Oh, you met my charming, well-behaved children? I haven’t...
“She’s so much easier when you’re not here.” The first time I heard these words, I was miffed to put it politely. Pissed would be more accurate. My eldest daughter Ruby was two (she’s now eight) and it felt like a slap in the face. What did my babysitter mean by “easier”? Did my amateur parenting bring out the worst in my daughter? How much calmer/sweeter/happier was she when I closed the door and sucked in my freedom (and three flat whites in quick succession while trying to bang out a story). True, as soon as I’d walked through the door their blissful tea party had come to an abrupt halt and been replaced with a screaming tanty about something that sounded like “donut.”
Other incarnations of this comment over the years (which I’ve now heard from teachers, pre-school workers and multiple family members) include: “she was an angel… before you got home”… “he eats all his broccoli when I give it to him”… ”yes, she gets straight in the stroller/carseat without a back-arching fist fight.” Perhaps the most memorable example was when Reidy and I went away for a whole week, leaving my 18-month-old son Sebastian (who was yet to sleep through the night, despite being trained with every technique known to parenting) with my MIL. When we got home, I asked how she’d coped with the sleep deprivation. She looked confused. “I feel great. He went from 7 to 7 every night.” Picking jaw off floor. What? Apparently, Sebastian woke up on the first night, saw that I wasn’t there and went straight back to sleep. No screaming. No making himself vomit. He just lay back down. Went to sleep. And it carried on like that for the whole week.
As I settled him into bed on that first night home I thought smugly about how it takes a village to raise a child and trusting other people with your children has amazing fringe benefits (the most obvious being that taking a break from said children gives you the space to reconnect with the husband you liked enough to make them with but haven’t had the energy to connect with since). Then I heard it. “Momma.” The clock read 2am. What I said after that went a bit like this: Little bleeping bleeper bleeper.
On the one hand, it feels good to hear about these angelic, clever, focused, inquisitive versions of my children. When my friend Zsofi tells me about what great company my daughter is when she walks her home from school, I’m pleased. And I’m relieved when the teacher looks at me, confused, when I ask how she deals with Sebastian’s shouting in the classroom. He doesn’t do it? Oh. Yay! But I’m also a little sad. I want to stomp my feet and say: Why don’t I get that part of you? I cooked you! If this was any other kind of relationship – a friend, husband, colleague – it would be a deal-breaker. After much hand-wringing and workshopping, I’d have dumped them.
The truth is that I do get the very best of them… but I also get the worst. The absolute worst. I guess that’s just being mum. But now that I’m a few more years in, that initial sting has turned into a deeply-comforting emotional doona that I wrap around myself when I feel insecure about my parenting. My kids behavior at home is like a tree falling in the forest. Stay the course. Follow my gut. And even though it can feel like nothing is getting through, I wait patiently for the parent-teacher interview or feedback from mum. I’ve come to think of it as the best kind of yardstick.
Words: Brooke Le Poer Trench | Photo: Julie Adams
About the writer: Brooke Le Poer Trench has been a magazine writer and editor for almost 20 years. She worked as an editor at Conde Nast in New York for five years, and has contributed to many national magazines and websites, including Allure, Cosmopolitan, Self, Conde Nast Traveller and Harper’s BAZAAR. She lives in London with her family.