Judged and found wanting

I wasn’t watching Jamie Oliver talking about poor people’s food habits last night, but I spotted some annoyance so I went to find out, and am 100% with Alex Andreou’s piece in the Guardian. I can testify that “poor people’s bread does not go stale, it goes mouldy”. In pursuit of the perfect bread-and-gruyere-topped onion soup, I made several attempts to catch my sliced wrapped loaf at the optimum staleness. I  eventually once bought a bread stick specifically to slice, leave out for the day. This for an allegedly peasant dish.

The point Andreou raises, though, is a serious one. It is all too easy to judge people and find them wanting.

Since becoming a mum I have felt pressure more than ever before to conform to other people’s views of how I should run my life. It adds up to a pretty lengthy list of things about which I feel guilty, inadequate and even neglectful.

The List of Things I am Supposed to Feel Guilty About


The Baby Years

  • I didn’t stick to a feeding/sleeping routine. Sorry, Gina Ford.
  • I dared to look my babies in the eye when I fed them at night. Sorry again, Gina.
  • I used disposable nappies. Because my house at the time didn’t have much radiator/airing space for cloth nappies, and because I worried about keeping up with the washing. And because £80 for a starter kit felt a lot more that the hundreds I eventually drip fed the supermarkets.
  • I didn’t make all my own baby foods. Sorry, Annabel Karmel.
  • I didn’t carry around a tupperware box full of blueberries. Or quartered grapes. Or mango slices. If they were hungry I bought them something. From a shop. A banana if the shop had one.
  • I bought rich tea biscuits instead of the cutesy packaged baby biscuits. Because they were cheaper. And actually healthier, since you raised your eyebrows.
  • I didn’t take them to tumbletots.
  • I didn’t do babysigning.
  • Some days the telly was on for hours. Some days we watched the same episode of Mr Maker twice.
  • I went out with sick on my jumper. Knowingly.
  • I parked in a layby while they slept in the back, and I slept too.
  • I drank coffee and tea during the phase I was breastfeeding.
  • I drank wine.
  • I drank guinness.
  • I breastfed with a glass of wine in my hand.
  • I went back to work at 10 months, for my sanity and my bank balance. Sure, I had choices, but they tipped heavily towards working, particularly because I’m fairly well paid.

Despite all the bad, bad, terrible things listed above, there are things I am proud of. I did breastfeed them both until they were 10 months, I weaned them to be adventurous eaters. I kept them safe, I got complimented on both of my happy, well behaved little boys. Apart from apparently poisoning them with toxins and neglecting their psychological development, I’ve done ok.


Chapter Two: The School Years

I had thought the worst was over, but I see now that it is just beginning. My eldest is 6 and my list is already growing fast.

  • Not dropping him off at school door, because he goes to before-and-after school club and does a 8:30-5:30 day
  • Not having insightful comments to write on his school report.
  • Not baking for the PTA cake sales. I did a tiffin once but suspect the cost:profit ratio only benefited tescos.
  • Not managing to go to the cake sales. I love cake. But I love using my annual leave up for quality time too.
  • Not going to PTA meetings because they clash with other commitments that my husband and I don’t want to sacrifice.
  • Not being able to have my son’s friends back for tea.
  • Not teaching him mindful meditation.
  • Not doing kumon maths.
  • Letting both my boys eat happy meals sometimes.
  • Letting my eldest drink cola sometimes.
  • Letting my eldest play computer games.

You see, not having delicious wholesome family meals around the dining table is the least of my problems. I feel guilty about everything. Everything.
Right now I’m writing this at the boys bedtime and should be doing that. Instead I can hear star wars on the PS2 in the kitchen and my youngest is jumping around, naked apart from socks. It is 7:40pm.

There’s always something I should be doing instead of what I want to do. If I did everything on my to do list, I would not sleep. I could not physically combine full time work and perfect parenting. By that I mean it’s against the laws of space and time.

All the time I am making these day to day terrible decisions, there is a whole barrage of lifestyle experts looking down their noses at me. And I’m middle class: I work, I pay taxes, I’m married, I have two children, two rabbits and two cars. (I’m not sure where the rabbits fit in that description, apart from a 2.4ishness). I live in a nice house on a nice estate, with nice neighbours. My life is good. And yet I am riddled with anxiety that my life is not good enough. Not healthy enough, not cultural enough, not social enough. To top it all, I am overweight. Health, food, size and guilt: don’t get me started. That’s a whole other yet-to-be-written-blogpost about the “how to be a woman” section of the List of Guilt.

And so we are back to the sins of eating chips in front of the tv. How dare they. Whats wrong with carrots and hummus sticks? And why aren’t they watching Film4?

There are too many ways to be judged and found wanting. What’s wrong with just good enough?

My son wrote a message for me this morning. Genuinely, this is not staged.

I heart mum
I heart mum

“I heart mum”. Written in dust. He obviously thinks I’m doing ok.


20 thoughts on “Judged and found wanting

  1. I think you have your answer right there in the photo, Amber.

    Remember all of these people are trying to make us feel inadequate because they’re trying to *sell* stuff to us!

  2. Everyone on this rock seems to have a damned opinion on everything you do, and they feel compelled to give it. It’s really quite bizarre.

    My current landlady bought this house six months ago. Since then, just about every British visitor has given her lots of unwarranted, unasked for, advice on how she should, in their eyes, “improve” it. Build a wall here; a door there; extend this; add that; spend money on the other; and so forth.

