I am a fraud. Call the Fraud Squad.
Of course, being a fraud is part and parcel of being a Jack of All Trades. Our stock in trade, if you will. Oh yes, I can do that, we say – sing, act, compose, teach, draw, etc, – all the while knowing that we have no clue of what we are doing as we hide behind a façade of bravado and bluff.
And we live in constant fear of being Found Out.
I had reason recently to question why I had pursued an activity in which fraudulence is high for me. In examining my motives, I came to realise that I do these things as part of an elaborate play acting. If I pretend that I can do this thing and consequently participate in activities designed for those who really can do these things, then perhaps I might just convince myself that my skill is real.
It never works. I just end up freaked out that I’ve landed in a position in which I have to prove a skill I don’t truly believe I possess.
But nowhere am I more of a fraud than in my role as a parent.
Given parenting is not really something you can study for – there is no PhD in Parenthood as far as I am aware – and the fact that children annoyingly refuse to fit any sort of norm for which one could study even if there were a qualification, it’s likely I’m not really alone in this one.
Every time someone tells me what a great parent I am or how well I am doing in my parenting or (worst of all) how they hope to be as good a parent as me one day (shudder), all I can think of is the yelling match I had with my child the night before, or the awful thing I said to another one a few days ago, or any of a million other regretful actions in this torturous journey of raising children.
Don’t get me wrong, my kids are great. Every one tells me they are. It’s just hard not to think that it’s despite my parenting, rather than because of it.
When things have been at their worst – those times when I am convinced that surely my kids would ultimately be better off without me – two books have saved me (thank goodness for reading).
My first year into parenthood when I already had the sneaky suspicion I’d been sold a crock of s@%t about how fabulous it was to be a mother, I read Susan Maushart’s The Mask of Motherhood. I think it saved my life. So it wasn’t just me who felt on so many days that this was in fact not the most satisfying thing I would do in my life. It wasn’t just me who thought some days were absolute nightmares. It wasn’t just me who felt I had lost my own identity in my new role as mother. The problem, as Susan Maushart pointed out, is that there is a motherhood conspiracy not to speak of such things. We all, when we get into the thick of it, sell the product to the unaware with unashamed impunity. “Oh yes,” we’ll say to our expectant friends. “It’s all just so wonderful.” All the while biting back the urge to say, “As long as you don’t mind no sleep, no life, no time to yourself and some days so mundane you’d rather be on an assembly line in a factory because at least you’d get some adult conversation.”
The second was a more recent find and an accidental one at that. I had been perusing the funny books shelf of a local bookshop for a birthday gift and stumbled upon House of Testosterone by Sharon O’Donnell. The subtitle said it all: One Mom’s Survival in a Household of Males. Like me, Sharon has three sons. Like me, even the family pet is male. Unlike me, her boys are sporty (mine are geeky) but so much of what she wrote had me either nodding my head in sympathy or laughing hysterically in agreement. Two things she wrote about have stayed with me:
- Only other mothers of boys understand what you’re going through. And I mean mothers of boys not boys and girls. Even if the number of boys outweighs the number of girls in your house, it will never replicate a house of only boys.
- The way boys speak to each other and treat each other is normal. I truly thought I had failed as a parent as I watched my sons treat each other with contempt, verbal abuse and, on occasion, fisticuffs. But Sharon, despite her best efforts, was suffering the same in her house full of boys.
Books or no books, feelings of solidarity or not, parenting is still a skill that eludes me. Flying blind, making it up as I go along, I cross my fingers and hope my kids will survive and thrive despite me. But you didn’t hear that from me. I’m a very good parent, really. So people say.