I’ve seen much written about the ‘categorising’ of mums you see at various places you often (wish you didn’t) find yourself as a parent-play groups, soft plays and other establishments that you’d often rather not have to visit, but they entertain the little ones for a while. These places usually also offer the chance to attempt conversation with other adult humans, might have passable coffee if you’re lucky, and you can tick ‘socialising’ from the list of enrichment activities you have planned for the day (ahem…)
You read much about the ‘supermum,’ the ‘hippie’ mum, the ‘fitness fanatic’ mum, and it’s nice to laugh at these stereotypes, because they do exist, and sometimes these mums are painfully easy to immediately put into ‘boxes.’ I usually do a quick scout of a room if I go somewhere for the first time, and in my mind, I take in everyone and my inner monologue quickly sorts out for me who I’d like to sit near, and who looks like they would be most like me (or like they’d parent similar to me to be fair-that’s what usually matters.)
Recently, I realised that I’d subtly labelled one particular mum, who I had never actually spoken to, ‘that miserable lady.’ I seemed to come across her often, and bypassed her, because her pinched face, and almost permanent scowl, meant that I had instantly labelled her ‘not my type.’ I am also parent to a child who doesn’t always understand physical boundaries (read: a total assassin child,) and I had noted, with a regrettable air of smugness, that her child seemed to have absolutely no regard for other children at all. I don’t think I ever saw him not hitting/punching/scratching. One day, I overheard her telling one of the playgroup volunteers, that both of her children take turns, every night, to wake up. That they could spend a couple of hours awake, at each of these wake ups, and that she basically never slept. She then sat down with a coffee, and took one sip before another mother was tearing shreds off her, because her child was ninja kicking hers-vilifying her for ‘ignoring your child while you drink coffee with your mates.’ Poor woman, she never gets to sleep, thinks it’s safe to take a sip of her coffee, then gets embarrassingly pulled up on her parenting skills by another parent. No wonder she’s bloody miserable.
Similarly, my little ‘over physical’ child, who had been flying high on a ‘gentle touching’ (cringe) streak, relapsed quite magnificently, over several visits to the same soft play. I realised that other frequenters of the same place also eyed him, (and me,) with suspicion when we arrived-obviously worried that their offspring might come under attack. In one mortifying culmination, I was put in the position where I came under verbal attack for my parenting skills, just like ‘that miserable lady,’ (and I’m sorry, I don’t know your name, and I’m still only referring to you as miserable for the purposes of the story. Besides, you have every f***ing right to be miserable-own it, I’m right there with you.) I went through every emotion-mortified, hurt, angry, even angry at my child for putting me in that position. Judging by the looks I received, I suspected that everyone’s inner monologue might refer to me as ‘the assassin’s mum,’ or ‘that parent who can’t control her child’s dreadful behaviour.’ That makes me feel those same emotions, to think that people might label me like that-I’m mortified, hurt, and angry all over again.
I do my absolute best with my children, and sometimes, children are children-they get aggressive, they can lash out. Some do it more than others. I usually watch my little assassin like a hawk-but I have another child, I need to at least say a few words to other adults, I’m human, my son is human, and I have needs too: I need to have a bloody drink (albeit shit coffee,) I need to eat (my body won’t nourish itself you know-it needs that calorie laden ham and cheese toastie to make it through the day,) and I need to pee (especially now my pelvic floor has been trampled on by two tiny humans.) Sometimes I f**k up-I miss warning signs that my child will attack, I dare to look after my own needs for two seconds, and he slips away from my reach, and out of vision from my hawk eye. But do not define me by his behaviour-I’m so much more than the label given to me by his victims. I’m a mum desperately trying to do her best, who gets to see that little assassin wanting to hold her hand while he sleeps at night, and who showers her with kisses while she’s trying to help him eat his dinner. The label applicators don’t get to see that, or the million other parts that make up who I am.
Mums will certainly still fall into categories, and I doubt my instincts will ever not let me walk into a room, and do ‘the scan,’ so I’m not going to wax lyrical about dropping the labels, because it won’t happen. But what I would like, is for people to look beyond those labels. Don’t define people by how you perceive their parenting style to be. Don’t think that someone isn’t worth talking to because they look miserable, I’ve learnt that you should probably make these the first people you talk to. And don’t judge people’s parenting by their child’s behaviour (yes, sometimes a child will be a dick, and it’s obvious the parent is a dick too-use your discretion,) but for the most part, there is a parent who had a whole different identity before their children, who is desperately trying to hold on to that. They are not that fleeting glimpse you get of them at playgroup-just remember that.