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