Parental guilt


No one intends to make you feel bad. Mostly, you make yourself feel bad.

All parents like to brag about their kid’s achievements – I know I do. And it’s hard not to offer advice or suggestions to other parents. Which is why, as a parent, you hear things like this a lot:

“Sam was able to write his name when he was two and a half”

“Amelia could swim by 18 months. You know if you leave it too late it’s just SO much harder to teach them to swim.”

“You’re going to need these phonics books, she won’t be learning enough from nursery so you’ll need to do extra reading with her at home.”

“Isn’t she riding her bike yet? Max could ride his when he was 4.”

“You know you really should be organising playdates for her on the weekends. Socialising and social skills are so important especially after this last year of lockdown.”

“Hasn’t she started swimming lessons yet? You’ll want to get her in soon you know before it’s too late.”

“Hasn’t she potty-trained yet? Clara was out of nappies when she was 2”

“Oh you should try drama classes – my kids just LOVED them. They’re on every Saturday”

“Gosh is she still not sleeping through the night? Kay was sleeping through from 6 weeks”

“You must get her into some dance classes or gymnastics classes – I’m surprised you’ve not done that already, she’s got such natural grace she’d love dancing.”

I know that MOST kids don’t learn to read until they are in school, and MOST kids aren’t out of nappies before they are 3, and MOST kids can’t ride a bike or swim when they are 3, and MOST kids aren’t doing dance, gymnastics, drama, swimming, phonics and playdates every single weekend, but still, hearing these things from other well-meaning people, tends to come with a side portion of “you’re not doing a good enough job”. That’s the subtext, loud and clear, and most people don’t mean it, but it sinks in anyway.

I KNOW that I’m good enough, and I’m doing a great job as a single parent. But the guilt seeps in anyway and sometimes it’s hard to drown out with my own common sense…

I know that lots of other well-meaning parents are staying at home instead of working, so they can spend all day every day teaching their kids to read and write and swim and ride bikes. For us, she’s at nursery 9am-5pm, Mondays to Fridays, and I’m at work. When we get home at 5,30pm, she’s knackered and I’m hungry so I cook dinner while she watches tv then it’s bath and bed, and then I flop on the sofa with a glass of wine. There is literally no question of trying to ride a bike or learn to read at 6pm on a weeknight when we’re both exhausted.

I also know that most dance classes, drama classes and gymnastics classes don’t take the under 3’s unless they are mid week morning toddler groups, (trust me I called ALL of them last year trying) and since the pandemic almost all of our local ones have shut down completely or gone out of business. I have been trying for weeks to get her into some swimming lessons ever since the pools reopened but everything is booked up for months and the waiting lists are huge. The only slots available tend to be on a random Tuesday at 2pm when I need to be at work.

Not to mention that swimming lessons cost a fortune, and I’m quite sure that dance classes, drama and gymnastics aren’t free either. And even if we did manage to get her into all these classes on the weekends AND I found the money to pay for it all on top of the mortgage and full time nursery fees on a single income, then that’s all our weekends would ever be. No more visiting friends and family or going anywhere, cos we’re not paying all that money and then skipping the classes every other week.

Recently we’ve been away for the last few weekends, finally allowed to travel and visit with family and friends again. So last weekend, our first one for a while when we were at home with no major plans, I found myself lying in bed on Friday night thinking “I’m not sure what we should do first. We should try to go swimming and build up her water confidence after so long. Or try and get her back on the bike that she hasn’t ridden since Easter. And I should try and sit down with her new phonics books and work on reading. And I haven’t organised any playdates but it’s probably too late and everyone will be busy by now. I also need to get my haircut, pick up a prescription at the pharmacy before 12pm, sign and scan some paperwork for the solicitor, do the shopping, clean the bathrooms, water the plants, weed the garden, get more cat food, run some errands and tidy up the toys…”

Some weekends all I actually WANT to do is flop around and chill out doing nothing, which I know is not very likely with a small person, (spoiler alert, as a single working parent I am in a permanent state of tiredness) but still, there is this odd pressure to be doing things with your child all the time, in every waking moment, so they can somehow keep up with the kid who can read already, or rides their bike to nursery, or swims like a fish.

It’s a weird sort of invisible pressure, mainly that I think parents put onto themselves. It’s not helpful or healthy and sometimes I need to remind myself that it’s perfectly ok if I haven’t taught my daughter to read yet, or to ride a bike. It’s FINE that she can’t write her name or any letters yet. She tends to do things on her own terms anyway, when she’s ready to do them. I do take her swimming when I can (though this last year she’s only been about 3 times due to everything being closed). I read to her every night, and she is at least interested in books and stories.

My daughter isn’t a prodigy, or a genuis, and I’m glad she’s not. She’s perfectly normal and average and that’s exactly what she needs to be at 3 years old.

But it’s hard to shake off the invisible pressure that I should be doing more with her, that she needs more than I can give her. (It’s already hard enough to answer her when she starts in on “Where’s my daddy? I want my daddy” and still feel like I’m enough on my own). And it makes me stop and think twice before I brag about something awesome my kid did, in case the parent I say it to takes it badly because their kid isn’t able to do that yet!

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