Judgement. Might be one of the things about parenting I am most concerned about. Don't get me wrong, I worry about pleanty, and I know there are far worse things, but superficially this one often hits me suddenly and out of the blue.
Today was a classic example.
The baby woke me up early to feed, and the toddler was already awake ('mummy up, mummy up!') so it was looking like an early start for all of us. But unusually, The Girl laid back down in her cot. And The Boy fell asleep feeding, so I closed my eyes and laid back down.
I have read so many times that the best use of my time is to get up early and get ready for the day, so that when they do wake up I am dressed and fed and ready to focus all my energy on them.
How I wish I was that mum. But I'm not, and so today, I close my eyes and steal some extra sleep. My excuse is that I've been up at least twice in the night, but I probably went to bed later then I should have as well.
About 40 minutes later everyone is awake, The Boy is crying because I have put him in his cot and there is not enough room for him to roll over and do his push-ups. Meanwhile I am dealing with The Girl who is hungry and cranky and really not listening. My father in law is downstairs and I can feel his judgement drifting up the stairs as The Boy cries and I focus on oral hygiene. (If it was mother in law judgement it would march up the stairs angrily and then and cough passive aggressively at the bedroom door, but father in law judgement seems to just drift.) Eventually he snaps and calls up can he help so I send The Girl down to see him while I sort The Boy and get dressed myself.
Of course there is no father in law judgement. None at all. It is all perceived, by me. It is my own judgement making me feel anxious while The Boy crys. The father in law is likely sitting downstairs and wondering how he can help without trampleing on toes. Probably feeling a bit helpless, but wanting to be useful. It probably took a bit of courage to call up and ask if I needed help. Because I am often, immediately defensive. I wouldn't be defensive out loud to the father in law, but had it been the husband I probably would have bitten his head off for asking.
Had it been the husband I would have hoped he would have been helping, but if for some reason he wasn't, or couldn't, this moment could well have ended up in an argument, and it would be because I would have perceived the following judgement in his statement. For 'can I help?' I would have heard 'why is the baby crying? Why are you cleaning your teeth when the baby is crying? Why is the toddler so grumpy? Why are you making it worse by showing her how to clean her teeth instead of feeding her which is what she really wants to do? why are you just causing more problems? Why are you so selfish? Why can't you manage?'
Of course none of this would be what the husband meant, oh no, this is my inner monologue, so much of the time, that I project it onto others. This is what I am thinking, so it must be what they are thinking.
As I walk home from this morning's activity, The Boy is crying and as a result, The Girl is crying. I am pushing a slightly shabby looking buggy with two screaming children and talking to my friend. I am not doing anything about the screaming and I can see people looking at the chaos coming in their direction. One lady and her daughter actually stop me to say 'the baby is crying' and also to tell me he looks like a girl. Helpful.
The thing is, I am doing something about the screaming, I am heading home as fast as I can. I know when I get home I can fix their problems, and they will all be safely contained, so I am trying to get there as fast as I can in order to help, and it isn't far, but no one walking past knows that. I can feel their judgement bearing down on me.
Once again, it's likely not their judgement at all. It's mine. I know the children are upset and I am mad at myself for not walking fast enough or for staying out too long or whatever it is that is causing the problem. But I feel like I am being judged.
Once home I deal with everyone's issue. We are home alone, no rush to get somewhere, no one left here to pass judgement, perceived or otherwise (the father in law has gone home today). The Girl is sorted and down for a nap while The Boy is fed and refusing to nap. There is relative peace, and funnily enough, I don't feel any judgement when they are all calm and the house is empty of adults. Even if, when alone my parenting is a shambles, I am probably calmer because I don't feel like I am being judged for it, and therefore I am probably more effective as a parent.
Why do I feel this constant sense of judgement? The media has a lot to answer for here, making me feel as though I have to do everything with the children, from yoga classes to baby sensory and everything between. All the time with perfect hair and immaculate make up, while dragging along packed lunches made from homemade bread and kale sandwiches (and definitely not fish fingers). But I must take some responsibility here too. I also put pressure on me to do these things, to keep the house perfect, to get back in shape, all the time providing homemade everything and teaching the two year old to count to 100 and do a cartwheel. I don't really know. I'm not even a very competitive person, yet I am constantly justifying everything I do to people who probably don't need to hear the justification. I have to stop myself from doing this. Or at least notice when I do. It's not fun for anyone.
I need to try and not feel like this, but it's tough to identify that this is what is going on when I immediately feel panicked or defensive when things went going well. And not just because they are not going well but because I feel like I am being judged as inadequate because of it. It's hard to devide the two.
Knowing is a start. I hope.