There are far too many images of perfect parenthood on social media. I'm with mums like Helen Skelton, who tell it like it is.
In my house we have a saying that has become something of a family motto when it comes to the kids – ‘Heaven and Hell are just seconds apart’.
Its something I say hastily if I ever get a compliment about the behaviour of my two sons (aged 5 and 2) at a party, or if a stranger on the train says they’re sweet. Kind of like my personal caveat against one of them suddenly deciding to shout, scream, kick the other in the shins, wet themselves, or puke on the floor and ruin the illusion. Because as any honest parent will tell you – even when it looks like you’re pretty much winning at the whole parenting thing, you’re only ever a blink away from full-scale meltdown territory.
That’s why when I read about poor Blue Peter presenter Helen Skelton, 33, who was ‘asked to leave’ a playgroup in France yesterday after her 19-month-old son had a ‘screaming fit’ as she tried to drop him off on his first day, I thought ‘I FEEL YOUR PAIN’. Particularly after she’d literally just posted the perfect photo of them 20 minutes earlier, as he skipped his way in.
Describing the incident as ‘the worst day of parenting life’ on Twitter she followed up with a frank admission: ‘‘#parentfail #kidswinning #mumfail #childcare’ provoking streams of comments from fellow parents.
This morning, several tabloids, taking up the story, strangely felt the need to cite Helen’s huge career highs as a presenter and sporting achievements (from cycling to the North Pole to becoming the second woman ever to finish the 78 mile 24 hour Namibian marathon) before joking that all these didn’t stop her being defeated by a toddler.
But the thing is, why should they? These episodes are an inevitable part of the journey every parent faces amongst the highs and lows of daily life. We’ve all been there. Helen’s son’s behaviour was nothing unusual.
Toddlers this age can be as unpredictable, petulant and manipulative as teenagers. The Whatsapp feed I share with fellow mothers of two year olds is littered with references to crazy irrational episodes such as one mum’s account of her little darling last weekend ‘flailing about on the floor for 15 minutes like a devil possessed’ in Brent Cross shopping centre before convincingly playing dead for 5 minutes sending his mum into a panic. The crime? She’d mistakenly given him chips and beans ON THE SAME PLATE!
In many ways, social media has made such moments of public embarrassment easier to bear. Sharing them creates solidarity and in the long run, a great sense of perspective, as well as plenty of dark humour.
Good on Helen Skelton for sharing the reality. I’m guessing that being the mum of the English kid losing his shi* in a playground full of well mannered little French children, just when you’re trying to ingratiate yourself with a new community (she recently moved to South of France to live with her husband Rugby player Richie Myler), must have been pretty humiliating.
It might have been tempting to keep schtum about it particularly in light of the fact that she’d tweeted her seemingly perfect toddler less than half an hour earlier before all hell broke loose. But she didn’t. And that’s great. There are far too many unrealistic, idolised images of motherhood and parenting on social media right now that belie the effort and tantrums it took to get there. She told it like it really is.