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 a professional life in addition to family responsibilities, the same sense of guilt pervades us all. We tend to feel that we could be doing things better – more books, less TV, more craft, less shouting at the kids, 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 that I would focus on the bare minimum. The bare minimum method of mothering is about survival only and anything else is an added bonus. I’ve learned that keeping all three children happy at the same time is an unrealistic ambition. If two out of three are happy, 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 non-essential and I am urging all mothers to get on board with being “adequate”.
I remember my first visit to a baby shop when I was pregnant with my first child. The volume of baby ‘infrastructure’ in this shop was overwhelming. I picked up a list from the counter that listed the items under “essential” and “nice to have”. The essential item list from this high-end store would have sent us broke had we followed it 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 sterilised dummies are not. Bathing is not essential. A hose in summer or the quick top to 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 in itself. I do, however, figure that it’s essential for me to be dressed although sometimes I do need to check that I’ve got the appropriate zips and buttons done up! With the warmer weather approaching 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 house tidy 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 positively 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. Admittedly it had been “some time” between visits. The bill was exorbitant so I can’t afford to let my dental hygiene slide.
Creating nutritious meals for my kids (only to have it end up on the floor, walls or in my face) is another unrealistic ambition. For those of you with “fussy eaters” you will understand my reluctance to put in much effort in the kitchen. I have tried every technique in the book to no success. Recently I patted myself on the back for coercing my daughter into eating hot chips. Such is her suspicion with food she was reluctant to try them despite my “trust me, you will like them” appeals. I know hot chips are not ideal, but hey, they’re a vegetable and we all need carbs!
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….