Twice in one day I heard the following comments from mums that are doing a great job looking after their families. “I am not the mother I thought I would be”, and “I feel like I am doing everything badly.”
My advice? “Lower your expectations!”
Whether you’re a stay-at-home-mother managing the infinite demands of family life, or a working mum juggling professional and family responsibilities, the same sense of guilt pervades us. We tend to feel that we could be parenting better; more books, less TV, more craft, less shouting, more nutritious meals, less sugar…. the list is endless.
When my third child was born earlier this year, and my eldest had not yet turned three, I decided to focus on the bare minimum. The bare minimum method of mothering is about survival only and anything else is a bonus. Experience has taught me that keeping all three children happy at the same time is an unrealistic ambition. If two out of three are content, things are going well. If all three are happy then I consider myself an over-achiever!
I've also learned to lower my expectations and standards. I can easily distinguish between what’s essential and what’s not, and I am urging all mothers to get on board with being “adequate.”
Instead of giving myself a hard time about all the things that I could do better, I am fostering imperfections and feeling good about it.
I remember visiting a baby shop during my first pregnancy. The extent of baby infrastructure in this shop was overwhelming. I picked up a list from the counter that listed items under “essential” and “nice to have.” The essential items from this high-end store would have sent us broke, but I think it’s a good model for approaching motherhood when the times are tough.
So what classifies as essential?
I think most would agree that clothes and food are a necessity. Clean faces and perfect piggy tails are optional extras. Clean nappies are naturally essential but daily bathing is not. A hose in summer or the quick top and tail method is perfectly adequate. An empty laundry basket is an impossible pursuit and homemade play dough is a nice to have.
Come to think of it, kids don’t need to be dressed all the time. On more than one occasion my toddler has still been in her dressing gown and pyjamas when dropping off my eldest to kinder. No one has given us a second glance. The fact that I make it there at all for an 8.30am start with three kids in tow is an achievement. I do, however, consider it essential for me to be dressed, as haphazardly as it may be. During warmer weather, why dress your kids at all for home? They love a nudie run and seem so much happier unadorned.
My domestic standards have reached an all-time low. The addition of my third child has resulted a living room that resembles a war zone. I don’t berate myself about this and I challenge anyone to maintain a tidy house that occupies three preschoolers. I heard recently that a messy house is a happy house, so if that sentiment is true then we must be euphoric at our place!
Needless to say, I have lowered my personal standards too. I am cloaked in vomit and milk most of the time so I’ve stopped wearing decent clothes. Hair and make up are optional extras and get done infrequently but I do consider brushing my teeth a necessity, especially after my last check up at the dentist.
Creating nutritious meals for my kids (only to have it end up on the floor, walls or in my face) is another unrealistic ambition. Those of you with fussy eaters will understand my reluctance to put in much effort in the kitchen. I have tried every technique in the book without success. Recently I applauded myself for coercing my daughter into eating hot chips. Such is her suspicion with food she was reluctant to try them despite my appeals and leading by example. I know hot chips are not ideal, but hey, they’re a vegetable and carbs are a vital food group!
Instead of giving myself a hard time about all the things that I could do better, I am fostering imperfections and feeling good about it. There’s really nothing wrong with doing things adequately, satisfactorily or sufficiently. If your kids are happy then the chances are you’re doing a great job.
Liberate yourself and start lowering your standards. It’s nice to sometimes excel and it gives you a huge ego boost when you actually surpass your expectations. You’d be surprised how many things are optional extras.
Give it a go. Just like 40 is the new 30, “adequate” is the new “excellent”. Well, it is in my household anyway….
Michaela Fox is a freelance writer and event manager. She is mother to three beautiful daughters. You can follow her musings on motherhood at notanotherslipperydip.wordpress.com