

I spent my first two years as a new mum, mistakenly trying to turn myself into a domestic goddess (which I’m not and I’ll never be) while cramming in exciting trips during my weekends, setting up playdates and worrying about my appearance (because it’s simply not enough to be a good mother anymore, you also have to look damn fantastic doing it). I was stressed and snappy. I’ve now let go of a lot of that pressure and guilt, and life is easier.

The items that populate the list will not come as a surprise to anyone who’s a parent. We’ve all had those thoughts. I’ve just learnt to shed a lot of the guilt associated with them.

Work sometimes comes first

I refuse to feel guilty about being a working mother. Sometimes work creeps into my home life. Sometimes I’ve put work before my son. I’ve sent him to nursery when he’s been ill because I’ve been worried about the repercussions of missing a work deadline. I missed his first ever sports’ day. I will not meet his new Primary 3 teacher when he returns to school tomorrow because I neither drop him off nor pick him up from school.

Do I feel guilty about any of this? Of course. Momentarily, yes. But my eye is on a bigger picture, as a provider. I want to do well in my career because I want to earn more money. Money that will help if Toby decides he wants to go to Oxford or Cambridge one day (ok, dreaming a bit there) or needs extra football lessons (his dream, that one). I’m investing in our future, and I also need to put a roof over our head too. Plus, do you know what else? He gets over these disappointments. He wouldn’t get over our home being repossessed.

I also refuse to feel guilty about dropping commitments to spend time playing with him or not splashing the cash on whatever takes his fancy. One of life’s most important lessons is that the resources of time and money are limited. Kids just don’t get that. But they don’t stand a chance of understanding if you say yes too readily. So I rarely feel guilty about saying no.

Guilty as charged

Where I do reserve guilt is for those times when I’m putting my own needs before Toby’s and I’m slipping into sloppy habits. Like, letting him watch one YouTube video too many because I want a bit of peace and quiet. Or, setting a poor example to him by stuffing my face with sweets (and definitely when I steal his Easter chocolate).

Snapping at him too readily, is something I do and should feel guilty about. Particularly when the source of my temper is not him, but something else entirely. Children are a far too easy target for a bad mood. This deserves my guilt. However, instead of ruminating on these sorts of guilty feelings, I try and see it as a signal to change. You see guilt should be strictly limited to the things we can control and not the things we can’t change.

We want to be all things to our children but we need to stop beating ourselves up for the things we can’t always be. We’re all only human after all.

Here is the full list of top 30 guilt triggers for parents. How many resonate with you?

  1. Being too busy to give my children more attention
  2. Working long hours
  3. Doing ‘jobs’ when you should be spending quality time playing
  4. Working late
  5. Not being able to afford everything they want
  6. Not spending enough ‘quality time’ together
  7. Not playing enough outside with them
  8. Returning to work after my maternity leave (mums only)
  9. Not going on more days out
  10. Not spending enough time in the fresh air with your children
  11. Not having more patience
  12. Not being more ‘fun’ when you play with them
  13. Relying on the TV to keep them entertained while you get on with chores / work
  14. Telling your children off
  15. Putting my child into nursery/childminder
  16. Wanting to go to work instead of being a stay-at-home parent
  17. Going back to work and leaving your wife / girlfriend home with a baby (dads only)
  18. Wanting to have time away from my children every now and then
  19. Not earning enough money for one of us to be home with our child / children
  20. Not going on holidays abroad
  21. Having to leave them with someone else to go to work during the school holidays
  22. Spending too much time and energy on the household chores
  23. Not having more money to spend on new clothes
  24. Not being around to do the school run
  25. Not helping more with homework
  26. Not volunteering for more school activities
  27. Telling them to put down gadgets when you are just as addicted to yours
  28. Not seeing other children enough
  29. Checking work emails/taking work-related phone calls when you are at home with your children
  30. Not having enough time or money to provide freshly cooked and healthy meals.

Sort out the work-life balance with Little Tikes

Little Tikes’ and Olympic medallist Greg Rutherford are teaming up to help inspire families to get out and about together. They are asking asking families to share their #toptrikertrails and are giving 50 4-in-1 Sports Edition Trikes away.

Visit www.littletikes.co.uk/trikers-with-greg.

The new Little Tikes website is full of inspiration for UK families to get out and about this summer including a way to share walking ideas with #toptrikertrails.

Little Tikes is giving away 50 trikes to UK families to help. For more information go to: www.littletikes.co.uk/littletrikers.

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