“Watch, Mummy! Watch!” The child at the soft play centre appeals to his audience as he goes down the slide. But mum is engrossed elsewhere – scrolling her smartphone repeatedly. Or maybe you’re at a friend’s for coffee. She gives her children a biscuit, plops them on the sofa and reaches for the remote control. And a small part of you is secretly shocked that she seems to have resorted to “CBeebies The Babysitter” so early in the day.
You may have side-stepped the child in the supermarket who’s having a meltdown because their parent won’t buy them the sweets they want. Or raised an eyebrow at the mother who’s opened a snack multipack and handed a packet to their toddler to keep her quiet for the trip round the store. Approaching a friends’ house for lunch, you can hear mum shouting loudly at her small child from the driveway.
But you haven’t seen the full picture. The mum on the phone has come to the soft play for wifi access and is refreshing her email for important news from work. The child plonked in front of cartoons has actually been up since 5am and been for a walk, gone to a story session at the library and is getting towards nap-time. But mum knows from previous experience that she needs to negotiate the timings of that nap to ensure her child doesn’t spend the remainder of the day sad and tired.
The first child at the supermarket had already had a treat for the day at the previous shop and mum knows that the sugar will make a hard day even worse. The second child at the supermarket had a smaller lunch than expected as they were at a friend’s house and the food wasn’t to her taste. The mother yelling at her child who can be heard across the neighbourhood is trying to get her attention to prevent her from hurting another child.
We’ve all had days when we aren’t the perfect parent but had you taken the snapshot at a different point in the day, you’d certainly have seen things from another perspective. The mother patiently listening to the boy at the soft play tell yet another Minecraft story. The cartoon-watching child intently handing over book after book to be read. The hungry one eating a vaguely balanced breakfast. As it happens, I am the parent in all of these scenarios. I’m the first to admit I’m not perfect but I’m probably not everything you see at first glance either. That’s the same for everyone, and as we move into the longest term where tired children may be at their most challenging, I’m planning to keep this uppermost in my mind.