Monday 22 July 2019

Mums are such liars - I should know, I'm the worst offender!

Katie Gunn on the fibs we tell to look like the perfect parent

Can cook, will cook: Pictorial proof that Katie Gunn enjoys baking with her kids Marley, Kaya and Baxter. Photo: Ronan Lang
Can cook, will cook: Pictorial proof that Katie Gunn enjoys baking with her kids Marley, Kaya and Baxter. Photo: Ronan Lang
Are they watching me? Psychologist Linda Papadopoulos says it is common for parents to feel that they are being judged.

Katie Gunn

Forget the politicians - Irish mums are the real experts at lying. Put them in a room with other mothers and it's a free-for-all of fibs, exaggeration and downright lies.

They boast about their babies who sleep through the night, toddlers who talk and children who are, well, wonderful in every conceivable way. All the while they're crossing their fingers and toes, and desperately hoping they won't be caught out.

I'm not exaggerating for dramatic effect -- a new survey shows that nine of out 10 mums constantly compare themselves with others, and it's leading many to twist the truth, according to a survey by parenting website Netmums.

And they're really telling the truth.

I should know, because I'm a mother (of three). Take the other morning, for example. As I lay in bed listening to the phone ringing downstairs I wondered to myself why exactly I had put myself in this position. You see, I knew who it was on the other end of the line, but instead of answering I put my fingers in my ears and watched the clock turn 11am.

I had arranged to meet my friend, Louise, for coffee at 10.30 but had had an exhausting night with the two-year-old waking constantly, so instead of just calling my friend to cancel I decided I'd be able to get a quick nap in before we met.

Unfortunately I hadn't quite made it so I stuck my head in the sand (or under the duvet) and pretended it wasn't happening. When we finally met up later at the school gates I feigned forgetfulness.

When she pushed and asked why I hadn't picked up the phone I lied and said I had been baking cookies and my hands were covered in dough. (Subtext: See what a perfect mother I am? Baking with my perfect toddler in my perfect home?) Even as I said the words I was thinking to myself -- "Why am I doing this; why don't I just tell her the truth?"

The answer to that question is that I was unwittingly taking part in 'keeping-up parenting', and it turns out I'm not the only one doing it. The parenting website Netmums have just published the findings of their survey of more than 5,000 people and it shows that 92% of mothers compare their parenting skills to other mothers. This leads to feelings of inadequacy, which in turn leads to the white lies in a bid to 'keep up' with the other mums.

Forty per cent of respondents admitted that they felt their friends were better parents than themselves, while one-in-five lied about how much time they spent playing with their children or what they cooked for them. So whilst we all know by now about the media pressure of 'perfect' celebrity mums, it seems that it's the school gates rather than the glossy magazines that are actually doing the damage.

Becky in Cavan agrees. "My friend was telling me about how she limited her son's access to the PlayStation and I agreed, telling her that I also limited my son to an hour a day, after homework. In actual fact, I let him completely self-regulate.

"He's quite sensible and gets on well at school so I don't feel the need to be 'on his case' the whole time. After I'd said it, I kicked myself for not telling the truth -- I mean, it's no big deal. It's just very difficult to put your hands up and admit that you parent differently to your friends."

She goes on to say: "I also remember brazenly telling a fellow mum that I never drink in front of the children, while the truth is that I often use them as unpaid waiters: 'Top up mummy's glass, there's a good lad.' You can just imagine admitting that in the wrong circles!"

Aoife from Wicklow also admits to the odd white lie. "I know it's wrong but sometimes it feels like every other mother but me has the whole mothering thing figured out. The other day one of the school mums told me she only puts a treat in her son's lunchbox on a Friday and I agreed with her saying I did the same -- although the truth is he has a treat every day and an even bigger one on Friday! I never even thought of limiting them like that until she had mentioned it."

Another friend who doesn't wish to be named says that she told everyone that she was giving up work so that she could be around for her children more.

'I told them that I felt being a stay-at-home mother would allow me to be a better parent, and that although the money would be missed I felt it was worth it. The truth was that I was being made redundant and was terrified both of the financial drop and the fact that I would have to entertain two under-fours full-time.

'I know it was wrong but I just felt it was the only way to gain a bit of control back and not have everyone feeling sorry for me."

Siobhan Freegard, Founder of Netmums, says: "Nowadays, with so many mothers living far away from their own families there is a greater pressure than ever to appear to be coping perfectly. Our benchmark for good parenting has moved from our own parents and siblings to our friends, so we are constantly checking how we are measuring up."

She goes on to say: "Netmums is now calling for a more honest approach to parenting so that the feeling of guilt and inadequacy that so many mums feel can be diminished."

With this in mind Netmums has just launched what they are calling 'The Real Parenting Revolution'. This campaign aims to return to the 'good enough' approach to parenting that was conceived by psychologist Donald Winnicot in the 1950s. The school of thought is that no parent can be the perfect parent at all times, but by being a 'good enough' parent we can teach our children self-reliance and independence.

Psychologist Dr Linda Papadopoulos said that it was common for people to feel that they were being judged in a variety of situations.

The belief is that it is natural that parents take an interest in how others manage their parenting and therefore make comparisons with how they themselves do things. However, this can leave individuals feeling insecure and lacking confidence, which leads to telling small fibs in an effort to appear more competent than they feel.

She advises parents to avoid comparing themselves with others. "You're in competition with no one but yourself -- all you can do is the best for you and your kid."

Oliver James, a child clinical psychologist and the author of How Not To F*** Them Up, says: "'Real Parenting' is a useful concept in that it suggests not looking outwards for definition. I don't know what is going to work best for you, only you know that. Yes, there is buckets of scientific evidence showing how doing some things have one consequence, others another. But sod that, what matters most is to find your own truth, to be real."

So in a bid to join up this way of thinking I decided to come clean to my friends about how much TV my children watched last week (a lot).

Surprisingly they all nodded in agreement. "Oh I know," said one, "My TV is both the babysitter and Sarah's best friend -- I think she's going to invite it to her birthday party."

With such a successful start to my 'Real Parenting' membership I decided to follow it with a guilt-free lie-in whilst letting the four- and two-year-olds get their own breakfast. Now this wasn't me being neglectful -- oh no -- I was doing them a favour by boosting their independence.

I think I'm going to like this revolution.

Irish Independent

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