So, in this particular dream, I’m belted into a plane seat and we are taking off and despite my usually successful technique of holding my breath and chanting “Lift, lift, lift” the plane lurches forward, falls sickeningly fast and lands, quite gently really, into the sea. I start to undertake my emergency evacuation procedures, only to be told (scathingly) by the air attendant that I’m not prepared as I haven’t read the textbook and undertaken the exam. I am handed these items as I sit in my chair in the sinking plane and start to read as fast as I can. I start to write as fast as I can. But there are hundreds of questions, the plane is lurching, my handwriting is deteriorating. What’s worse, everyone else has done the exam. They finished ages ago and there appears to be a celebration going on. People are clapping, throwing streamers and cheering. They’re having fun and eating popcorn and dancing around and I’m still strapped in the seat with a lump of despair growing in my stomach and the knowledge that they’ve all worked it out, and I suck. Then I notice that one of them is crying, realise it’s next to me, realise that it’s my baby and wake to feed her.
Anxiety dreams like this used to be frequent when I started new jobs, where I always felt inadequate and with a sneaky feeling that I’d tricked everyone into giving me work when really, I sucked. And my job right now is being a mum. There are no KPIs for parenting, no annual reviews, and let’s face it: if we all performed the job as poorly as we do in the first three months, no one would pass the probation period of parenting.
The Internet is really a poor substitute for a text book (I worked out that everyone on those Internet forums with strange codes like DD and DS is desperate and wild, basically because their kid won’t sleep, and everyone answering these desperate and wild queries is helpless and completely zomboid with their own lack of sleep whilst all the people who have worked it out aren’t on the Internet at all and are, in fact, having a sleep).
What’s more, although parenting involves many, many tests, there are no real exams. The only outcome we can mark our success by is our kid. And oh dear, they just will not perform! From public screaming tantrums, to peace shattering wall kicking at bedtime, to upending dinner on the floor, refusing to say ‘hello’, ‘please’, ‘thank you’ or ‘sorry’, starting, and then stopping, toilet training, snatching, shouting, booting gifts across the room, not going to bed, never saying number 5 (as in 1, 2, 3, 4, 6….), not going to bed again, crying cause we’ve moved the toy truck the wrong way, refusing to get in the car seat, not going to bed again… Is there anything I’ve missed?
And really, all up, I reckon my kid is pretty normal. All this stuff is interspersed with things that make my heart swell with love and pride. Hundreds of examples of this, every day. But just like in any job, it’s so easy to focus on the bits where it’s all going wrong.
So, we need to throw out the text book (the internet), forget the exam (how our kids are behaving) and we need a set of KPIs that suit our parenting and, more importantly, our kids.
Let’s start with something simple that means at the end of the day (if there is an ‘end of the day’ in parenting) we can feel that we’ve achieved something. Let me kick it off with something I committed to doing last year and am still managing most days.
At least once a day:
-Make Miles’ face light up
Then, how about:
-Play on the floor and/or run around the yard together
-Prepare a meal that is mostly eaten
-Clean his teeth
-Check that he has reasonably clean skin and clothes
-Check she has reasonably clean skin and clothes
-Play the gazing goo-goo-gah game
-Have a shower
-Eat something other than muesli
-Walk somewhere (if it isn’t raining)
And that’s it. Maybe some more nice achievable goals?
What are your parenting KPIs?