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As parents we’re meant to have everything figured out. We’re meant be on top of our game as well as everyone else’s. Not only that, we’re meant to know how to answer the interesting, tricky and deep questions that come up from our kids at the most inopportune moments, like when you’re in the loo trying to sort out the poonami of another child. All of this leads to us asking ourselves the biggest question of all – am I good enough? So we brought in podcaster, author and all round legend Clemmie Telford to help us unpick this gnarliest of topics.

Clemmie has been a core part of the Instagram sphere for a while now as the curator of The Mother of All Lists. She’s spoken to and shared stories from all kinds of Mothers and so knows a thing or two about vulnerability in parenting. As well as her work with MOAL, Clemmie is the author of But Why? – a book which explores how to answer tricky conversations with kids and have honest conversations with yourself in the process. So what questions did the Happy Mum Happy Baby community have for Clemmie?

 

How do you deal with not being liked by your kids all the time?

It’s an unfortunate reality, but sometimes, ya gotta be the bad guy. Imposing boundaries, setting ground rules, reminding them to eat their veg or just put their shoes on to leave the house. They’re all things that might get you on the wrong side of your kid. But they’re all essential things. And as caregivers, we have to learn to be OK with not being our kids’ favourite person all the time.

Clemmie explains: “Of course it’s great to be fun and to give them what they want. But I’m trying to be a bit more steadfast. I think the one thing I want to be to them as a parent is reliable. For me that often means having your ducks in a row in terms of having the house in good order and making good plans and not scrabbling around in chaos.”

“As they’re a bit older now that can come with a bit of abuse from them because it’s not what they want. It’s not always easy not to be liked by them. It’s a kind of a core value in all of us to want people to like us including our children,” but for Clemmie it comes back to that idea of reliability.

 

What do you say to people when they find out you don’t drink?

Clemmie gave up drinking three years ago and finds this topic is most prevalent in her DMs. One of the questions she gets asked most is around the judgement that might come with being sober.

She explains: “Lots of people are interested in reducing the amount of alcohol they drink but are really worried about the judgment and that feels like a real sticking point. I completely understand that. There was a long time before I actually gave up when I’d go out and I’d think ‘I really shouldn’t have a drink tonight, it’s not going to do my mental health any good, it’s going to throw my tomorrow off’.”

Clemmie adds: “But now my answer to that question is ‘you don’t need to give anyone an answer’. You can literally just say ‘I’m not drinking, I don’t fancy it’. And I’ve found the more decisive you are with that, the more people just take it and quite quickly people aren’t really that interested.”

 

Should I get help?

Knowing when to get support for your mental health is really tricky. But, Clemmie says, if you’re thinking you might need help, get help. Your GP might be your first port of call, or you might seek out support from a therapist. Knowing where to find a therapist can be a bit of a minefield but personal recommendations can be really useful. Websites like Psychotherapy’s therapist directory and Counselling Directory are a good place to start and this guide from Mind on How to Find a Therapist is useful.

Even just booking an appointment can be the first step to healing. As Clemmie explains:

“For me, whenever I have made the transition to see a therapist or a doctor, that is the exact moment when things begin to shift. It’s the accepting that something isn’t working for you and there is almost a release, and maybe a relief when you even have that appointment booked in, like you’re on the right road. The worst thing that you can do is to keep these thoughts not knocking around in your head. They just gather gather momentum and get worse and more strange the longer they go around.

When I got diagnosed with generalised anxiety disorder, I thought I was the only person ever to feel like that. And then you speak it out and realise there are lots of us feeling versions of this and not all of them might require going to see a doctor but you’re never a weirdo for the things that are going on in your head.”

 

Will it get any easier?

People often turn to Clemmie looking for a glimmer of hope that parenthood will get easier and if The Mother of All Lists shows anything it’s that even when things feel like they’re falling apart, they never fall apart completely. Often she uses this as a reminder that no bad scenario lasts forever.

“If Mother of All Lists and But Why and my own journey shows anything, it shows that the human capacity for survival is huge and I think actually in the context of parenting it’s why it does get easier. I know all the all the sleepless nights we’ve been through, all the terrible car journeys, all the tantrums and we’re still standing. My kids are going to school and from what I can work out they are okay humans,” she explains.

“My big learning for myself is to try and stop worrying about stuff that might never come to fruition. I can’t tell you the hours of my life that I’ve tried to control my way through, that I’ve thought of all the 10000 outcomes for. And then by the time it comes to it, it never looked like that anyway. You could lie in bed and think ‘am I ever going to raise these humans to be okay?’ or you could just read with them tonight, feed them something okay tomorrow and it’ll hopefully be alright.”

 

Is it OK to park big questions from your kids if you can’t immediately answer?

We’ve all been there. Questions about death when you’ve just got an urgent email from your boss. Ponderings about homelessness and world hunger when the smoke alarm’s going off and you’re trying to remember what’s burning. Or a query about who that man with the blonde hair is on the telly and you can’t answer without swearing so you need to press pause on the convo til you can gather your thoughts. Is it OK to do just that? Yep. Absolutely says Clemmie.

“Sometimes I hear stuff coming out of my mouth and realise I’m fobbing them off so I just go ‘actually I’m going to think about this’. But I think the important thing is to remember to come back to them. The easiest solution is also ask them why they want to know and what they already know. Quite often they’ve already got quite a lot of the answers and it might just be helping them navigate that.”

“The core thing is if you don’t know don’t pretend you know. I think that’s the best learning I’ve had on vulnerability”

 

Should we show our kids our own vulnerabilities?

Vulnerability in parenting is incredibly difficult. Generally though, the more vulnerable we are, the more vulnerable others will be with us. If we want to foster openness within our families, showing the full range of emotions tis a great place to begin. When Dawn O’Porter joined Gi on happy Mum Happy Baby, she said she let her kids see her cry if she was having a bad day and Clemmie agrees on this as an approach. But with the caveat of avoiding them carrying any responsibility.

“I show all my feelings to my kids but it’s really checking yourself to avoid them feeling responsible for them or that they need to do anything. You don’t want to burden them, but yes feel the feelings but i think they talk about in therapy like being a container for your own feelings so it’s not hiding it but not letting them spill onto them.”

 

Am I good enough?

The age old question. And Clemmie’s answer? Yes.

“The chances are if you’re worried you’re not doing it well enough you probably are doing it well. The ultimate courage is to keep doing something even though you’re not convinced it’s like the perfect way of doing it but trusting your instincts that it is because we’re never going to see the outcome.”

 

Want to hear more gems from Clemmie on vulnerability in parenthood? Check out the full episode of Asking for a Friend below or listen to the whole chat wherever you usually get your podcasts.

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