January brings relaxing times and quieter days for some but not all. For parents of young kids and babies, the family tempo may have reduced marginally from manic sprint to marathon jog. But it’s unlikely your ‘holiday’ was filled with breezy afternoons napping, swimming, and relaxing unencumbered by the ties of responsibility.
You had kids to entertain, babies to feed, routines to maintain, tantrums to navigate. Now, on the cusp of a brand new year, if your social media feed is like mine your mind is being inundated with subtle and not so subtle hints about how you can be “better”.
How can you better organise that chaotic life of yours? How can you reduce your kids’ screen time? How about your own phone addiction? Are you setting aside enough time for you? For your partner? Are you parenting mindfully? Are you present? What are you going to do about that body?
As a working dad doing the juggle, this all grates on me. First, it is almost always aimed at mums. Second, it often implies that you shouldn’t just aim to be a good parent with occasional moments of brilliance. It suggests you need to aim much higher than that. If you don’t, you’re somehow falling short.
My family crossed the finish line into Christmas last year missing at least one wheel with the engine on fire. I’ve got two kids. My daughter is almost three, with the energy of the sun and the attention span of a gnat on crack.
My son is 12-weeks old who spent the first week of his life in the neonatal intensive care unit and the next two months fighting off daycare infections brought home by his sister. He communicates with smiles, vomit and hysterical screaming.
My wife has been battling depression before and after his birth, but with a needy newborn glommed on to her, she gets zero time for her own wellbeing. In between all of that, in 2018 we sold our apartment, bought a house and moved to a new suburb, I started a new job, and we lived with family … four separate times.
Like an obedient, young parent adhering to the wisdom of the super parents, I spent 2018 trying to be a superdad when I could have just appreciated my mere survival.
I tried to make sure my standards were high at all times in all areas of life. I tried to limit screen time, eat healthily, and entertain my toddler like I was a Disneyland franchise.
I tried to be enthusiastic with big, bright smiles and a winning attitude always. I cursed myself in private when I was not overtly happy and fun in front of my daughter. I took notes from what the other parents on Instagram – free from troubles – were calmly enacting in their lives. And now here I am, shattered from 2018, being told how I can make my “performance” even better this year.
It’s time to ditch the fixation. Superparents don’t exist and no one should aim for it. Being good enough most of the time is totally fine. In fact, it’s great. Parenting is absolutely a set of skills you can learn, apply and become great at over time. And parents should try and make careful, deliberate choices in life about the big stuff, especially how much work they can afford to do without missing too much family life. But can we stop sweating so much of the small stuff?
Working parents do not need long lists of unobtainable goals replete with performance indicators covering every aspect of their life and their kids’ lives. It’s only a recipe for more parenting guilt, and we already have enough of that.
There are worthy conversations to be had on parenting, and we need mums and dads to share their experiences honestly, but I’m not convinced this is happening as well as it could. Just look at our conversation on fatherhood generally.
For one dads are mostly absent from it. And two, so many men are still told they should be the breadwinner and not the carer. Instead of investing more time into the latest super parenting fad, how about we talk about how we can free up our dads to do more caring for kids and less working? #ParentalLeaveEquality is now a thing, though we are vastly behind the eight ball with it in Australia. It would be a really great improvement for lots of families if took inspiration from our European friends.
January may just be the that one month when we really do get an opportunity, albeit fleeting, to have quality conversations with each other and to reflect a little, before the craziness ramps up yet again. Let’s ditch super parent obsessions and help parents feel better about themselves instead of layering them with more challenges and more guilt. And let’s have decent chats about the parenting issues that really matter and make our communities better in the long-term.
Rob Sturrock is an author working with Parents At Work, an organisation supporting employers and working parents create family friendly workplaces. He has written about his experience of fatherhood and feminism for Women’s Agenda previously.