I used to be a smug mum

a photo of a toddler boy covering his face for the tiny terrorist opinion piece for Lunch Lady Magazine

I used to be a smug mum. You see, my first child was born, and it turned out that I was an amazing parent. So good, in fact, that my baby ate and slept and had lie-ins. We took him everywhere: the beach, the pub, on planes. He smiled at everyone, and was settled and happy and delightful. I was “BORN TO DO THIS. See—just look at my perfect child!”

We potty-trained him just before his second birthday. Three days. Done. No accidents since. I gave out advice by the bucketload. Used words like “consistency” and “a happy, calm parent is a happy, calm child” and “just use a star chart!”.”

And then I had another child. A strong-willed child.

Oh Claire. Oh sweet, smug-mum, Claire. HOW THE GODS OF MOTHERING LAUGHED. I got a screamer. An iron-willed tiny terrorist who gave approximately zero F’s about my historically INCREDIBLE mothering skills.

From the moment my second son was born (on the bed, all fours, howling—the exact opposite of the calm, dreamy, candlelit water birth of my first), he has done the opposite of everything I’ve desired. Potty training has been such a catastrophic disaster that, now that he’s nearly three years old, I have given up entirely. Resigned to the fact that he will shit and eat and piss when he pleases.

“Just whip out the star chart,” says another, well-meaning, mother. While Karma laughs and Humility punches me in the tits. Because it turns out…he has NO interest in that. Not the potty. Nor the toilet. Nor a cute padded throne adorned with Cars characters—I BOUGHT ALL THE THINGS.

I’m bribing now. We’re vegan and sugar-free (because I’m such a great mum) but I’m hurling chocolate buttons at him like Willy Wonka: “HAVE ALL THE SUGAR! Please…for just one little wee.”

My anxiety goes through the roof as I stare at this tiny, headstrong, un-bribable, incorruptible, immovable, two-plus-something year old. I’m dancing and clapping and cheering. I’ve got star charts on speed. I’m inspecting bum holes. I’ve reached new lows where I have started to announce to the room, “Righto, then. I’m off for a poo!” so my boys can gather round and watch their mother on the piss pot while I hope this sparks some sort of interest in a certain toddler’s own bodily functions.

But of course it’s not working.

I read everything on the internets and felt stabby at the smug mothers saying, “Just let them take the lead.” LET HIM TAKE THE LEAD? But where will this end? A thirty-year-old accountant in diapers? And this is not accounting for the fact that I’m A REALLY GREAT MUM—did I not already explain that?

But like a feral little dictator extraordinaire, he refuses. LAUGHS AT ME. He thinks it’s funny. He’s happy. He’s SO happy. He is happy DESPITE it all. Despite the challenges he’s throwing at me. The visible greying of my hair, and darkening of my eye bags. He is happy because he doesn’t need my approval. He doesn’t need ANYONE’S approval. He laughs when I tell him off. I put him in time-out and he doesn’t even cry. He just sits and waits. And when I can’t take it anymore, when I cry…HE comforts ME: “It’s okay, Mama.” But he still won’t concede.

He's happy.

I look at him taking everything in his stride. So independent. So self-sufficient. So. Happy. And somehow, while I’ve being doing everything wrong, banging my head against his proverbial brick wall, he is growing into someone really special. And I can see now that this isn’t about HIM. It’s about me. It’s my lesson to learn. It’s my patience and humility to find. And this toddler, this wildling, with dreadlocked curls that he refuses to have combed…well, what a MAN he will grow up to be.

All these traits that make me feel like a terrible mother—his independence, his will, his spirit and ability to find happiness without anyone’s approval—I know that these things, they will make him an awesome adult. So if, like me, you’re still crying into the toilet bowl, just try and imagine the strong human he or she will be. And it might just give you comfort. You’ll see.


I Used To Be A Smug Mum was written by Claire Alexander-Johnson for Lunch Lady Magazine Issue 6.