Accepting Your Imperfect Parenting by Nikki Wilson-Smith

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I am not the mother I thought I would be.

I was driving to the market one Saturday morning with my toddler in the back seat. She was wearing her flannelette dinosaur pyjamas under a big pink corduroy jacket with bunny ears, slung over the top. I was singing to the radio and she was throwing sultanas down her throat. About a third made it into her mouth while the rest of the packet scattered across the backseat.

Just then I remembered a promise I had made to myself a few years earlier when we’d bought a newfamily-friendly car. I wasn’t going to be one of those parents with popcorn and wipes strewn acrossthe interior, I wouldn’t drive a family transport rubbish bin.

And here I was.

I’d also promised myself my kids would eat well, that I would find ingenious ways to hide vegetables into faux chicken nuggets and bake slices filled with seeds and ground almond. I planned to dress them comfortably in (fairly) gender-neutral clothes and brush their hair morning and night.

The image of the person I would be was so specific that I could actually picture myself standing barefoot in my kitchen in a flattering long dress, baby weight gone and hair freshly washed. In my vision I was making homemade, sugar-free muesli bars, taking breaks to breast feed my baby while waiting for the nutritious snacks to cook.

Fast forward two years and I was driving my emergency caesarean-birthed, partially formula-fed toddler to the butcher at the markets to buy crumbed chicken because ‘God help me it might make this carb-crazed kid look twice at something with protein’.

And I hate to admit it but there was a part of me that wished to be better. Whatever that is. More organised, more Instagram-worthy, more like the mum I thought I would be.

It wasn’t really a fair competition because the person I was comparing myself to didn’t exist.

And I think to some extent we all do this, we compare ourselves to other people’s best, not their average. We compare ourselves to our own best, not our ‘good enough’. We compare ourselves to a fantasy of what we think a perfect parent should be and not the reality of day to day life.

Parenting isn’t easy, sometimes it’s not pretty (I’m looking at you 2am wake up to projectile vomit) and it definitely doesn’t look like a curated magazine shoot of a family.

But that’s life isn’t it? We start out with our checklist of things we plan to achieve and then lifeactually happens. Married by 27, kids by 30, house in the good high school catchment, career success by 37, board position by 50.

But whose life runs to that script?

That’s the problem with expectations. They have this nasty ability of bringing us undone. They sneak up on us in vulnerable moments and encourage us to focus on things that shouldn’t actually matter,stealing the joy of ‘right now’.

The more people I meet and the further into the trenches of life I venture, the more I realise that success is largely self-defined and expectations only get in the way of our own happiness.

So, I’m letting go of the beautiful, well-dressed lady in the chic dress baking in my kitchen and I’mgiving a big bear hug to the daggy, tired mum in the car with her messy toddler.

I’m giving her permission to have kids who wear their PJs out in public occasionally, to feed them peanut butter toast for dinner on daycare days and to let the sultanas sit on the car floor until they go hard and crusty, because these are not the things that matter.

I was having a conversation with a grandmother at our local coffee shop the other day about parenting and she was gleefully telling a story about her brother being chucked out onto the back lawn and left out there to play by himself unsupervised because her mum was sick of him tearing the house apart.

I must have looked horrified and she just laughed at me.

‘He was fine!’ She said. ‘Everyone these days just takes parenting so seriously, they take life so seriously. No one’s standing by with a scorecard you know?’

Now I might not agree with her parenting advice, but her life advice was pretty darn good. Unlessyou’re competing in an Olympic sport, it’s unlikely there’s someone nearby with a scorecard. So, ifyou’re happy with your life choice and no one is getting hurt, bloody go for it.

Our kids don’t need us to be perfect, they need us to be there and they need us to be happy.

It was a good thing I’d accepted that by the time we arrived because minutes later Miss Two was marching along the low shelves and picking up spice packets shaped like takeaway coffee cups. She methodically tried to sip from each cup before slamming it down on the metal shelf in frustration. I scooped her up as quickly as I could and she writhed in my arms screaming ‘chino Mum, chinooo!’

Now I think about it, babyccinos were another thing I told myself I wouldn’t do but that’s parenting isn’t it.

It keeps us real and it make hypocrites of us all.

I am not the mother I thought I would be, but my babies don’t know that lady, they know me and they love their mumma whether she bakes them sugar-free slice or buys it from the shop.

Nikki Wilson-Smith is a freelance writer and journalist. She has always loved reading and telling stories, which led to a career in media. Her first job as a journalist was in a regional Australian bureau reporting on a bull that attacked a pregnant woman’s car. Nikki then went on to work as the ABC’s 730 correspondent for Western Australia and has been lucky enough to win a swag of awards, including a *Walkley (*not for the rogue bull story). When she is not writing or reading, you can find her at the beach with a topped up long mac in hand, her journalist husband, , and their beach babies Flossie and Van. 

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