I have recently realised that being a good mum involves, basically, being a good person. Um, but what does that even mean? How can you make sure you are a good person?
The thing is, when you raise a child, you are teaching that child how to be a person. How to be a human being in a world of human beings, some of whom bite and scratch, some of whom hug and give. Most of whom do both at some time or other. What do you teach your child, and how? Is there a perfect solution, a perfect person to create?
If you are like me, and a perfectionist, this is a challenging situation. I can tell you what it leads to: worry. Constant, nagging worry that you are not doing it right. Should the baby be sleeping longer? Is the baby getting enough stimulation? As the baby grows and you start to feel you have the Maslowian basic basics under control, the tasks multiply: should you help the baby reach that toy, or should you let her get frustrated so she knows that she can’t always get what she wants? Are you teaching her emotional manipulation or resilience? Will she become cynically resigned or ignorantly satisfied?
And that’s just on the play-mat. The questions get ever wider, more diverse: more. Jokes are made that stay-at-home parents need to re-activate their adult brains once in a while, and I can totally understand the need to speak to other grown-ups about grown-up things (ie no poo references for 30 minutes, minimum.) But I feel like I am thinking more, on more levels, more than ever before. I am training someone, not just in government policy, or report writing, or how to make an ace paella. I am training someone to be a person.
Being a person covers, obviously, everything. From the physical – how to sleep, how to eat, how to tie your shoes – to the mental – how to think, how to have an open mind, how to manage risk, how to problem solve – to the emotional – how to manage emotions, how to feel them and then let them go – to the social – how to empathise, relate, give and take, love. I feel like Sherlock Holmes, absorbing every tiny detail in every situation and processing it to try to maximise the lesson in becoming-human for my baby, from the intentionality behind passing her a blue elephant to whether I am too focused on getting her to babble rather than engage in spatial tasks. My brain is firing on pistons I never knew I had. I have some sort of mother-meta-cerebellum in action.
I realise that I may be overthinking this.
But – making a person. It is a big job! And what if I don’t get it right?
This is the thought of someone who, let’s face it, has pretty low self-esteem. That is something I am working on, and something which research shows can be changed. The idea that I am good enough to help someone else be good enough, is new.
But I can tell, deep in my heart of hearts, that the best way to help Ellie become who she is, is to be who I am now. Because as her mother, it’s a teleological argument – I am bound to be the best person to help her grow and learn, because I love her in a way that only a mother or father can. That’s why there are two of us. Between us, I reckon she will learn a thing or two about how to be all sorts of variations on the theme of interesting, muddled, short-sighted, and lost important, loved. Love is a great evolutionary invention. Without it, none of this would be possible.