Greatest. Motherhood. Moment. To. Date. A complete stranger told us that we were doing a good job raising our boys. For one brief, glorious moment I felt like a parent who actually knows what they’re doing.
Forget those moments where both my baby and toddler are wailing in the supermarket and I’m frantically and ineffectively dancing to try to make them laugh. Forget that time the milk was off and I served Harry cereal with those little sachets of milk from hotel rooms. Forget that day I mistakenly dressed Harry in one of Baby Olly’s vests – stretching it determinedly when it wouldn’t fit.
Forget all of those, because I have been mistaken for a perfect parent.
My moment in the sun
Sadly, the context rather ruins my moment of pride. We were off to a wedding last weekend, so when we stopped for lunch at a service station we were all dressed in our best. Harry was neatly attired in a carefully ironed shirt and his best trousers, and Baby Olly had yet to throw up on his dungarees.
Better than that, they behaved beautifully. Harry sat and quietly ate his sandwiches while Olly spent the time smiling and laughing at people walking past.
I know we looked perfect because a sweet old lady came over and told us. She stopped at our table to congratulate me on Harry’s good behaviour, adding: “You can tell you’re doing a good job. Well done!”
[Why are mums always late? It's took an hour to get my two in the car...]
The power of the bribe. I mean, reward
But even as I basked in the moment, I knew it was a bit of a con. You see, I had spotted the machine in the entrance that vended novelty toys and I knew Harry had too.
Even as he sat quietly eating his meal, he kept giving it sideways looks and the beautiful behaviour was clearly so that he had a better chance of demanding a £1 coin from us on the way out.
Not only that, but I was pretty confident that if the nice old lady had ever seen Harry having a full-on toddler meltdown in the supermarket (why always the supermarket?), she might not have been so quick with her praise.
This got me thinking. It’s just plain wrong to judge a parent or family on just the few minutes you see, whether they look perfect or like they may well be rearing the anti-Christ.
Before I had children, I thought that stern discipline was essential for young children. I thought they should sit always quietly and eat their sandwiches, before trundling off to play sweet games with traditional wooden toys. But now I have two of these funny little humans of my own, and I don’t want to be forever fighting them or crushing their spirits. Or replacing broken wooden toys – it’s heavy-duty plastic all the way!
I don’t want perfectly behaved children who’ve lost that spark of random chaos that makes them such a joy to be around. I want to pick my battles and spend as much time as possible having fun, even if that means noisy mealtimes.
So I gave myself a break
Enjoying my brief moment of well-behaved baby and toddler did make me feel better about how well I am managing this parenting lark. I’ve seen perfect-looking mothers walking hand-in-hand with their sweetly-behaved toddlers and wondered why mine seems to be the only one who decides to lie down flat in puddles.
And I’ve realised that judging those families by such a brief snapshot is as misguided as assuming the mother of the kid having a mega tantrum on the bus is doing a terrible job. We’re all just doing the best we can.
What have been your best and worst moments out in public with a toddler? Let me know in the comments, and please don’t say your little one is perfect the whole time!