There is something that happens at the school gates, in school car parks, at baby groups, in cafes, and more recently on social media.
It is not a modern phenomenon, but nowadays it can hardly be missed and is in every parent and carers face from their first catch up on Facebook in the morning until bedtime. I’m talking about ‘perfect parenting’.
Constant well-meaning advice and one-upmanship. As soon as a woman becomes pregnant the advice starts with food alerts and alarm bells ringing every time she eats in front of someone. I’m not including medical guidance to avoid certain types of food or ingredients or sought-after advice from a trusted family member, but from the never-ending stream of well-meaning people.
When I first started fostering, I actively sought advice from people I trusted and, like a new mum, I lapped it up seeking reassurance and clarity. However, the advice didn’t stop and I was constantly offered instruction from strangers and acquaintances. This week I met up with a first time pregnant friend and, as we were settling into our comfy chairs in the local cafe, she was spotted by a couple of work colleagues who stopped by to catch up.
It turned out to be a verbal battle of gory one-upmanship; how long her labour had been, how she had more, deeper, longer stitches than the other woman, whose birth was more of an emergency and it didn’t stop there.
Before the last gory birth detail had been described, the older woman went into explicit details of colic, cramps and breast-feeding horror stories only to be halted by a well timed mobile call. I expected my pregnant friend to be rocking with fear, but she serenely drank her bottled water and laughed about their comments.
Apparently she was used to it.
As soon as the baby is born the advice continues. The only advice that should be followed is from the midwife, health visitor, or from trusted family members but this unwelcome advice seems to come in a constant stream and is usually served with a side order of superiority. It starts with ‘My baby’s colic was worse than anyone’s I’ve ever known’, ‘My baby can projectile vomit much further than yours!’ and leads on to the ‘My baby walked at nine months’ stories.
Baby S and I are subjected to this regardless of the fact she is a Looked After Child and I am constantly hearing from people that their baby sat up in earlier, crawled earlier, walked earlier, danced their first Tango earlier and worked out a mathematical equation before the age of one.
Every baby book and baby information site online will tell new mums that you shouldn’t compare babies and what is normal for Baby A is not going to be the same for Baby B, so why do we do it?
Seeking reassurance from a trusted source is one thing but it can be very wearing from the stranger in the street.
This need to compare continues at nursery school through to infants, then primary school where mothers, grandparents and caregivers compare and swap stories of illnesses, end of term plays and achievements. And then there is the hidden layer on the social media sites and the perfect parenting photographs which are uploaded and liked and loved by various friends – all struggling to clean up from the disaster zone that was dinner whilst they referee world war 3 between two siblings.
They (me included) wish their family could be as perfect and rosy cheeked as the photo they’ve just liked. However, it does seem to die away as children move on to senior school; maybe the photographs are less appealing with spots and sour, resigned faces or maybe there is just less to talk about.
It’s always felt like a huge achievement to me when I can get M to school on time, dressed in a clean shirt and it’s a gold star day if she showered! Of course, there are still those parents of teenagers that post on social media sites and send out perfectly posed Christmas cards of their perfect children who have achieved 15 A*GCSEs, have performed the lead solo in Madam Butterfly and single-handedly saved the world in Indonesia.
You can never compete with the ‘perfect family’ on social media and after years of gnashing my teeth, I’ve learned to stop comparing myself and the children in my care to others. My LAC children have not lived perfect lives and their achievements can be measured in calmness, building resilience and knowing they don’t have to be perfect.
I never mention or post photographs of the children in my care on any of my private social media platforms and their names and circumstances have been changed here to protect them