The Story of a High Horse.

Last week a blogger, Issa Waters, posted No Excuses: Parenting Isn’t Hard on BlogHer. I love the premise of her piece, but her judgemental stance was pretty confronting and she used some strong language that got a few people pretty wound up. Including me. She called parents who shout at their children, drag their children, punish their children and so forth, abusive. A pretty powerful word, you have to agree. I was quite angry, until I realised that the reaction her article really should have generated in me was empathy.

You see, she is me. She is me ten years and two children ago.

Back, when it was just hubby, one baby and I, I was very comfortably perched on that very same high-horse she is on now. I looked at that little, miraculous person in my arms and couldn’t fathom ever raising my voice at her, let alone feeling angry or frustrated. Resentful? Never ever. Just like Issa, right now.

When I saw parents of older kids losing their tempers and yelling or dragging their naughty kids away, I’d shake my head and think to myself, “I will never be that kind of mother. I will always speak gently to my child. I will teach her lessons with love and compassion. There is no need to yell. Ever.” When I saw toddlers tantruming in shopping centres, I’d immediately put it down to bad parenting. That parent obviously doesn’t have good structure, that child clearly needs to sleep, she is selfish…tut tut. If I saw a child in grubby clothes, I’d smugly acknowledge my child’s immaculate onesie and pat myself on the back for the two changes of clothes in my nappy bag.

That high-horse was a mighty lofty seat. It made me feel like I was a really excellent parent. It was also completely unstable. The thing to remember about high-horses is this – we tend to come crashing down off them with a mighty thud.

You see, Issa, your baby is going to grow up and maybe have a some siblings. He is going to fight with his siblings relentlessly, no matter how much you teach them that they need to love one another. He is going to tell you “no”. He is going to throw tantrums. He is going to be defiant. He is going to test you and push you and poke you and prod you and see how much he can push the boundaries until one day, without warning, you are going to lose your patience and snap. You will yell at him. You will feel terrible and you will hug your child and say sorry.

In that moment, you will realise that the mum you saw yelling in McDonalds – the one you judged as abusive – may have just had a bad day. Just like you. You will acknowledge that she probaby is not the demonic woman you made her out to be. You’ll muse that, in fact, she is probably every bit as loving to her child as you are.

That morning, she may have woken up and made scrambled eggs for her kids and mopped up a spill as her child knocked over her milk. She may have reminded that child to please be careful and not put her glass on the edge of the table (an instruction she has given that child at every. single. mealtime.) She may have watched as that child knocked the refilled glass of milk on the floor immediately afterwards and, suppressing an angry remark, mopped it up. For the second time. She maybe struggled to get three children to school on time, in laundered clothes with brushed hair and teeth and packed lunches. After a day of excellent mothering, she maybe decided to treat her kids to McDonalds. Maybe they fought all the way there over who crossed the imaginary Backseat Line of Doom. Maybe they kicked the back of her seat the whole way there, even though she repeatedly told them not to. Maybe as soon as their happy meal arrived, her daughter put the cup on the edge of the table and then knocked it over. Again. Maybe at that point, she lost her patience and yelled. Maybe she yanked her child out of the way and angrily shrieked at her to sit still and think about her actions. Maybe the child looked sad, just like you said. Maybe.

I can bet that she didn’t feel proud of the yelling and yanking. I can bet that, that night, when she tucked her daughter in bed, she looked at her little face and wished she had been gentler in that McDonalds moment.

I know that, on days when I’ve lost my cool with my kids, the condemnation I rain upon myself is far heavier than any condemnation anyone else could aim at me. Each and every night, as I go into my kids’ bedrooms and kiss them goodnight, I look at those innocent, sleeping faces and wish I had been a better mother to them that day.

I am always striving to be a perfect mother – so far, in nearly ten years of motherhood, I have never once even come close.

Yes, I yell at my kids. More often that I would like to admit. Yes, I have had countless moments when I have been ashamed of my parenting. You say parenting isn’t hard, Issa. You’re wrong. Parenting a sweet-smelling, cooing baby isn’t hard. Parenting bigger kids is hard. Teenagers? Not there yet, but I’d bet it makes the little kid stage seem easy. Talk to me again in 9 years’ time. I’ll buy you a coffee and we can laugh about the day you lectured us all from your high-horse.

I don’t condemn you for it – not at all – like I said, I’ve been there. Falling off it is a rite of passage. And when you do land with a thud, I hope there is a compassionate mum waiting there to smile knowingly at you from across the supermarket aisle as your child lies on the floor kicking and screaming, and you try to yank him up and pull him away, burning with shame as you feel all eyes on you, judging your terrible parenting. I hope that mum will come over and tell you it’s okay and that her child did it too, at that age and that you breathe a sigh of relief that you’re not being condemned.

When I see a mum being less than perfect, I have to remind myself that, more often than not, she is just like me. She is trying her best to keep it together. She loves her kids to distraction. Like me, she is probably tired and overworked and worn down. Like me, she is imperfect. The snippet of her life I am witnessing may well be just a grubby and ugly piece of a much larger, very beautiful puzzle.

