Last week I felt myself being judged by another mother.
I wont go into the why and how but there was an implication about my priorities. My husband and I are very lucky that we live close to both sets of our parents who desperately love being involved in their grandchildren's lives. We also have reasonably good sleepers and settlers which means we are able to take couple time whilst the grandparents babysit (and our children are beside themselves with excitement when Nana or Grandad comes to put them to bed!). We do this maybe once or twice a month. We do not sacrifice time with our children to go out drinking or partying. Last time we went out it was for my birthday, for dinner and we were home at 9.15pm.
When I met my husband it was a bit of a realisation for me. I had never believed that kind of love existed. When we got married and decided to try for a family, we promised ourselves that we would always make time for each other. We knew that children would become the centre of our world but we didn't want it to become to such an extent that our world as a couple was completely dependent on them. We wanted to remember why we had children in the first place - because we are in love with each other because of each other, not because of our children.
Then we had children and we fell in love all over again; with our babies and with each other as parents. Our world revolves around our children. It is as sure as the Earth moves around the sun. But just as we don't base every moment of every day on the position of the sun, what it's doing and what it might do at bedtime tonight, we don't base our entire life's movements around the children. If we do this parenting thing right, our children will be all grown up and independent in eighteen years. They may have even left home. And then, we don't want to sit down for dinner and realise we don't have anything to talk about because for eighteen years we have centred every thought, every moment, every conversation on the children.
I have always felt like I need to explain myself when people judge me for my parenting (even if it's just implied judgement!)
But I'm not going to do it anymore.
Because if anyone thinks I don't love my children with every part of me, just because I go out for dinner with my husband sometimes, then they don't understand me well enough to warrant my time. If they think I'm selfish because, for three hours, I'd like to put on a nice outfit which doesn't have baby sick on the shoulder, eat food without having to feed a baby whilst I'm doing it and focus on my relationship with my husband, then I'm guilty of being selfish.
I don't judge other mothers for doing things a bit different to me. If someone plans to stay in for two years to be there for their children every night at bedtime then I admire their commitment. If a mummy chooses to exclusively breastfeed, forgoing expressing and bottle feeding, then I'm totally blown away by their selflessness. If a parent chooses not to return to work to be a stay at home mum or dad, even if it means living with less and giving up some luxuries then I am (mostly jealous!) but also in awe of the patience and dedication they must have.
But just because I go out a couple of times a month, turned to bottle feeding (not so that I could go out but because I found it emotionally exhausting and I was heading for PND at the physiological demands I placed on myself because of it) and returned to work in favour of looking after my children 24/7, it does not mean I am any less committed or dedicated to loving my children. My children have shown me another love that I never knew existed.
So instead of criticising Jane next door because she went out on a hen do last night, and wondering if this means she doesn't care for her child, let's all worry about our children and focus on what Jane does for her children. Let's recognise that she takes her little boy swimming every week and that, at three years old, he can already swim ten metres. Let's remember that she took him on holiday to Italy where he heard different languages and tried new foods. Let's reassure ourselves that she takes him to the park most days.
Let's, as parents, build each other up for doing our best at a blooming difficult job. Let's build each other up, not knock each other down. Because not often do people tell parents "you're doing a wonderful job." Maybe we should try and do it more.