You’ve no doubt heard the term Resting Bitch Face, given to men and women who unintentionally look angry or annoyed when their face is at rest, or showing no expression.
But have you ever thought that maybe we parents have our own unique, resting face? Take a look at the mums and dads around you. Take a look in the mirror!
You’ll know the face. It’s the one you get when you’re on your 5th consecutive night of (very) broken sleep, your first weekend away in nearly two years without a baby is cancelled because your child is sick, you wake up feeling decidedly under the weather yourself, and when you get up at stupid-o’clock to deal with baby you walk through a big pile of cat sick.
Sometimes, after a long day at work, as I stand next to the highchair trying not to yell at my child, and the cat and dog are underfoot howling to be fed, I think back to my pre-kid days and wonder how I got here. When he’s tipped the meal I’ve lovingly cooked on the floor in a fit of rage because I wouldn’t give him a cup of grated cheese for dinner, or another tub of ‘yoghurt’ (I’m not sure the Thomas the Tank Engine 6 pack – cleverly placed at toddler height, among the other ‘yoghurts’ – even classifies as yoghurt), I just want to laugh.
Because that naïve, younger me had a very different picture of life as a mum. It involved lots of cooking and baking, crafting (using recycled, non-toxic materials of course), and walks in the park. Fun play dates with other mums, and buying cool baby clothes.
And there are elements of these things. I just wasn’t expecting the relentless monotony. The constant stress about meals and meal planning. The endless cleaning / tidying / washing. The washing! And a toddler who wants to walk to the park but has to stop every two seconds and run the other way, or poke every spider hole, or try to eat all the ‘peas mummy’ (red berries not to be confused with the peas that THEY LOOK NOTHING LIKE).
I also judged parents. We all did didn’t we? The blank-faced, broken mums and dads who looked disengaged and bored. Who, when presented with an [insert random item] from their excited child, responded with a flat ‘yes that’s a lovely twig darling’ / ‘yes that’s a lovely empty crisp packet’. Parents engrossed with their phone at the playground, or staring right through their tantrum-throwing toddler in the biscuit aisle.
I laugh and laugh at that child-free version of myself (and then sob hysterically into my third wine). Because that face I used to see and sometimes judge? It’s now MY face. If I look tired and bored it’s because I probably am. Or not. I might just as likely be miles away, back at the resort in Thailand I stayed at years ago, in a room by the adult’s only pool. Oh you heard right, adult’s only pool.
That Resting Parent Face you’ll notice on other mums and dads? The one you won’t see on Instagram? It’s simply the face of a person who can’t maintain ‘excited wonder’ for 24 hours straight, and who doesn’t have many more fucks to give.
It’s ‘yes I enjoy taking my child to a petting zoo and when he calls a Pony a ‘Pogie’ I want to weep from cute overload, but when he tantrums for 10 minutes because I won’t let him into a ‘danger no entry’ area and he drops to his hands and knees in the mud I find it hard to smile without twitching’.
Or it’s ‘yes I am on my phone scrolling through Facebook while my child runs around the playground, because she hasn’t napped today and she made a shit finger painting on the lounge room wall just before we came here and my brain will explode if I don’t get 5 minutes to myself’.
We all have parental super powers that make us feel like we’re ‘winning’ (I can generally always muster the energy to read a book with enthusiasm and character voices, and hubs has a seriously stern dad-voice that can get our crying toddler to lay down and go to sleep in the middle of the night). And there are also days when we have nothing left to give. When Resting Parent Face is all that stands between inner calm and outside chaos. It’s our mask of sanity, so we can face the world when we actually manage to leave the house on the third try.
It’s not the sign of a parent who doesn’t care. It’s survival. Because parenthood is much like that time in the playground, when some jerk-kid lobbed a tennis ball at your head then yelled catch, except the ‘balls’ are thrown at you all. day. long.
I’m pretty sure Resting Parent Face is just my every day face now. The opposite, those moments when I’m the most engaged, excited, supportive parent on the planet – ‘Wow!! GREAT job putting that magnet you threw at me back on the fridge. What a good helper!’ – happen of course, but who has the energy to be ‘on’ all day?
Take the following, for instance. Do these things give you Resting Parent Face?
The gross bits
One time a few months back, I saw the toddler pick something up off the floor and put it in his mouth. I fished it out straight away, said’ yucky, dirty’, and put it on the dining table. Sultana’s are a regular snack at our house, so I wasn’t surprised that he’d found an old one, more that the dog hadn’t found it first. I forgot about it for a few days, and then when I was doing some tidying I picked it up to put it in the bin. Something about it struck me as strange, so I held it to my nose. It was, of course, shit. A little sultana-sized nugget from God knows where, that the toddler had tried to eat.
Which pretty much defines parenting: the shock-horror, followed by disgust, then guilt, maybe a laugh (then more guilt), and finally acceptance. When you run through so many emotions daily (and constantly) Resting Parent Face is all you have to fall back on. And the gross bits are so gross. No one tells you that.
Juggling all the balls
I work part time, which means I’m paid for 3 days but I often work 4 or 5.
When I’m at the office I can switch off from being a mum for the most part. I’m confident and capable in my role, and I enjoy the break from being at home. I also like to drink hot coffee, pee whenever I want, and eat lunches I don’t have to prepare myself. Being able to work is important to me.