A few years ago, a friend’s child was tantruming in a shopping centre. He was kicking and screaming and performing. She was struggling to restrain him and was mortified by the condemning stares of passers by. She knew what they were thinking (she was no stranger to the high-horse, having only recently tumbled off it herself). As she yanked her howling child away, kicking and screaming, she felt someone tapping her on the shoulder. She looked up and there, in front of her was an old lady, holding out a bunch of flowers. She handed them over to my friend and said, “You look like you need a little pick-me-up” then knelt down and handed a single flower to the little boy, who calmed down immediately. With tears in her eyes, my friend hugged the old lady. That understanding changed everything.

Let’s not judge each other any more. These Mommy Wars need to end.

Image borrowed from the talented Naked Pastor. Visit nakedpastor.tumblr.com.

Image borrowed from the talented Naked Pastor. Visit nakedpastor.tumblr.com.

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Comments

  1. says

    This is such a powerful post for me, and I am in tears as I write this. So many times I have struggled with my parenting, been condemned by my own parents for it (who raised me and my sister the EXACT WAY they are now looking down on me for being), and it is a soul crushing heart rending sensation in that instant that the words have left your mouth, the action is done, and you KNOW that was an awful thing to do or say, and you can’t take it back. I have 2 beautiful children, a 3 year old daughter and a 5 year old son, and I am grateful every day that they can be so forgiving and loving of this very imperfect mother. And each day, I wake up and I TRY to be what I think a good mother should be, and more often than not I come up short of my expectations of myself. It’s good to know that there are other mothers out there who UNDERSTAND. I haven’t read Issa’s post, and I probably won’t; I have enough on my personal plate to deal with without inviting high horse mommies in. She will learn, and I truly hope that she will change her views, and become that old lady offering your friend the flowers when she so badly needed it. Thank you for this post! <3

  2. says

    This was such an amazing post. I can totally understand the shameful parenting moment I feel at the of the day when I regret things i have said or done. Thank you for posting such a reminder to everyone out there, everyone is trying their best!

  3. says

    God, this piece was so great. I too was a high-horse mom in the beginning (aren’t we all?) and now, well, I’m more like a horse turd mom. I snap too easily. I lose my patience. I yank arms sometimes. I yell. And sometimes people see me do it, and they probably think “psycho.” But I also spend a lot of time hugging, laughing, kissing, tickling, listening, imagining, playing and acting l like a crazy person. And I just hope that the good outweighs the bad on most days. And that my boys know that I love them and that I’m flawed. And I, too, try to give that mom in the store a smile and a nod to let her know that yep, been there, done that. And you’ll be fine.

  4. Erin @ My Mommy World says

    Another beautiful post! I’ve experienced all the same things that you have described, and each day I try to be a better mom. You are right…that woman will know better one of these days :)

  5. Erin @ My Mommy World says

    Another beautiful post! And I agree with you…we are all like Issa before we really become mothers, and then we find out we were wrong. I’ve had those hard days many, many times and I can only ask my kids for forgiveness and try my hardest to do better the next day.

  6. Natalie says

    MummyMishy… You are such a star! You are amazing how you say things that others wish they could say, express thoughts and feelings others feel but hide thinking they are the only ones. Thank you for your wonderful words.

  7. Ashley says

    Your writing is beautiful and somehow, you always manage to inspire me to be a better mom. Thank you for always making me smile and cry at the same time. I want you to be my mommy

  8. Candice says

    I have four wonderful kids; like any normal kids they are very challenging at times. I was too on my high horse at one point…particularly after number 3, the angel-boy-child. Then along came number four, the most delightful, tenacious child. She tantrums. A lot. Five, ten times a day. She holds her breath and has even blacked out a few times (!) Have I done something different with her? Believe me, I ask myself that question a lot. But I don’t think I have…I think she is just who she is. It used to really make me feel worthless, that I couldn’t contain her and her rages, but now I think it is something to rejoice in. She is very driven, ambitious, and as I said, tenacious. I love that she has a fiery character. She still drives me mad sometimes, but I feel less guilty about it.

  9. Stefanie says

    First of all, I LOVE your blog. I am young and childless for the time being (but that is hopefully going to change soon), but I have helped to raise 7 children from newborn to (the eldest is now) 19 years old. I started babysitting when I was 11 and nanny-ing at 16 or so. So I fell off that high horse much earlier than most. I’ve known since I was only 11 that parenting is HARD.

    I have experienced the disapproving glares from strangers as the 4 year old I am attempting to remove from the store is grabbing everything she can reach to throw and screaming at the top of her (well-developed) lungs about “ice cream now!” (and I am sure they assumed she was mine, so not only were they glares of “she needs to keep her kid under control” but also “she is too young to HAVE a kid that age, what a [insert dirty remark about sexual promiscuity here]”)… But I have also witnessed a baby’s first crawl, gotten precious bed time snuggles, mended scraped knees, checked for monsters under beds, taken a shy and autistic little girl to her first day of preschool (in which she THRIVED), taught a young teen to shave, watched elementary, middle and high school graduations and overall simply loved these kids.

