Parenting and the culture of comparison
This news story jumped out at me today, in which it was suggested that many mums lie about how they are raising their children.
According to a Netmums survey over two thirds of mums have lied about how well they cope with being a parent. One in five fibbed about how much time they spend playing with their children and a quarter had been economical with the truth about how much TV they allowed their children to watch.
Personally I think those numbers are low-balling it. Furthermore I think it is entirely understandable.Reason being, I can think of no endeavour on THIS EARTH which is scrutinised more than the role of parent.
The number of people and agencies which sit in judgement on parents is quite astonishing. It starts as soon as the babies hit the floor (so to speak), and it never really ends. What’s more, we’re never, ever prepared for it. We are under the microscope from day one, aren’t we?
[I say "we"; the research is aimed mainly at mums, still overwhelmingly the primary carers, but I appreciate the legion of SAHDs too, as well as those like me who share parenting when we can.]
We are bombarded with advice and instruction. Our children are compared against arbitrary benchmarks within hours of being born and that sets the pattern for the rest of their (and our) lives. If they (ie we) fall short, we feel we have somehow failed. From health to education, parents like you and me are constantly TOLD what to achieve; this level, that level, these scores on the chart, those points on the graph. At least.
Is it unsurprising therefore that we become steeped in a culture of comparison? It leaches into the mums’ groups, playgroups and playgrounds across the country.
Don’t misunderstand me; parents have every right to be proud of their children, but the culture of comparison leads us (either unwittingly or otherwise) into a war of one-upmanship which makes us look inward and self-analyse. If we don’t like the results, it is easy to see why we paint a picture of parenthood, complete with airbrushed-out unsavoury bits.
I should point out at this juncture that the entire industry in parental expertise (and it is an industry – if you don’t believe me, search Amazon) is a willing accessory in all this. For too long, too much opinion has been dressed up as fact, and only serves the fuel the blue flame of inadequacy.
Does this survey really tell us anything we didn’t already know, or at least suspect? I think not. Is there a parental “arms race” going on? I’m sure there is.
Is there such a thing as a perfect parent? Well, here’s the thing… Yes there is, but it’s not where you think it is.
You are probably already there. Yeah you, reading this piece. You may not feel like it, but this is purely because you compare yourself to others. Why do it? Our children, our lives and ourselves are all different in a million different and complex ways. Because of this simple fact, no one can pass judgement on your parenting skills without actually being you.
And because you ARE you, don’t you have a head start?