Did I fail them?

It sounds so idyllic: I took the kids on a late afternoon picnic to a gorgeous harbourside park on Saturday. Before we left, we baked raspberry swirl cake and sausage rolls, and I made cucumber finger sandwiches and vegetable crudites to dip into tzatziki. A naughty six-pack of little cans of raspberry lemonade – and an apple cider for mum – were thrown into the esky for good measure.

We collected a friend for each of the girls and settled ourselves onto a rug under the trees with a lovely view of the tawny frogmouth baby we’d discovered the previous week.


My view

I told the kids to run off and play. Then I lay back on the rug with my cider, gazed up at the gorgeous blue sky and relaxed. I only rose for toilet runs and a quick walk to the pier to dangle the kids’ toes in the water.

When darkness fell, we finally packed up and headed home. I’m pretty sure everyone had bulk fun.

Husband sent a message later asking if he could pick the kids up at 9.30am the next morning. I told him to make it 10am because we were “hopelessly disorganised due to picnicking until nightfall.”

And then a guilt wave dumped on me big time. It started to swell when one of the friends’ mums said what a “good mum” I was for taking them on a picnic.

A little voice in my head said: “If you were such a good mum you wouldn’t be taking the kids’ friends along to amuse them, you’d be playing with them yourself.”

The voice got louder after I sent that message to Husband. It felt like I’d deceived him, pretending to be super mum when all I did was cut slices of raspberry cake for the kids and suggest they take the dog for a walk. I didn’t offer to throw a frisbee or play catch or chase them around the play equipment.

I was lazy. I sipped on my cider, twirled idly through my Facebook feed, dipped sausage rolls in tomato sauce, smiled indulgently as the kids roly-polyed down the grassy hill, rolled my eyes when they tottered up complaining about their roly-poly injuries, and chatted to fellow dog owners who wandered past with their various exotic breeds.


The youngest loves a roly-poly

Most of my kids’ childhood has been spent feeling judged on my mothering skills by Husband and found wanting. The weight of expectation became so oppressive towards the end of our marriage.

The freedom I’ve felt since we separated has been exhilarating.

But the little voice remains. It whispers to me that maybe he was right, I should do more with them.

I’ve tried to be “good.”

I suit up in a cossie every Tuesday afternoon and splash in the local swimming pool with the kids before their lessons. And I HATE the water.

We go on long walks that end with salted caramel gelato from the local deli.

We make incredible messes in the kitchen together, chopping and baking.

I read them a chapter of Harry Potter every night before kisses and cuddles in bed.

But is that enough?

As I’ve mentioned in previous blogs, Husband is the most amazing hands-on dad. Kids go to his place for playdates and he’ll embark on the most fabulous craft projects with them or play endless board games. When I invite the kids’ friends over for playdates, they get a very frosty reception if they start whining that they’re bored. My philosophy is that organising the playdate and providing snacks is my job done.

I’m not saying either approach is right or wrong.

This isn’t another needy cry for my followers to huddle around me and say “We love ALANA!”

I’m just curious, I’d like to know: how involved are you in your kids’ playtime?


Song of the day: Bruce Springsteen “Dancing in the dark”

(I’m a bit worried I still dance like that … just in lower-waisted pants)


17 thoughts on “Did I fail them?

  1. Your kids will remember the walks in the park followed by salted caramel ice-creams, baking with you and frolicking in the pool with you.
    They will also remember the arty/crafty fun times with their father, the board games and the play dates.
    Sounds like a very happy and balanced childhood to me!

  2. Up early for a jog this morning, so look out…I’m on a roll now! Stop beating yourself up- seriously 🙂 You sound like such an engaged Mum, you certainly put me to shame! It’s good for kids to be left to their own devices and have to use their imagination given how over-exposed they are these days to TVs, computers, ipads/games etc. And outdoors…a park…a picnic…what could be better!

    As for your kids’ father- well he sounds far more like the exception rather than the rule, to me. And between the two of you, it sounds like your girls are getting lots of attention and input from both of you. My ex’s idea of ‘hands on’ is to press a vacuum cleaner or bucket into their hands. They come back from their father’s whingeing that they spent the whole time cleaning Dad’s flat and washing Dad’s car…

  3. Why do you think I had five kids Alana? So they’d always have lots of other kids to play with of course leaving me free to lie in the park and read trashy magazines. Dads have to be hands on because they don’t spend as much time with them. Well that’s my attitude anyway. None of my kids have ever turned to me as young adults and said, “You didn’t play with us at the pool/park.” The fact I took them was ample bulk fun 🙂

  4. It’s funny, I started reading this blog thinking, OMG, she did what and what with her kids just to go on a picnic!! Then I got to the ‘little voice’ and your second version of the picnic and I wasn’t so sure.

    Essentially, I think as mums we give a lot of emotional space to our kids and often need to detach so they learn to be people without us. As a result, I have spent a lot of times feeling completely entitled to stand back and be on my phone. But there are times, like yesterday, when at the park my No 2 child had 6 kids and 2 dads to play with but was so keen to play one on one with me. Part of me was desperate to detach but the other more evolved part kept me there having fun, one on one and it was great fun!

    This, in my opinion, is the trick to good parenting, knowing when to follow through on those moments.

    However, more importantly, I also think we aren’t perfect and together human beings all the time, that to allow ourselves to be a healthy non-toxic imperfect version of ourselves around our children gives them the road-map to finding that version of themselves. To be a fake-perfect yet secretly screwed-up version of ourselves is teaching them to be ashamed of not getting it right and afraid to deal with their problems openly or even at all.

    Your life has been completely upturned in less than a year, Alana, and if you are doing your best to be a healthy non-toxic imperfect version on the days you need to do that, then you are doing a great job as a human being and mum.

  5. Dearest Mary Poppins,


    Hi Alana,

    I can’t believe you do AS MUCH as YOU DO with your girls. I have that judgemental voice too and it’s feeling even more judgemental towards my mothering since reading your post.

    Are you kidding? You’re worried you’re not hands on enough? Clearly that’s not the case.

    Beyond Blue ran a prenatal class for women they think are at risk of suffering post-natal depression when I was going thru the midwives’ clinic at Royal Hospital for Women. We were taught that you just need to be a ‘good enough’ mum. I try to remember that!

    While you were baking crudités, raspberry swirl cake and sausage rolls, I attended a professional development seminar and spent the weekend in Sydney. My girls got NOTHIN’.

    You’re obviously a wonderful mother. I know you weren’t fishing for praise but…

    We’re all doing the best we can. 😊

  6. I’m away overseas and a little behind in your blog…but I just think people need to relax about parenting. God when I was a kid…my mum sat on a lounge chair, smoking and watching The Mike Walsh show. I remember pre-school, that any engagement I had was brushing her hair and playing hairdresser while she continued. You know what…I loved it. She never played with us kids. And now…roll on nearly 40 years…she sits in her chair and I go over all the time…make tea and chat to her. She has been ‘passive’ all her life…and I love her and had a great childhood. I think you need to be a ‘nice’ person to your kids..if you’re nice…then all playing is ‘extra’ I think. Looks to me like you’re doing ‘nice’ and ‘active’ with your kids..

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