My little one sobbed when I dropped her off at childcare one day last week. Ergo, I did.
It came as a shock because her first week was tear-free, despite my readiness for certain downpour. She waved goodbye and took her trademark sunny smile to the sand pit with a borderline offensive blend of pace and nonchalance.
Week two was a different story. She wasn’t having a bar of it. Her arms encircled my thigh like baby boa constrictors. There wasn’t a dress-up box or vacant easel that could distract from my imminent departure.
This was less than ideal because I had immovable work commitments, ones requiring phone-in-bag focus, steady breathing and an un-blotchy complexion.
In the car, I worked on pulling myself together, one h-h-hysterical inhale at a time. I turned on the radio, desperate to numb the guilty sting of those heart-shredding howls.
On cue, like a scene from a B-grade film, I tuned in to the beginning of an interview on Radio National’s Life Matters with Emma Jenner, author of Keep Calm and Parent On: A guilt-free approach to parenting by asking more from them and doing less.
I’m a bit over Keep Calm memes, but guilt-free parenting? Preach. This was intuitive radio. I listened on while mopping up the mascara-inked rivulets that now dampened my décolletage, hoping for an epiphany.
Jenner, billed as a modern Mary Poppins, might as well have slapped my bum like a coach in the ring and told me to harden the proverbial up.
Here’s where I tell you I haven’t read her book yet. I did, however, nod through most of the interview.
The host starts by posing the classic dilemma. You’re breakfasting your toddler. You give her milk in a blue sippy cup. She says she wants the pink one. Swap cups and avoid a tantrum or hold your ground? Peaceful expediency or patient persistence?
I’d very much like to tell you I’m a blue cup mum, but if I’m honest, there have been more than several pink cup days, like when we’ve had a plane to catch and didn’t have time to do battle or when I’ve been on a conference call, writing a birthday card, packing the nappy bag, putting my face on and running fifteen minutes behind schedule. Pink cup. All the way.
“Parents are trying to do the best for their children,” says Jenner. “But I think in a lot of households parents work all day and the last thing they want to do is come home and be firm and argue over a sippy cup.”
Appeasement. True that.
Jenner, a nanny and parenting consultant (that’s a thing), encourages perseverance and tells us not to make excuses for bad behaviour or let the guilt overwhelm us.
She says some arguments are worth having early on so they don’t repeat. She lists key qualms with modern parenting, like cheating with tablets and TV (guilty) and rushing in to do for a kid what he can do for himself (a little bit guilty—it’s faster when I help put the toys away).
It’s elegant in theory, but in a time poor world, implementation is another matter.
She’s right: a lot of us are swimming in guilt. We’re trying our best to stay afloat and get the balance right with full knowledge this utopian work/life equilibrium is either unachievable or unsustainable.
Truth be told, I’m left feeling guilty about feeling guilty, which I’m certain wasn’t the author’s intention.
As I walk into my first meeting and check my phone for the umpteenth time, I resolve to keep aiming for blue cup days and forgive myself quick as I can for the pink cup ones.
It can’t hurt if my darling girl learns her mum is as human she is.
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