Boxing Day. My husband, a surgeon, was at the hospital operating on an emergency case, leaving me and our three children (aged three, two and nine months) at home. Would we spend the morning watching CBeebies and playing with new toys? Hell, no!
As a woman reared on the tales of Enid Blyton I knew we had to go out for a proper Boxing Day walk in the countryside. Brisk air, rosy-cheeked cherubs, what could be better? I packed gingerbread men and planned for us all to have a jolly old time.
Alas my children didn’t get the memo. The baby was so hangry that I had to sit on a wet tree stump to breastfeed her, playing The Very Hungry Caterpillar on my phone to stop the others running off.
My two-year-old son scented danger (as they always do) and hurtled towards a fast-flowing stream. There followed the undignified sight of a woman running across a field with her top pulled up and a baby clamped to her chest, jumping into the water to haul out a wet toddler.
Clare Foges, who fell into the trap of attempting perfect parenting on Boxing Day, explains her decision to act ‘more like a man’ in 2022 (file image)
I turned back to see my three-year-old standing with her trousers by her ankles, trying to answer a call of nature while singing ‘underpants are falling down’ to the tune of ‘London Bridge is falling down’.
A cheery family in Santa hats passed, the mother on her phone. Was she dialling social services?
Another attempt at perfect parenting, another parenting disaster. I had a sudden epiphany: I had fallen into the very female trap of trying to do everything, and trying to do it perfectly.
Once I had dragged the children home I looked at my whiteboards. I have three large boards, all scrawled with lists that are the evidence of this perfectionism.
The lists contain orders to do a hundred squats a day, to research nutritious meals for my children, to learn baby sign language, to apply fake tan daily, to bake a showstopper cake for New Year’s Day tea, to make a rewards chart, to start chapter two of my young adult novel, to make a shadow puppet theatre for the children, to run 10k for charity, and on and on.
As well as the mega to-do list, there are several sub-lists, including seasonal things I should do to give my three the perfect childhood, from blackberry picking to making Easter bonnets.
Fed by social media images of perfect mothers and ‘have-it-all’ career women, we set the bar ever higher across all aspects of life. It is not enough for us to just feed our children fish fingers any more; they’ve got to have home-cooked meals every night.
We can’t just look half-decent; we’ve got to be toned and stylish into our 50s and 60s. We can’t just bumble along in a 9-to-5 job; look at all those influencers, ‘mumpreneurs’ and business owners realising their dreams.
Clare said men seem to be better at feeling ‘good enough’, at refusing to feel guilty about their shortcomings as a husband, parent or worker
We can’t just have bog-standard magnolia décor, our home’s got to look like something out of a magazine, scattered with cool objects ‘we just picked up on our travels’.
My husband is baffled by all this. He doesn’t make lists, doesn’t worry about being a good enough parent, doesn’t fret about how he measures up to other people.
But then he is a man, and men — excuse the generalisation — tend to sweat the small stuff less. They fret less about their appearance, regarding their pot bellies with indifference or even affection (as opposed to the self-loathing women often have for their bodies).
Men tend to apologise a lot less, too. While many women can barely seek a supermarket worker’s attention without apologising — ‘sorry, do you know where the Tabasco is?’ — I know men whom I have never heard apologise.
Men seem to be better at feeling ‘good enough’, at refusing to feel guilty about their shortcomings as a husband, parent or worker.
So here is my New Year’s Resolution: To be more like a man.
No more sweating the small stuff, or apologising for things I haven’t done wrong. No more writing endless lists, cramming 48 hours of activity into 24, or feeling guilty about not being a perfect mother, wife or size 10.
From now I will do my best to think like a man. My lists have been wiped clean. Time for a new slate (or whiteboard).
- Yes, the Duchess of Cambridge is radiant, and the Queen is majestic in every way, but there’s another royal lady I’d like to see more of in 2022.
I nominate Sophie, Countess of Wessex, for more of our attention. She comes across as a genuine, sensible, classy soul — an antidote to the narcissistic carnival of Harry and Meghan.
In the Platinum Jubilee year, the Firm would be wise to play Wessex up front and centre.
After the wonderful Captain Tom walking laps of his garden for charity, we have Ivy Richmond, 100, a grandmother who has climbed the equivalent of Everest on her stairs and is riding the length of the UK on a static bike. With an energy crisis upon us, perhaps we could hook up marvellous elderly people like them to the national grid? Their exertions could power a small town.
No wonder my kids love chocolate
Researchers at Aston University claim if parents smile while eating broccoli, their offspring are twice as likely to eat it (file image)
Scientists at Aston University are cracking one of the great riddles: How to get children to eat their greens. I have roasted them, steamed them, tossed them in butter (the veg, not the children) to no avail. The researchers say the answer is simpler. If parents smile while eating broccoli, their offspring are twice as likely to eat it. Now I know why my children love chocolate; they have seen my ecstatic look as I pour Dairy Milk buttons down my throat.
We all need a holiday from show-off stars
Clare questions celebrities such as Myleene Klass (pictured) who rub the sunshine and wealth into the faces of their thousands of followers on Instagram
How delightful to see Myleene Klass and family enjoying themselves in a tropical locale and Rio Ferdinand’s bikini-clad wife Kate throwing back her head with laughter in some sunny clime, and TOWIE’s Billie Faiers lounging in the surf.
What a tonic for us here under leaden skies, for those sick or separated from their loved ones. Have these celebrities learned nothing about solidarity from the Covid era?
It’s fine to go on holiday, of course, but why rub the sunshine and wealth into the faces of their thousands of followers on Instagram?
Why I’m still haunted by Chequers
Clare said a photo of Boris and Carrie on the sofa at Chequers made her shiver, as she recollects spooky happenings there
Seeing the picture of Boris and Carrie on the sofa at Chequers I shivered — not at the décor (very nice), but at the recollection of a spooky happening there.
Many moons ago, while working for David Cameron, a few of us spent the night there to work on a speech. I bunked down in the ‘haunted bedroom’, an attic room where a woman called Lady Mary Grey was held captive in the 1560s for two years. Her scrawlings are still visible on the wall plaster.
Cameron teased me about the haunted room, but — not believing in such things — I shrugged it off.
That night I was woken at 1am by banging on the door. I scrabbled for my glasses (I am blind as a bat) but couldn’t find them. The bedside light wouldn’t work. I felt my way to the door to find no one. I wandered around looking for help but, not wishing to disturb the PM in his pyjamas, I crept to bed and didn’t sleep a wink.
The next morning my glasses and some of my clothes were discovered in a pile right underneath the middle of the double bed. It could only have been poor Lady Mary doing some ghostly tidying up and it chills me to this day. Here’s hoping Carrie hasn’t turned the room into a nursery for Wilf and Romy.