I was doing my regular radio segment recently and we were talking about children’s birthday parties. With that I shared stories of my children’s last few birthday parties, one of which involved me making soccer ball cake pops until 2am the morning of the party (seriously, cake pops look amazing but are SO much harder than they look).
When we got off air my fellow panellists took their headphones off, turned to me and said “So, you’re one of THOSE mothers then?”
“What mothers?” I asked.
“The mothers who throw parties like that and make us all feel crap about ourselves for not measuring up,” was their reply.
We all laughed, but it got me thinking – why do I do these things?
It makes me happy seeing my house look nice when my friends walk in, even though our kids will mess it up in two seconds
It wasn’t the first time I’d pondered the question. It had occurred to me when I’d turned up to a BBQ with black fondant, ready to cut out hundreds of pentagons for my soccer ball cake pops. I’d run out of time and was so determined to do those cake pops – even though I copped endless teasing from my in-laws about the lengths I was going to. Me, a perfectionist? Never!
At the time, my husband had asked me why I was doing it. “The kids won’t appreciate it,” he pointed out. But I was already aware of that.
“Is it for the other mothers?” he asked. “Do you want them to be impressed?”
But it honestly wasn’t that. And it certainly wasn’t to make them feel bad about themselves, either.
When I thought about it, I realised it was all for me. I liked the feeling of having the decorations and food look like a Donna Hay magazine (or at least an inferior attempt of one). Even though it would be messed up and eaten in seconds, it gave me a sense of satisfaction to see it look special, to know I had made the effort.
Giving it more thought, I noted there are a lot of areas in which I make an effort solely for myself. When my friends come over I’ll always hastily clean the house, push all the mess into a spare cupboard, do the dishes and vacuum. Do I do this because I think they’ll judge me if my house is a mess? Absolutely not; I know they wouldn’t. If I knew they were doing the same for me I’d tell them off, knowing I couldn’t care less about the state of their house. I don’t even look at their floors, for goodness sake!
Yet if anyone drops over unannounced while my place looks like a normal house where two kids under six live, I feel the need to apologise. Why?
When I spoke to a friend about this, she admitted she did the same thing. She reasoned, “I think we want to look like we’re coping, like we’re on top of things.”
Maybe she’s right. To look at this friend you’d think she’s very much on top of things: she and her kids are always beautifully presented, and their house is gorgeous. Yet she still feels like she needs to show she’s coping.
We all have things that matter to us. Some of us need to clean constantly and feel bad if there’s a speck of dust on the cupboards; some can’t leave the house without a full face of make-up. Some like their children to be dressed in designer clothes; some care about how their car looks (men, mostly!). My husband is meticulous about shining his shoes, saying that men judge each other on their shoes and their cars. Maybe that’s the way they show they’re on top of things.
But me telling my husband that no one cares about how our car looks is the same as him not understanding why I stayed up until 2am making cake pops. I care. It makes me happy to look at photos of my son smiling in front of his soccer cake, knowing full well he would’ve been just as happy with one bought from Coles. It makes me happy seeing my house look nice when my friends walk in the door, even though our kids will mess it up in two seconds.
What does Oprah say? “Love is in the details.” Whether it’s making someone you love a cake, painting your nails bright pink because it makes you feel good, putting on a fabulous dinner party for friends, having a sparkling kitchen sink that no one else even sees, or wearing perfectly shiny shoes, we all have things that matter to us.
Do you do things that are ultimately unnecessary, but that make you feel good? Have your say in the Essential Baby forum or in the comments below.