I constantly feel like a bad mother.
Other parents seem to have boundless time and energy to expose their children to all experiences necessary for them to hit every developmental milestone spot on, whilst also holding down a full time job. They take their babies to swimming classes - I would rather torch myself alive than bring one live skin cell into contact with a public pool changing room. They do baby yoga - I never even mastered adult yoga, what on God's good earth would make baby yoga seem anything less than torture?
When I see parents in parks, I wonder whether I take mine out enough. When my friend's one year old knows sign language, I ask myself whether I should sit on the floor for hours teaching my baby tricks like a circus animal. When the pediatrician presents a list of milestones that my daughter should have reached and I confess that I'm not certain whether she's assigning sounds to any particular thing yet, I am half expecting them to call social services and have me arrested for neglect. When only my husband can convince her to eat all her food and only my mother can get her to sleep on a plane, I am ready to kill myself for being so useless.
And my child is not even two years old. How do parents survive their children's entire childhoods without committing suicide or reporting themselves to the authorities? Every single day I encounter something that makes me feel like the worst, weakest and laziest mother in the world.
Other people's babies eat broccoli and know how to use a spoon. Most of them walk by one year of age. How much input came from the brilliant, amazing, selfless parents and how much did the kids just figure out for themselves? The good news is that my thyroid is slow, so some days I can avoid feeling like I don't deserve to be alive by using that as the reason why all other parents seem to have boundless energy while I can barely recruit the calories needed to change a diaper.
Now with number two on the way, I can't say I am jumping for joy at the thought of yet another billboard of all my failings as a human being. I finally understand why my own parents were sometimes harsh and critical f me. If they'd assumed responsibility for all of my failings as a child, they would have fed themselves to an angry pit bull long ago. I wasn't a bad child, but I didn't set the world on fire either. And if all parents are programmed to feel as guilty on a daily basis as I do as a parent, then I can see why that would be enough to drive any human being over the edge.
Often I look at my gorgeous little angel with so much untapped potential and feel deeply that I don't deserve her. Yet I also feel like the luckiest person in the world to have been blessed with such a loving child. I only hope that years from now, she can forgive all my inadequacies. To this day I'll never understand why parenting is treated like a second rate job. As someone who enjoyed a thriving career as a neuroscientist, I can honestly say that parenting is the hardest job I've ever had to endure. For those who still don't get it, every day is like climbing a mountain carrying a back pack pack full of rocks. Parenting is an exercise in motivation, discipline and constant self doubt unlike any other job in the world. The only people who could come close to relating are professional athletes. Anyone with any sort of desk job can keep dreaming if they think it comes close to the physical hardship endured by parents of young children. And Anne-Marie Slaughter, in her article, Why women still can't have it all, is absolutely right, when she implies that women should be recognized and lauded for their jobs as mothers.
I know some women, bankers no less, who see having children and choosing to take time out to look after them as a betrayal to the feminist cause. As a woman of a certain age, I have temporarily quit work to have all my children back to back. Crazy, I know, considering I have taken to parenting like a fish to air. Believe me when I say that I can't wait to go back to gainful employment, which seems like a holiday in comparison to mothering. And I will never again complain of a hard day's work. Meantime though, I find myself repeatedly justifying and apologizing for my current life choices, trying to convince the world (and myself) that I am not being lazy, and that I am not the worst mother in the world.
Dr Annabelle R Charbit
Author of A Life Lived Ridiculously
I am a research scientist and a writer, with a PhD in neuroscience from University College London.
I recently published the novel, A Life Lived Ridiculously, about a girl with obsessive compulsive disorder who makes the horrible mistake of (more...