“You baked a cake, you’re such a proper mum!”
Today I went to visit the amazing Keri (founder here at Do It Like A Mother- mum boss and all-round inspiration)- she spent a fair chunk of the visit apologising for her house being in such a mess (I can assure you it was not). Meanwhile, I arrived with my husband and child in tow brandishing a home-baked cake- appearing to be the perfect family (I can assure you we are NOT). Just as we were leaving she said “You baked a cake, you’re such a proper mum!”.
How funny those words were to hear. A proper mum? Me, a proper mum? Well, yes, I gave birth to a baby and now I’m raising that baby. I guess that makes anyone a proper mum, doesn’t it? So, why don’t I feel like a one? Why do I constantly have doubts that I’m not “proper” enough for my daughter?
The answer is simple- appearances. Appearances are deceiving. Arriving at a friend’s house with a home-baked cake gives the appearance that I’m an avid home-baker and probably a domestic goddess, too. Well I’m not. I haven’t baked a cake by myself in years. I am not a good baker. I misread the recipe and half of the cake ended up on the bottom of the oven because I used a tin that was far too small and it all overflowed. It was far from the baking experience I had envisioned. But I baked a cake (once), so apparently, I’m a proper mum.
How often do you feel like you’re not a proper mum? How often have you looked at another mum and thought “I wish I was like her, she looks like a proper mum”? How many times have you been out and about with you little one, screaming/ running around like a feral animal, to look over and see a proper mum sitting there with her perfect baby. She seems to be doing everything right, whilst you’re doing everything wrong. Maybe you’re wrestling to spoon-feed your baby a puree from a pot and she’s giving her baby home-made (probably organic) finger food for baby led weaning? Or maybe you’re trying baby led weaning and your baby is using lunch as throwing practise, whilst proper mum is happily spooning a puree into her eagerly waiting baby’s mouth?
Maybe you’re trying to breastfeed your baby and your baby is switching between screaming for more milk and giggling in delight at some unknown distraction on the other side of the room, causing a deluge of milk to soak your top and an unwanted exposure of your poor nipple? Meanwhile proper mum is happily bottle feeding her calm child, who guzzles the bottle in under five minutes- isn’t she lucky her baby takes a bottle? Maybe you’re trying to prepare a bottle for your screaming baby- the whole restaurant is staring whilst you fumble around in the bottomless changing bag for the milk and the bottle, you spill the milk trying to fill up the bottle as quick as you can, the screaming gets louder, you realise you don’t have any spare milk and have to leave in an embarrassed haste? In the meantime, proper mum pops her baby on the breast and stops her baby crying within seconds- no judgemental looks for her.
Maybe your toddler is still in nappies, meanwhile proper mum’s toddler, who is clearly younger than yours, happily waddles over to her mum and says “Mummy, I need the toilet” and off they pop together to the loos? Or maybe your baby is potty trained but keeps having accidents, you feel guilty because maybe you started her too young? Proper mum’s baby is still in nappies- no immediate demands for the toilet when she’s miles from the nearest loo and she doesn’t have the potty for her. She’s such a good mum, she knows what she’s doing.
Maybe you’re out shopping and you’ve got the buggy with you, your baby is screaming every time you put her in it, so instead you’re pushing it one handed, whilst carrying your baby in the other arm? Proper mum wanders past- her baby snuggled up in a sling, content and smiling at passers-by. You hate her. Or maybe you’ve got your baby in a sling and she’s crying and wriggling- you’re trying to adjust the straps to make her more comfortable but it’s not working and people are starting to stare? But proper mum wanders by again, this time her baby is sitting in the pram happily playing with a brightly-coloured, educational toy. What a clever child…
Maybe you’ve dragged yourself out of the house to get to a mums’ group because you need some mum-to-mum support- your baby has been up every hour through the night- you’re exhausted but you make the effort anyway? When you arrive proper mum is there, she is dressed in trendy clothes and has a full face of make up on- she is telling everyone how well her baby sleeps now- from 7pm to 7am in the cot and she self-settles each evening. At this point you probably want to cry. Or maybe your baby sleeps well- you used a gentle controlled crying method to get her to sleep but now you feel guilty about that and wonder if you’ve done any long-term damage? Proper mum’s baby has never been left to cry, ever, she is always cuddled and has always co-slept with her parents. What a dedicated mum she is.
Maybe you work fulltime, leaving your child in nursery five days a week? You feel guilty about not being there for your child and you feel guilty about not being able to fully commit to your job because of nursery pick-ups and your baby being ill from time to time. You’re stuck between a rock and a hard place. Proper mum didn’t return to work after having her baby- she’s there for her baby around the clock, every day of the week. Maybe you’re a stay-at-home mum? You left your fulfilling career to be there for your child but you ache for the days when you were talking in actual sentences to people that actually listened when you spoke. Proper mum, meanwhile, went back to work but put her baby in the best nursery money could buy, so her baby is having a world-class education before she’s even two- she’ll probably graduate from Cambridge.
My point is we all know a proper mum- or at least we think we do, but realistically proper mum just doesn’t exist. She is someone we have concocted in our imaginations. No one is perfect. We just see glimpses of perfection and assume that is how it is all of the time. We put so much pressure on ourselves to aspire to be a proper mum that we forget how much of a good job we’re doing. I’ve been in most of the above situations, I’ve seen proper mum everywhere and there’s a big part of me that still believes she’s out there. In fact, there’s still a big part of me that thinks that all other mums are proper mums and I’m just here pretending I know what I’m doing. Then there’s the logical part of me, the part that knows we’re all just pretending we know what we’re doing. We’re all on the huge learning curve that is parenting and we’re just doing our best, day in and day out. We’re there clothing, feeding and playing with our children, bringing them up to be the best little people we know. So, whether you’re breastfeeding or bottle feeding, baby led weaning or giving purees, potty training at 18 months or at 3 years- just know we’re all just doing our best.
Chloe is a working midwife and mum of one gorgeous girl. She teaches amazing hypnobirthing courses in Upminster. You can read her birth story here.
#doitlikeamother #positiveimperfectbirth #incredibleimperfectmothers