No mother is perfect, not even the one who gets up when it is still dark outside to bake homemade muffins and shell pistachios for their child’s school lunch box. These women do exist, I know some, but even the ones who give the appearance of being faultless are probably hiding some child-rearing secrets they would rather you didn’t know about.
In fact, a recent survey by parenting website BabyCentre in the UK found that lying is widespread among mothers. The pressure on them to be ‘perfect’ led to more than half of those questioned saying they felt the need to lie about their parenting skills to make them seem like better parents to others. Nine out of ten mothers confessed to using television to keep their children quiet, while 71 per cent admitted to lying to their child to make their day easier and a fifth of those questioned said they occasionally replaced a healthy dinner with chocolate and sweets.
It is just this kind of covert behaviour that the US authors of a new parenting book wanted to expose when they wrote Sh*tty Mum: The Parenting Guide For The Rest Of Us which has become a New York Times bestseller.
Written by four working mothers, Laurie Kilmartin, a comedian and writer, Karen Moline, a journalist and author and Alicia Ybarbo and Mary Ann Zoellner, both television producers, the book has chapters most parents can relate to.
With its mix of satirical advice about “How to survive babies, and what they grow into: children” and laugh out loud humour, Sh*tty Mum is “about short cuts and parenting with 40 per cent effort” and “doing a half-assed job, but doing it well enough so that no one but you notices”.
Next time you think you're gonna lose it, remember that it's ok to use the TV as a babysitter, sleep in and serve fast food.
From how to survive taking your kids to a restaurant and and what to do if you have an epic meltdown while you’re out in public, the authors will also tell you what no other parenting book will dare: "How to Deposit Your Sick Kid at Daycare Before the Teacher Figures it Out", what to do when "It’s Come to Your Attention That Your Kid is Merely Average and How To Sleep In Till 9am Every Weekend". In this case, the authors advise leaving breakfast out the night before (something that won’t go bad overnight) and provide entertainment by freezing the DVD opening frame of a ninety-plus minute movie like Curious George.
If you want to leave your kids with the grandparents for an extended period without feeling guilty, fear not: the authors say you need do this for the sake of the children. [The baby] “spends all day staring at you, wondering if this is how she’s going to look when she grows up. Of course she is crying. Your baby needs to see how rested adults behave. If she goes only by you, she’ll think it’s normal to shout, ‘I can’t do this any more!’ and storm out of the house to sit in the car and eat cheese. Knowing you aren’t the only kind of person on earth gives your baby a ray of hope.”
But behind the dark humour lies a truth that will lighten the load of mothers everywhere — it’s okay not to be perfect. In fact, Sh*tty Mum celebrates a mother’s imperfections. The authors are refreshingly honest about the stresses of parenting, owning up to being sh*tty mums themselves.
“It's ok to take the easy way out”, one of the authors comedian Laurie Kilmartin said. “You need a break, and your kids probably need a break from all your goals for them. Next time you think you're gonna lose it, remember that it's ok to use the TV as a babysitter, sleep in and serve fast food. Video games can buy you some key alone time. In fact, last month a study found that video games teach kids how to think critically, solve problems and fail. Who are you to argue with science? Especially if you can use those two hours to sleep. Remember, if you lose your mind, you will be useless to everyone.”
Kilmartin says she thinks it is “a female thing” for women to strive so hard for unattainable perfection when they become mothers. “It starts early with wanting to be thin and beautiful. After you have kids, it transfers over to mothering. It's a total waste of energy. I wish I could surgically remove the part of my brain that tells me I should be doing more. If I'm not doing enough, why am I bone-tired at the end of each day?”
She is the first to follow her own advice, letting her six-year-old play PacMac on an iPad while she was interviewed for this article. She explains: “I could've made him play with toys or draw, but he would've butted in every ten minutes. On the iPad, he's totally absorbed and I can get stuff done without interruption.”
Feedback from parents has been “super positive”, says Kilmartin who admits to being surprised because as she says, “It’s a pretty dark book. We advise you to leave your baby in the car when you're dashing into a mini-mart, turn on a fan so you can't hear the baby cry in the middle of the night and to stop a terrible nickname in its tracks by keying the car of any relative who refers to your son Henry as ‘Hank.’ We are Team Mom all the way.”
Of the sh*tty mum tips tweeted by likeminded mothers, Kilmartin says her favourite was “the mom who said she tells her kids that when the ice cream truck plays a song, that means they're out of ice cream.”
So put away your Gina Ford and Dr Spock, stick your child in front of the television and read something that will make you laugh and restore your sanity. Like the authors, we are all in some way sh*tty mums.
Sh*tty Mum: The Parenting Guide For The Rest Of Us is published by Abrams.