But that’s not to say there isn’t conflict. I struggle to work at the same level of intensity I did pre-baby, feel guilty leaving at bang on 5pm each day to get to the nursery on time (when I know damn well I’ll be working for 1 or 2 hours in the evening anyway), and have trouble setting boundaries with my clients and colleagues when it comes to my workload and availability.
When I’m at home I enjoy spending time with my little boy. I love his wicked laugh, and how proud he is when he masters a new word or really ‘sees’ something for the first time. He’s silly, and funny, and I can’t believe how fast he’s growing. I never realised just how amazing it would feel when your child calls you ‘mummy’.
But some days are so hard. When you don’t feel like cleaning. You don’t want to deal with another tantrum. And you don’t have the energy to unpack the dishwasher let alone keep a toddler mentally stimulated and engaged. When you just want to lay in bed watching Netflix or walk out the door on your own and just keep walking.
Resting Parent Face says all this and more. It says I’m tired. So tired. I feel guilty that I’m not giving enough to my child or my job or myself. I’m worried about everything. That I’m not good enough. As a parent, as a partner, as a friend. It says don’t judge me. I’m doing my best. I’m figuring it all out as I go.
Every parent is juggling so many balls. If you’re a SAH mum or dad, I know you’ve got just as many balls in the air. Ditto the FT working parents. And we’re bound to drop some from time to time.
I knew I’d dropped a ball when my toddler started saying ‘oh shit’ and ‘bugger, bugger, bugger’ in context
Or that time I was in a conference call, whisper-shouting (even though it was muted at my end) at my son to ‘GET OFF THE TRUCKING COFFEE TABLE’, and frantically trying to switch Paw Patrol on because he didn’t want to watch Toy Story anymore, even though he’d demanded it 2 minutes before.
And hubs of course. I can picture his resigned, weary Resting Parent Face when he spotted a brown slug-like shape on the floor of the shower. When he realised it was a shit. When he frantically tried to scoop it down the drain. When he took the drain cover off and the toddler fell into it and scraped his leg and cried and cried.
What’s a few balls anyway. You take a moment, start saying ‘darn it’, finish that conference call, and wash away the shit.
Food. I used to love it. Still do really, deep down. When I used to try new restaurants with friends, or cook a nice meal for hubs. When we did ‘brunch’. Brunch!
Now it’s just another drain on my time. Planning, grocery shopping, cooking. Making an effort not to waste food. Wasting food anyway because the toddler has decided to eat mostly ‘beige’ foods. And olives (go figure).
Coming up with meal ideas. Finding zero inspiration and cooking spaghetti bolognaise again because: easy, everyone likes it, freezes well.
Constantly worrying about the toddler’s vegetable intake and vitamins and growth. Madly batch-cooking and muffin-baking one month, then scrambling for ideas the next.
Doing nursery drop-off and working all day and doing nursery pick-up and putting the toddler to bed and hubs strolls in and says ‘what’s for tea?’ and I wish I’d already cooked something so I could throw it at him.
Singing ‘cooking in the microwave, cook cook cook’ to the toddler as I heat a toddler ready meal because I forgot to get his dinner out of the freezer and he’s shouting ‘FOOD’ and pointing at his open mouth and I’m worrying there’s probably too much salt in it and that I might be setting him up for adult obesity and an early death.
Food makes me tired now, which is sad.
Coffee though, coffee is my spirit animal. It’s why you see so many mums and dads and strollers in coffee shops during the day. You can sit and load up on the good stuff and no one even notices or cares when you give your kid a muffin or ginger biscuit to shut them up for 5 minutes. Amazing.
The toddler is awake from 6am until we start the bedtime routine at 6pm.
These are the kid-centred things we do at home when I’m not working: read, play with playdough, colour in, play duplo, kick a ball, throw a toy for the dog, ride the toy car, cook pikelets, draw/numbers/letters on the blackboard, play with the animal magnets, sing and dance, play with plastic lids (I’m collecting milk bottle etc. lids for play/craft), make bubbles, and free play.
SOMETIMES ALL OF THIS LASTS ONLY 1 HOUR.
Mealtimes might take up 1.5 hours. Naptime 2 hours if I’m really lucky. I can stretch out errands for 2 hours if I try really hard (chemist, coffee shop, supermarket, post office). Hit the indoor soft play for an hour on the way home. Cleaning/washing/tidying 2 hours throughout the day (hahahahahahahaha). And a visit to the park for half an hour in the afternoon.
So that’s 10 hours. Not to mention that I have to keep the wee boy occupied while I clean and tidy. And not accounting for the days he naps for half an hour. Or I have no errands. Or he refuses to go to the park.
WHAT AM I SUPPOSED TO DO WITH THE REST OF THE TIME?
I love this kid of mine, but I did not anticipate the relentless boredom of some days. The counting down of the hours. The love/hate relationship I have with ‘the babysitter’ (the TV), as my husband calls it. And the guilt. Is he under-stimulated? Should he even be this bored? Have I damaged him irreparably because he watches cartoons while I hang out the washing / eat lunch in peace? Am I such a horrible parent for convincing myself that Masha and the Bear and Paw Patrol are educational?
Guilt is so tiring and boredom is so tiring and it all gets old really quick. So when you see another mum or dad (or grandparent!) with Resting Parent Face, try not to judge. Give them a weak, I’ve-lost-the-will-to-live-too half smile and walk on. Hold your head high(ish) as you shuffle down the street in that permanent fog of exhaustion. You’re doing a GREAT job. You’re doing the best you can TODAY. And that is enough.