parent opinion

'It took a separation to realise the problem with my parenting wasn't me - it was him.'

I’m the proud mother of two sassy and strong-willed daughters under 10. And while I know I still have so much to learn, I feel like I’m finally in a place where I know who I am and the type of mum I want to be.

It took a lot for me to get here - including a separation.

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But now, two years into single mum life, I can honestly say I’m a better parent than I ever was before.

When I had my first child, I had so many unrealistic expectations of myself. Like most new parents, I had plenty of pre-conceived ideas about raising children, but I also felt a pressure to parent in a way that satisfied my husband.

He was only slightly older than me in years but felt much older in his personality and outlook on life. He was very black and white in his views, had a strong moral compass and set high standards for people around him.

I looked up to him and trusted his judgment, and in a way, really deferred a lot of decisions about my own life to him. I came into the relationship at 19 years old, with unresolved shame and control issues, so his strong leadership and decisiveness were comforting to me.

Our relationship evolved with him very much in charge, and that translated into how I raised our daughters. I found myself constantly checking my parenting to see if it would be acceptable to him.

Whatever I did, I was anxious to get his approval. And he was always willing and ready to approve, or disapprove, as he saw fit. This would impact everything from what I fed them and what they could watch on TV, to what values were instilled in them. 

As a result, I was stricter and less tolerant with my girls. I felt I had to uphold a standard imposed by my partner. I was in charge of my kids, and the main caregiver, but I had a supervisor above me. I felt like I was constantly trying to prove myself and demonstrate perfect parenting to my husband, and others around me. It sounds pathetic, and it was.

I’m a deep-thinking, creative, loud and messy person. I am most comfortable in complicated and emotional situations. I love philosophy and debating, craft and curiosity. I’ve never stuck to rules and I instinctively baulk at rigid process and routine.

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But I forgot all that for the first few years of my parenting journey. I tried to be the mum I thought I should be instead of the mum I am.

Then ten years into our marriage, we separated.

Among all the emotions, I remember at first a feeling of fear about having to parent unsupervised. Like I was totally unqualified and not responsible enough to take that on by myself.

And then slowly the fear turned into liberation. I was on my own! Decisions about dinner, discipline, screen time and bedtime were all mine to make! I didn’t have to check them off with anyone else. I was the only one that would bear the consequence of the decisions I made.

Gradually, as I allowed myself to trust my instinct more, I found a new parenting style. I found that once I stopped worrying about what another person thought about my approach, I was a much better parent. I had nothing to prove any more. The yelling and fighting decreased, while the patience, tolerance, and listening increased.

I’m in a place now where I can give my children the time and attention that they need to properly feel their emotions and express them to me however they need to. I’m gentler with them when they have meltdowns. When they whinge or throw a tantrum, it’s only my ears I need to worry about, so there is less pressure to make it stop immediately.

I don’t worry that when I let them carry on about minor things, or buy them a new toy, that I’m being weak or spoiling them. I have so much more patience and grace for them, as I learn more about giving myself grace, too.

Our house now is more relaxed, open and honest (and yes, messy). We don’t have rigid directions, or expectations of each other. We trust our gut instinct and we let our emotions out when we need to.

I say to the girls I only have one rule – Be kind. That is all I ask of them, and the one thing I want them to remember above all things. Be kind. To strangers, to people you love, to yourself. Factor kindness into every decision you make.

I’m not a perfect mum, and I don’t have the perfect life. Separation is hard and hurtful and full of mixed feelings. But one thing I know, from my personal experience, is that I’m a better mum now, on my own, than I ever was in my marriage.

It hasn’t been a simple path, or always an easy one. But I am finally the mother I was always meant to be.

Feature Image: Getty. The photograph used is a stock image. The author of this post is known to Mamamia and has chosen to remain anonymous for privacy reasons. 

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