    But, noticeably, visitors from Spain, the USA, Finland, Italy, did not do this. I’m not sure whether it’s because UK TV is full of home improvement programmes. Or because we’re somehow a nation of “I have an opinion and I will give it regardless” people. Whichever, the “advice” comes thick and fast when British visitors turn up, often delivered in a tone of “I’m an expert and you obviously haven’t considered this else you would have done it by now.”

    Above all, it’s just plain rude.

  3. I’m currently in the toddler years but everything you said about the baby years I totally identify with and have done exactly the same as many of your points. Makes me feel so much better to know there are other mums out there the same as me. Thank god!! xx

  4. Beautiful. I’m right with you. Plus I feel guilty for not working. Not contributing financially. Not setting my (male) children an example of how women are capable of much more than being a homemaker. You are amazing.

  5. Yes all that, and inadequate for never writing great blog posts that put it perfectly….so you’ve got that one

  6. You are following your instincts and doing a good job Amber. Over 30 years ago, I ignored the advice of the day that was for babies to sleep on their fronts. Our son had breathing problems and eventually we worked he slept best on his back on a sloping mattress or bouncy chair in a cool room. After he grew up a new set of experts decided babies should sleep on their backs and not be too hot. I think that too much advice can damage parents’ confidence – I am glad you have escaped;)frabe

  7. I made my own baby food for my second because i took a full year off. I breastfed both my babies but returned to work at nine months with my first because having a well paid job means you don’t get help for not working less hours. Neither of my boys are different in health and happiness, unless you count my second being a clingy toddler because I gave him more attention as I returned to work later. As long as you do the best you can, I don’t think working to give your children a good life warrants a guilt trip. If anything, mothers who don’t work and claim carrots are better than happy meals should check if their kids are still smiling after consuming the damn veg…. I know mine wouldn’t be.

  8. I am a single parent, and had to work long hours but also always felt guilty about lack of time, no after school “enrichment”, take aways, taking him to work conferences and out of school as no other childcare, taking him to a pub occasionally as otherwise I could never go. Pleased to report he is now lovely 19 year old who has just completed first year at university. Sounds like your kids are great!

  9. Love, love, love it!!!! My baby turned one last week. I have nearly given myself a mental breakdown reading all these parenting sites and trying to implement them. I gave him half a chocolate digestive the other day because I was absolutely knackered and couldn’t be bothered baking the “baby” biscuits I usually give him I felt so guilty!! My son thought all his Christmas’ had come at once and you should have seen the joy in his eyes as he smeared the chocolate all over his face. I am still not working and to be honest I have no idea how I will cope when I do go back to work!! I can relate to all the baby stuff and glad someone was honest instead of sitting at a breast feeding cafe group sharing organic puree recipes!!
    Don’t get me wrong, I want my baby healthy and I cook home made, healthy food all the time, but why should we be made to feel guilty about the occasional chocolate digestive??!!

  10. I adore this. Im in month 7 with my first baby, I so wish id read this on day one! It made me laugh aloud and nod accordingly! Shall definitely be a regular scrawler on your blog from now on! Big fat high 5 (theyre not cool, hip or trendy anymore are they? 😉 )

  11. Love you, Amber! You obviously do what you do with love and honesty and (maybe best of all) good humour. And as for that photo? Pure gold 🙂

    Signed: mum-of-one-teen-and-one-twentysomething-who-aren’t-turning-out-too-bad-despite-everything 😉

  12. You are fantastic! I’m not a mother (sadly) but am a very hands-on aunt, and am surrounded by friends and relatives who are parents, and I recognise everything in your post. I’ll be passing this link on to several exhausted/stressed mothers who would benefit from reading this post, which is honest and real. Sod the ‘rules’, advice, marketing campaigns – the dusty art from your boy says it all. xx

  13. Great posting and I agree the picture says it all.
    As a parent when don’t we feel guilty. My example (one of many) put your child into nursery and the naysayers apply the guilty (actually he is nearly nine and is makes friends more easily than either of his parents and is doing fine at school!).

  14. Brilliantly expressed and so reflective of my experiences too. I’ve muddled my way through raising my 11-yr old son and 8-yr old daughter, feeling guilty that I was back at work and they were in nursery for long hours from 6 mths old, alternating between good home-cooked meals and fishfingers and potato waffles, joining and then quitting the PTA because I actually just wanted to slump on the sofa and grunt at my husband whilst watching telly in the evenings rather than bake cupcakes till 2 in the morning, and gently dissuading my kids from weekend sporting commitments because I didn’t want to spend precious weekends standing on a football field (that last one always seems to draw the most disapproval but I caved in last year and let our son join a team and it trashed our family life. Thank god he’s got it out of his system and doesn’t want to continue this year!). I often feel that I don’t contribute enough at work, as a mother, as a partner, as a daughter, as a sister, as a friend. I can’t remember birthdays, significant things that are going on in other people’s lives, what day my kids are supposed to return their reading books/school trip money/PE kits. I alternate between super organised and headless chicken. But, my boy’s gone off for his first day at secondary school today and he ran off to hook up with his mates, confident, excited, relishing the next stage in his life. I didn’t even get a goodbye (that would be sooooo uncool) but last night (safe that none of his friends would ever know!) he gave me a hug and told me he loved me and that he couldn’t wait to start school. Amber, I know you’re a fab mum. We all do our best in our own ways and I think our kids probably realise that, which is why they are probably going to be OK.

  15. I’ve been overwhelmed by the response to this post, on here, on twitter (I’m @ambrouk ) and on facebook too. It means a huge amount to get this feedback, I’m a bit lost for words! Thanks so much to those of you who commented on this blog. We’ve had over 2,000 views which is a bit mind boggling!

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