Have you ever noticed a gap between how others see you and how you see yourself – or what you’re doing in life? It can go either way- negative or positive. As a parent I’ve experienced both.

Yesterday over tea and brownies a friend, who has her own business, told me how she’s got to the point where she ‘doesn’t have anything to prove in life’, and is happy to just follow her desires – and right now that it is to have a baby.

I must admit I felt envious. I wished I could feel no need to ‘succeed’, to achieve anything. My entire motherhood journey so far has been peppered with frustration at not being able to fully explore my creative interests and develop my career which was just starting at the point when I became pregnant (even though I really wanted a baby).

My friend’s remark got me thinking: what about achievement as a mother? What about the never-complete, but always ongoing, success of a child who is happy and open to life?

Recently I’ve had a lot of compliments on my son: he’s independent, he’s secure, even-tempered, ‘fearless’, confident and trusting of people, and he knows what he wants (which could be taken either way I suppose).

I never know quite how to take these remarks. He’s his own person, after all – he came into the world with his own character, which responds to what goes on around him, but he was definitely, quintessentially Jude from the beginning. In fact, a friend of mine even coined the term ‘Jude-ness’ – as in, he’s really growing into his ‘Jude-ness’.

As an ‘attachment parenting’ mother – the title makes me wince a little, with my dislike for leaping under any banner – I’ve put myself in the line of fire of much criticism. I’ve been accused of spoiling my son; being responsible for his ‘clingy’ behaviour because I respond to his requests for cuddles and breastfeeding; creating a rod for my own back with a child that will never leave my bed; and ‘trying to protect my son from the outside world forever’ – this is my favourite one, from a family member 😉

The worm seems to have turned. At just under three my son is a sensitive, articulate, very confident and empathic (for his age!) child who knows what he wants – and is fun to be with. He now plays independently for long periods of time and his breastfeeding has (with some help from me!) decreased to two times a day in a smooth transition. He happily goes to creche two mornings a week and is able to be left regularly with trusted friends and family.

And of course I can never know this for sure, but I do think that had his dependency needs been denied and ignored, or only erratically responded to, we would perhaps be seeing a very different picture.

Attachment parenting ‘guru’ Dr William Sears writes about ‘shutdown syndrome’, where babies who are left in their cots a lot and not carried around or picked up when they cry, become withdrawn, apathetic, and unresponsive, and even lose weight, failing to thrive. In terms of the more long term picture, in his ‘Attachment Parenting’ book he includes an account from parents who remark how easy their three year old is to discipline, thanks to the strong bond that has been formed through attachment parenting.

Reading that recently, something resonated with me: I realised how what seemed to be a never ending cycle of meeting the needs of a baby and young toddler – the sleep deprivation from feeding through the night, the sore muscles from wearing a sling almost all the time (yes, even an ‘ergonomic’ one), feeling ‘tied’ to being with him most of the time so that he could feed and go to sleep; being unable to leave him with anyone until he was far past the age that children are ‘supposed’ to be able to do so – has had a lot to do with Jude now feeling safe to come out into the world and show us all he’s got.

And more experienced mothers – yes, I know things could change at any time, but I’m still waiting for the onslaught of the ‘terrible twos’ with him. His strong relationship with me and his ability to communicate and express his feelings verbally, while I validate and allow them, seems to iron out most difficulties very quickly. Things really changed when he turned two – he suddenly seemed to realise that he could relate to and trust the world outside his immediate circle, and this change was sudden and remarkable.

I suppose this is where the ‘rewards’ of parenting come in. So much of the time it seems like a task without end, like a process without a finished result. For the first time I’m seeing that I can enjoy the person my son is becoming, and feel proud of the work I’ve done. Yes, he has brought many of these qualities with him, and at the same time they would not be able to flourish fully without nurturing and sensitivity in his environment.

And that’s where the gap comes in…parenting is different to a completed writing project or a ‘job well done’. It’s more challenging to internalise the appreciation and feel proud of the work I’ve put in as a parent. Why is that? There’s definitely a sense in which parents (mostly mothers, if they’re doing the primary care, and even if they’re not) are given the blame for children who have behavioural problems or in some way don’t ‘turn out well’, yet there are never headlines about what a wonderful mother a Nobel Prize winner is.

Partly, though, it’s a human condition, I think. I have friends who I think are the most amazing human beings and mothers – full of love and empathy and deep respect for their children, who I just sit in awe of when I witness their parenting and their being – who regularly knock themselves, and no matter what I say, I can see that deep down, they can’t quite take it in. I think the best we can do is keep supporting each other and reflecting back to each other what we can see, and hopefully the truth will slowly drip in.

But back to my friend who’s let go of the need to prove: I would love to get to the point where I truly feel I have nothing to prove, even to myself. I definitely need feedback from others in order to feel that I am on the right track, although my authentic parenting journey has helped me more than anything else to start trusting my own instincts of what is right. I’m grateful to my friend for her reminder that life is a continuously unfolding journey of creation, and that there is no end point. In the meantime, I’m going to try and take in the vantage point from where I am, right now: and it’s really quite good.

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