Madeleine West on what makes a good parent
Unsolicited advice, fierce mother's group competition, mistakes... it's all a part of good parenting!
By Madeleine West
Practical Parenting Mum, actor, author and Practical Parenting expert / July 16 2018
Hi! I am Madeleine and I am a mum. Not a tiger mum or a helicopter mum; occasionally a soccer mum but not a sporty mum. Definitely a busy mum.
I am a happy mum, a sleepy mum, a grumpy mum (and all the other dwarves), a funny mum, striving to be a yummy mum but more frequently a crummy mum. I am not always a great mum; sometimes I question if I am even a good mum, but I am, first and foremost, Mum. Mother of many: blessed six times over with the pitter, splatter and clatter of tiny feet. I am no expert and never try to be, but I have run the parenthood gauntlet a few times now, and can say I have experienced a fair slice of what it has to offer. I have made plenty of mistakes; that’s part of being human. But I have tried my hardest to learn from them: that is being clever.
The most important thing to remember is this: You . . . Are . . . The . . . Grown-up . . . and you are a parent. Navel gazing, a few tears, a bit of griping, a good, cleansing whinge over a chamomile at mothers’ group – these things are part and parcel with parenthood, they are our birthright, in that from the moment we give birth to our child, it’s our right to whinge about our child. Provided, that is, we limit it to letting off a little steam now and then. Because at the end of the day, we are adults, they are children, and the two roles should not be confused.
Yes, we will all flip out a little at times, but our children rely upon us to provide a stable foundation, day in, day out. Yes, it is mundane, it is limiting. Yes, it curtails our freedom and demands every decision we make and choice we take be made through the prism of our children’s wellbeing first and foremost. But this is parenthood. It is a role we take on voluntarily and one that must be carried out with selflessness, care and consideration. There is no place for selfishness on this merry-go-round.
Our little ones need to know we will be there to wipe their noses, clean their bums, feed them, clothe them, soothe their fears, sit with them through the night when they’re sick, watch them play sports, help them with their homework, laugh and cry with them, all without thanks, just the occasional card and homemade macaroni necklace.
So, contemplating parenthood? Well, before you worry about pre-natal classes and nursery colour schemes, first be prepared to swallow your pride, put your ambition in the backseat, rev up your courage, and strap yourself in for what will be the most terrifying, exhilarating, devastating, rewarding, eye-opening, wonderful ride of your life. Gird your loins and lock down your ego, because there are no medals and no backslaps; their gratitude will be signified by mere grunts more often than not, and their affection for you may prove as changeable as underwear, especially as they approach those tumultuous teens.
Others will be full of good advice, generally well-meaning, frequently useful, occasionally misguided, sometimes utterly useless. And competition in the mothers’ group relay (graduating to the school gate) can prove so fierce, it’s a wonder parenting has not yet qualified as an Olympic event!
You will question your choices, your motives, your destiny and your sanity. However, if you can accept parenthood for what it is: essentially an obstacle course designed to be unwinnable, unrelenting, and without end – same challenges, different day – then you are a good parent. If you can accept that you don’t have all the answers, never have, never will, and that every other parent out there, no matter how calm and collected they appear, is really just another mother duck, paddling away furiously while trying to look like they have it all together, then you are a good parent. If, when your child throws themselves on the supermarket floor because you selected the wrong brand of cereal, or tells you they hate you because you announce it is bed time, or use your favourite dress as an art smock to fiddle with the oil paints you thought you had locked away, or they arrive home with a tattoo/piercing/ boyfriend and when you voice your displeasure they promptly disappear into their cave, err, bedroom for the next six months, surfacing only for fridge raids and oxygen – if you can still smile, remember that they were, are, and always will be your baby, inextricably tied to you by blood, love and perhaps a court order, then YOU ARE A GOOD PARENT!
So take time to enjoy it, to smell the roses, treasure each stage and phase they pass through en route to the next. The most common declaration among parents is just how fast their children grow. They are ours for such a brief moment; revel in it before the great big world claims them for itself.
So please read on, not with pity or envy, or seeking enlightenment, but in solidarity. We are all parents, know parents, have had parents, or are thinking about becoming parents, whichever side of the tracks we come from or where we are headed. I cannot promise you will find gold between these pages, but there might be the odd cookie to be found under the sofa that is my life, and some loose change stuffed down between the cushions. If you can glean some little nugget of wisdom along the way then all of my trials and tribulations have been worth it. So glean away, read away, try not to look away, and please contain the urge to run away – because THIS IS PARENTHOOD folks, when it becomes an extreme sport.
Madeleine West is an actor, author and most importantly a mother to six young children. She has just published her new children’s book series Lily D ‘Lily D V. A. P’ (2018). This is an edited extract from Madeleine’s first book, ‘Six Under Eight: When parenting becomes an extreme sport.’
Check out Madeleine's books!