I’ve had a bit of a shitty morning; a morning of self doubt, in particular with regard to my parenting abilities. Sometimes it seems like all I do it tell Grace off and sometimes it seems like all Grace does is moan. Honestly, she does not know she is born. I’m going to sound like my mother now, but when I was a kid I didn’t have a fraction of what she has.
My childhood was typically working class and whilst we didn’t go without, there was a feeling that there was a lot more out there to be had. My parents also separated when I was 12, which nowadays is the norm I know, but back then it felt like we were the exception.
Grace’s childhood, on the other hand, couldn’t be more different. My husband and I have a stable, loving marriage, having established our relationship long before she came along. We have a beautiful home, a brand new car, several holidays a year; she goes to the best school, and whilst we try not to spoil her, she never goes without. Although she’s an only child, she’s surrounded by cousins and aunts and uncles and grandparents and our pet dog Barny is her shadow.
On the outside, her childhood seems idyllic and I thought that providing all of this for her would make her life perfect. Not so it seems. This morning was pretty typical: she went to sleep late last night (because even though we put her to bed on time, she faffs around and stays awake as late as possible) so woke up grumpy. I asked her to get dressed while I had a shower and when I got out she only had her blouse and tights on. When I did her hair, she wailed and streaked because, by all accounts, I was scalping her. She didn’t know what she wanted for breakfast (until I suggested something and then she definitely didn’t want that). She made her bed and then her hair was a mess. She ate her breakfast but it was horrible. She took an hour to clean her teeth because just as she was about to do it she decided she HAD to find her book mark for school. She complained that her hair was a mess again. She didn’t want to wear her coat because it makes her look fat. She can’t possibly go into school with her hair such a mess. Can she change her hair because when it’s pulled back, her ears stick out? (NO). Why have you put my white trainers in for games, they get too dirty? Walking into school she was shivering with cold but couldn’t possibly do her coat up because it doesn’t look nice.
Guys, she’s 7. And this was all before 8.30am. When I pick her up later, depending on what mood she comes out in, it’ll be: “stop asking me so many questions,” “what’s for dinner? I don’t like that,” “I don’t want to do my homework,” “why can’t I just eat chocolate and crisps?” “why do I have to go to bed?” If this is how she is now, I have no idea how I’m going to cope when her hormones come in to play and she becomes a teenager.
What worries me the most is how much she cares about her looks already. This is something that most women struggle with, myself being no exception; but I have always been very conscious not to ever say anything derogatory about myself in front of her. I walk around naked and talk about how healthy and strong we are to try to give her body confidence and whilst I do tell her how beautiful she is I always follow it up with how it’s more important to be kind than anything else. I thought that this was enough but my own constant battle with looking good enough has obviously seeped through subconsciously and even at 7, she hasn’t escaped it.
I’m so disappointed every time she rushes to the mirror to check her appearance. I keep telling her that it doesn’t matter and I talk to her about how blessed she is to live the life she does and to be healthy but it doesn’t seem to be enough. I’m aware that the best way to teach her is to lead by example; how can she love herself as she is if her Mum doesn’t? I just hope it isn’t too late. Already it seems so engrained in her to care what other people think about her, again something that has blighted my life and something I am constantly working on. It makes me determined to work harder on my own battles.
The struggle she’s up against was reaffirmed to me when, after school drop off I walked around my local park. Walking past girls who, in their school uniforms, looked like they were on their way to a nightclub; fully made up, their uniform hiked up and unbuttoned to make them look more appealing. It makes me sad to think about the pressures that girls and women face to look or act a certain way. How can I help my daughter be strong enough to be her own person and not succumb to this pressure?
I struggle to know how to handle her behaviour now at age 7. I’ve tried taking things off her, telling her off, talking to her nicely; this morning I ended up raising my voice, throwing her bags on the floor and telling her that I’d had enough. This isn’t typical but sometimes I think that a little bit of a shock is what is needed to get through to them. Seeing tears rolling down her face just before she walked into school wasn’t the greatest feeling in the world though and will impact my whole day.
I know I’m not alone in this. All of my mother friends seem to have the same issues with their own kids. Parenting is hard. We have to do hard things, especially if we want our kids to grown up into half decent adults. There is no handbook; no right or wrong. What works for one child isn’t necessarily going to work for another. I want to try to understand Grace better; sometimes I think that she just doesn’t know how to articulate what she is feeling. I want her to be able to talk to me about anything; for her to know that she can trust me.
And some mornings she wakes up like sunshine and is a complete dream. We laugh and hug and she’s all “yes mum, jump mum, how high mum?” Sometimes she sits and writes or draws for hours, completely happy in her own company. She brings me notes and makes me things and tells me how much she loves me. She shares beautifully, always trying to give things away. She’s polite and funny and kind and loving. I know she’t not going to be perfect and I don’t want her to feel like she has to be but I think that I need those moments where we really connect because they make everything else melt into the background and it’s all worth it. It’s in those moments that I know that everything is going to be OK.