We live in a world where we are constantly assessed and graded. Developmental checks as a baby and toddler, standardised tests throughout our schooling, report cards, music exams, dance qualifications, swimming badges, GCSEs, A Levels, driving tests, undergraduate degree grading. We enter the world of work and receive yearly appraisals, always striving to prove ourselves for the next promotion. There’s always someone to tell us exactly what we’re doing right, where we are going wrong and what we need to do to improve things. Even in the world of blogging, there are rankings you can choose to be part of, social media followings, monthly page views… ‘easy’ ways to judge yourself in comparison to others.
But motherhood doesn’t have that. There are no statistics. You don’t have to pass a test to become one. There’s no yearly review with a line manager to assess your progress. We aren’t routinely examined. There are no league tables. But yet, it’s so easy to fall into the trap of playing the comparison game. Of looking around and seeing how well other mothers seem to be performing, and judging your own ability as a result. After all, that’s how we’ve measured success in other areas of our life, it only seems appropriate.
Except, it really isn’t. It’s not appropriate. It’s not healthy. Parenting isn’t a competition and there certainly isn’t a first prize, or indeed a wooden spoon.
I get it. I really do. I understand the need to feel validated and to wonder what others make of your choices. Sometimes all I want at the end of the day is for someone to turn around and say ‘You did a good job, today. Well done.‘ I’ve never worked harder at anything as I have at being a parent, and without a grading or a test result, how do I know if I’m doing well? It’s not as straight forward as seeing how happy your child is or how quickly they hit milestones like learning to walk: it doesn’t work like that. I could tie myself up in knots worrying about it. I could compare myself to the hundreds of parents I follow on Instagram. I could berate myself for not having done crafts today. Feel inadequate because I just gave Pickle another boring slice of toast for breakfast this morning, and I’ve still not made him any posh breakfast muffins. Feel bad about another day stuck indoors. I could fixate on how long other babies his age sleep through at nighttime. I could literally spend hours marvelling at the beautiful homes of other bloggers I know, lusting after their open kitchen/dining room set ups and wonder how on earth I could have let my own home become so disorderly and untidy. Very easily, I could find myself falling short. Measuring myself against an invisible yardstick, before beating myself over the head with it.
But I choose not to play that game. If there’s a phrase I live by at the moment it’s: live and let live, parent and let parent. Because what is there to gain from comparing? Literally nothing. It’s a fruitless exercise that will only inevitably leave you feeling inadequate. We’re always our own harshest critics. Again, I know. Easier said than done. But we all have different lives, different family dynamics, different budgets and different priorities. No two mothers are the same, just as no two children are. In scientific terms, there are too many variables to make comparing any two parents a fair experiment.
So… if no two parents can be legitimately compared, then it stands to reason that we are each of us at the top of our own league table. We all rank Number 1! Which is reassuring, right? So let’s not be hard on ourselves. Let’s celebrate our successes and the successes of those around us. Let’s not pit ourselves against each other and just focus on enjoying parenting as much as we can. Because no matter how disheartened you feel, or how inadequate, we are all superheroes in the eyes of our children. We’ll always be their Number 1. And really, that’s all that matters.