    Yes, I know parenting is hard without even being a parent yet. And this blog entry is PERFECT. I not only pinned it in my Pinterest, but I shared it on my Facebook and urged all of my friends and family to read it. And I will be sure to remember it and send a sympathetic smile the next time I see a poor mother attempting to cope when her kid(s) is/are just being kid(s).

    An a separate note, I got curious and checked out that other blog. The entry you commented on was written on January 19, 2012. It seems that since then, she has changed her tune. If it was due to the outrage of parents who knew just how wrong she was or if she fell off that horse of hers is anyone’s guess… Check out her NEW entry, written on August 20, 2012 on the difficulty of parenting here: “Okay, Parenting Is Hard”… http://www.blogher.com/frame.php?url=http://lovelivegrow.com

    Again, love the blog! I thought her change of heart was interesting, so I wanted to share it. Hope your days are filled with joy, happiness and love! :)

    • says

      Stefanie, I appreciate that you left the link to Issa’s “new and improved” post, however, it looks by these comments that she is maybe just trying to play nice on both sides of the fence; I’d be willing to bet she caught a ton of heat from her initial high horse post, and is now trying to appease us parents that fell long long ago:

      “SaraAugust 20, 2012 at 10:09 pm
      I’m not really with you on this one.
      When Fin is throwing a tantrum in the grocery store, I choose to believe that other parents are looking at me with sympathy and maybe even humor. I guess that’s because that’s how I usually feel when I see other kids throwing tantrums. As long as I am trying my best to calm him, I’m not embarrassed. I may take him out of the situation (like in a restaurant or concert) but that is as much for his benefit as it is for the other people.
      Yes, parents deserve compassion. Yes, parenting can be challenging, and people are judgmental. I still agree with your earlier post that there is no excuse for being mean. People can judge all they want, but I would only feel ashamed if I was disrespecting/abusing my child.
      Also, remember being a baby/toddler/child/tween/teen is challenging and deserving of compassion too. Maybe more so.

      Reply

      IssaAugust 20, 2012 at 10:36 pm
      I agree with my other post, too. I’m working on a post for next week to tie that one and this one together.”

      Pretty disappointing, actually :(

  10. Soledad says

    My sister in law sent me this article… And it really touched me….

    I think we all been there, done that. I was once the person in the High horse and now I am the one dealing with an 11 years old princess and a 4 years old batman… And you can imagine how can that be, my pre-adolescent daughter sometimes loves me and sometimes “hates” me. My son is pushing all the bottoms to see in which one I do react and which one does not work. After a hard day,when I kiss them good night, and they kiss me back with a “I Love you mami” I know things are not that bad…

    It is VERY HARD to be a parent and we always hope we are doing the best we can to succeed. For some eyes, we might be wrong, BUT AS LONG AS IT WORKS FOR YOU AND YOUR FAMILY, who cares??? Nobody has that magical book where all rules are perfect and if you follow them, well, the result will be “perfect”.

    I have found myself staring back at people with disapproving faces when the pass by during one of my kids tuntrums…Do they have kids? I assume the don’t because if they do, they shouldn’t be looking at me and my kid with that face, should they?

    I hope a lot of people read this article. Parents do try, and sometimes me make mistakes. But always trying to do the best…

    Thanks for your words, I will share them.

    Soledad

    • says

      It’s that’s “I love you” at the end of the day that lets us know we are doing okay :) thank you for such a great comment! Please click the follow button on the right of this page or LIKE me on Facebook – I would love to have you join in the discussions here.

  11. says

    Wow! There are lots of comments here, so you’ll probably never see this, but this was beautiful. I read that other post and I felt all of these things, but I could never have worded it this perfectly. Thank you.

  12. The Dose of Reality says

    Totally cried reading this. Am sending it straight to my blogging partner to read as well. This is an AMAZING post. I had not read the original post, but I have now. My kids love to watch home videos and when I hear the way I speak in the ones where we had only a baby (our first), I feel nostalgic for that mom, who had no idea how much harder it would get as time went on. Parenting a baby is nothing compared to parenting actual children, with actual opinions, who use actual words and tones. Thank you for this.

  13. says

    Part of a big beautiful puzzle indeed! We mothers are a learning WITH our children. Always being controlled and well thought out in our actions in the face of our children’s primal states is just impossible. I think it is so important that they see our struggles. It puts us in common ground with them. Maybe that’s why they are so difficult to handle sometimes: perhaps they are in charge of drawing out our humanity. Your post was enlightening. Thank you!

  14. says

    Came over form the hump day hook up, I am so glad I did, this post was beautiful and so very true, I can not count the number of times before I had children that I said “I will never be that parent” or “They need to get control of their kids” I even said it after I had my son because until he turned 9 he was the “perfect” child, then I had my daughter and she turned my whole world upside down, and I too snap sometimes and go to bed feeling guilty for having yelled during the day, All we can do is our very best!

    Anyways new follower on here, facebook and twitter :-)

    Domesticated Breakdown

  15. says

    Well said! I can remember a few moments when I was about to lose my mind. I remember pulling over on the side of a highway and crying outside my car. It is so easy to judge, so much harder to live the reality. Most of us have been there, and those that haven’t may very well be there one day.

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