I haven’t done a massive survey, and like I said, nobody seems to be talking about this, but here’s what I know based on word on the street and conversations with my friends.
1. We feel like we’ve f*cked up
When the kids are small, it’s not our fault yet. We might be struggling to get the two-year-old to sleep through the night; or find breastfeeding hard; or wonder about walking, potty training, starting preschool – all the things – but there’s still an element of the ‘luck of the draw’.
Once our kid starts school, we start to feel the weight of all the things we think we got wrong when they were young. We know we’ve made mistakes. Of course we’ve made mistakes, but we judge ourselves more harshly than ever before for the choices we’ve made, and the things we’ve got wrong. We don’t want to talk about that.
2. We’re ashamed they’re not perfect
It’s not just that we are busy berating ourselves for wrecking the kids. We’re also secretly ashamed that they aren’t turning out to be perfect. We tried so hard when they were little, but we ended up raising horrible twelvies anyway. Surely if we had just followed all the rules and advice when they were little, we wouldn’t have ended up with the walking, talking argument we are currently trying to parent.
Now, we know nobody’s perfect. We know we were doomed from the start. We KNOW they are perfectly imperfect and perfect just the way they are … but part of us still feels incriminated that we somehow didn’t get it right. We don’t want to talk about that either.
When the kids are small, it’s not our fault yet.
'Baby Brain' is totally real
'Baby Brain' is totally real
3. Our kids are not impressed
We talk a lot about how our children’s story is not “ours to tell” (what a cliche that has turned into), but never is this more apparent than when they grow into big kids.
Parenting “fails” are funny when kids are small, and don’t really know any different. Not so funny when it’s your kid calling you on said fail and refusing to forgive you. They also don’t take kindly to seeing their school photo smiling out of their Facebook feed. Nor do they want to be tagged at Grandma’s 90th birthday. They really don’t want us to talk about that.
4. We feel like we ought to be good at this by now
It’s one thing to ask for advice when we’ve been a parent for all of 10 weeks. Quite another when this whole parenting thing has been going on for 10 years or more.
Shouldn’t we know what we’re doing by now? It doesn’t help that we’ve had those old chestnuts “trust your instincts” and “you know your child best” rammed down our throats since day one. Didn’t feel the instincts then, definitely not feeling them now.
Ignoring the fact that none of us has ever parented a child this age before, shouldn’t we know our child by now? Isn’t it embarrassing to still be asking for advice? Also, the “I’m not ready to adult” schtick feels a bit wobbly now that our kids are nearing adulthood themselves. We definitely don’t want to talk about that.
We tried so hard when they were little, but we ended up raising horrible twelvies anyway.
5. Shhh, they’re not that cute anymore
When you’re knee-deep in the muck that is 10-15 years (and beyond), it can be hard to shine their light. Not a lot of cute photos to share. Not a lot of cute moments to brag about. Any breakthroughs are deemed too “you’re so embarrassing, Mum” to share anyway.
Yep, just not a lot to say that’s not a big pile of worry and angst and kids going off the rails, really. Best not to talk about any of it.
They're not as cute as they were when they were toddlers. Image: iStock.
6. Common ground can be shaky
To paraphrase Tolstoy (as you do), “Happy teens are all alike; every unhappy teen is unhappy in their own way”. And, of course, we all know there are no happy teens.
The commonalities are there: eye rolls, door slams, back talk, anxiety, rejection … all the things. (Twelvies and teens are also remarkably creative, energetic, interesting, and often profound, just thought I’d mention that, but back to my whinge …)
Turn taking. Help all members of the family take turns talking and listening. Children find it much easier to talk when there are fewer interruptions.
But just when you start getting a conversation going about teen anxiety over a love interest or exam, along comes the mum whose kid is off his face on ice all day or addicted to porn, and bloody rightly you have nothing to talk about after that.
7. We don’t really have time to talk about it
A lot of women go back to work full time when their kids hit their late primary/high school years. Even mums who stayed home right through until now, are suddenly back in the saddle. We don’t see each other randomly anymore. There’s no back gate at the high school. We don’t naturally congregate together so much.
Dare I say it: we get a bit of our own life back, so there’s less time to devote to the kids. And when we finally do get together, the last thing we want to talk about is the kids.
8. We’re overwhelmed and paralysed
Kids put on roller skates the moment they turn seven and suddenly we are racing to keep up. They are zipping from one histrionic crisis to another, but we are frankly still burnt out from their junior years. Not skating well at all. The latest kid hurdle very much becomes yet another thing we have to deal with.
When you’re feeling low, the last thing you want is other people looking at you. So, rather than put out the call for help from others, we instead tend to bunker in and just get that shit done. Not talking, just doing.
Eye rolls are common. Image: iStock.
9. Tick tock, tick tock
I often feel atrophied by my fear that I don’t have enough time left with my kids. I honestly don’t know why I feel there is a deadline (because there is not), but the school years feel important to get right. Do you feel that way?
These days, I honestly find it hard to talk about how I’m feeling as a mum because I’m feeling too much. All the things we still have to teach the kids. All the things they still have to learn. Best to just stay in my hole and not come out, I think. Otherwise there might be too much wailing and screaming going on. Not talking, wailing.
These days, I honestly find it hard to talk about how I’m feeling as a mum because I’m feeling too much.
10. We judge each other more than ever
So many, many times we shut each other down with “your kid should be doing that for themselves by now”. OMG, it’s on every comment thread of every question anyone has ever asked about a kid over the age of about five. “My kid bakes a roast dinner every Sunday – we call it a Sonday roast”; or “Yes, nice that your kid folds her own washing, mine also irons for the entire family”; or, my personal favourite, “Why don’t you just …”
Repeat: I am not a short-order cook. "It's a child's job to learn to eat what the parents eat," says Ellyn Satter, a registered dietitian and the author of Secrets of Feeding a Healthy Family. Instead of the all-or-nothing scenario, offer a variety of foods at mealtime: the main course, plus rice or pasta, a fruit or vegetable, and milk. This way, your child can eat just the pasta and the peas and get protein from the milk. "What a child eats over the course of a day or a week is more important than a balanced meal at one sitting," says Stephen Daniels, the chairman of the department of pediatrics at the University of Colorado School of Medicine, in Aurora.
The minute you see the word ‘just’, please run. The Judge-y Haters of the world just get smugger as their kids get older. Dealing with that for years on end is often enough to shut any mum up.
Did I miss anything? Can we all just agree to feel all of this and talk anyway? We need each other more than ever because tweens and teens are bloody hard work. They are terrifying, actually. It’s so much easier to get through to the other side when you have others guiding your way.
Why do you think mums stop talking about parenting?
This post originally appeared on MumLyfe and has been republished here with permission.