Some time ago, I met my lovely friend for a drink, straight off the train from London. She told me about a very intense performance review she had at work recently, which, although scary, was incredibly useful; it gave her a general sense of how she was doing and areas to work on.
And it struck me we don't get this feedback as parents. Am I doing a good job? I have no idea.
I'm not expecting a formal meeting to discuss my parenting expertise (who would even run that meeting? The health visitor? My partner?) but the only sense I ever get of how I'm doing as a mum is from my internal perspective. And I veer wildly from thinking I'm doing alright to admonishing myself for being a terrible mother.
Usually, I feel that way when I've made a mistake or when one (or both) of my kids behave exceptionally bad in public. Nothing makes you question your parenting skills more than having to physically remove a screaming toddler from a busy soft play or losing your temper doing homework with your five-year-old.
I tried asking my children for feedback, but I was left disappointed if I expected them to say anything productive or profound. Truthfully I was hoping they'd say something adorable about me being a great mum and that just being myself was everything they needed, but I didn't get that. I asked – "what makes a good parent?" Frank, who is five years old, said, "giving their kids sweets and letting them do whatever they want all the time."
Ever the opportunist. And when I asked Bill, who is three years old, "what makes a good mama?" he said – "fierce, good at hunting, and a really loud roar." And then I remembered I was supposed to be pretending to be a lion with him. We never circled back to it. And if I'm honest with myself, my roar is mediocre at best, and my hunting skills are also lacking.
Evaluating yourself is hard. It's even harder when attempting to assess your parenting because there's no set guide and nothing to count, measure, or quantify.
There's no clear way to tell if you're making the right decisions or doing a good job. I've always been bad at taking criticism, and nothing is more personal and more likely to sting than pointing out your failings as a mum. And there are no targets to hit essentially, except one end goal – simply molding them into half-decent adults.
So let's review. Am I patient enough? Fun? Do I spend enough time playing with them? Is it bad that I need a break from them sometimes, or that I occasionally hide really well during a game of hide and seek so I can have a minute to myself? Are they safe, are they happy, are they healthy? What do I do well? What can I do better?
Shall we measure our success as mums by how tidy our house is, how well behaved our kids are, or whether they're wearing matching socks and mittens or not? We're all just stumbling around in the dark, aren't we? A bit of soul searching can be helpful, but ultimately, getting through to bedtime most days is an achievement.
I've given myself two mini targets – less shouting (deep breaths, guys), and to put my phone away a bit more.
Parenting can be boring, and it's tempting to scroll through Twitter or tackle today's wordle, but if I put my phone out of reach for a while, I find myself picking up on things I would have missed, and I'm more present. I'll keep assessing myself and trundling along as best I can, and maybe I'll get some proper feedback from my tiny little bosses one day.