Move over, Tiger Mum: why it’s OK to be an average parent

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Ilana Wiles is on a mission to persuade mums and dads that they don’t have to be perfect to raise well-balanced, happy children.

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It may have been when she went to a group for new mothers and her baby was the only one without a designer blanket. Or it could have been when gentle sleep-training methods failed and she resorted to shutting the bedroom door and ignoring her daughter’s cries for three nights.

Whatever the final trigger, it dawned on Ilana Wiles, a Manhattan-based advertising executive, that in those first few months of motherhood she was just an average parent. Now she’s on a mission to tell other American mothers and fathers that they don’t have to be perfect. You’ll have more fun and raise more balanced children if you accept that it’s fine to make mistakes, which in perfection-parenting Manhattan is a radical statement.

Wiles, 41, who has two daughters, Mazzy and Harlow, aged six and three, says: “There’s so much pressure to be a perfect mom that people feel like they’re bad parents, but there’s a middle ground that’s the perfect place to be. Average Parenting is about people doing the best they can.”

Wiles has been communicating with parents around the world since starting her blog, Mommy Shorts, in 2010 when she was laid off from her job as a creative director at a New York advertising agency and Mazzy was nine months old.

“I thought it’d be a fun outlet. I was freelancing during the day and writing at night,” Wiles says. “When I started getting feedback, I realised how helpful it was to hear from people experiencing the same things and to get advice from them.”

The blog is a mix of witty musings, parenting “war stories”, photographs and five-minute videos of Wiles interviewing celebrities in her home. Julianne Moore, who has a son, Caleb, 18, and a daughter, Liv, 14, confessed to labelling school clothes with a marker pen and Googling instructions on how to make school projects. With a million visitors a month, the blog’s success enabled Wiles to give up the day job in 2013 to blog full time and led to her writing her first book, The Mommy Shorts Guide to Remarkably Average Parenting (amazon.com, $19.95).

The stereotypical image of the Manhattan Mom comes from the women who inhabit New York’s Upper East Side: exquisitely dressed, coiffured and often uptight supermoms who live in multimillion-dollar homes and hothouse their children to ensure entry to elite private schools.

This is not Wiles. She and her husband, Mike, 43, who works for a financial software company, live downtown in an apartment that is, in her words, “bursting at the seams”.

She describes herself as “5ft 4in with a faint moustache”. She’s aware that appearances are often deceptive. “Being in Manhattan, I’m around moms who seemingly have it all, but their kids still have tantrums and they’re still picky eaters.”

Beautiful photographs portraying a perfect family life posted on social media do not tell the whole story, she says, adding: “A lot of these people are really good photographers and art directors. They’re not necessarily better parents.”

Wiles admits she’s not immune to using the most flattering shots either. However, she also posts Average Parenting pictures of the ridiculous, often hilarious situations families find themselves in. Although it’s revolutionary in New York, Average Parenting values are not unfamiliar to British parents. Wiles’s book advises: don’t hover (“If you catch your kids every time they fall, how are they going to learn their limits?”); boredom encourages creativity (“Kids need space to play on their own”); and screen time in moderation (“There are people who say you shouldn’t let your kids watch TV until they are two, but those people are out of their goddamn minds”).

Banning sugar can also backfire. She says: “My mum was very healthy. She wouldn’t let us have any sweets. Any opportunity I had when I wasn’t around her, I was binge-eating candy bars. I don’t think that’s the outcome she wanted. It took me 35 years to figure out, ‘Ah, you can eat that stuff, just don’t eat too much of it.’ ”

Wiles is adamant that parents shouldn’t think they have to appreciate every moment, “because there’s tons of moments you don’t want to remember”.

Wiles’s guide to being a strictly average parent

She once went to an amusement park with her daughter, who had a tantrum when it was time to leave. “I can choose to remember that day by the meltdown or by the bit when I took her on her first rollercoaster and she had this smile that lit up the world.” The key is to focus on the positive. “The wonderful things about being a parent are the little things, like everyone sitting still at dinner or a little kid putting on their own shoes.”

Wiles’s advice is practical and honest. She mentions in her book that she had a miscarriage and talks about being made redundant. “I think that knowing everyone else is having a tough time makes it feel less hard.”

Take breastfeeding, which she describes in one chapter as being more painful when you first start than a knife wound. If you can’t or don’t want to do it, she writes, your baby will be “just fine”. Wiles did breastfeed, expressing milk while at work when Mazzy was a baby, which led to a decidedly Average Parenting moment.

“I was freelancing and in one office there was just one general bathroom. I thought I’d locked the door. My shirt’s off, I’m all hooked up to the breast pump and right as I started it the door opened and there was this guy who must have been 25. He just froze. I tried to move quickly to close the door, but the breast pump fell to the floor. The door was on this pressurised system and moved at the speed of a turtle. It scarred me and I’m sure it scarred him, but it made a funny story, and that’s the moral.”

While her advice runs contrary to the extreme parenting styles popular in the US, Wiles says she hasn’t received any negative reaction.

There are pros and cons to every method, she says. Her sister, a school psychologist, is more of a helicopter parent. “Every single thing with her children is a teaching moment. It’s amazing to watch. It’s very interactive. I couldn’t do that if I tried. There are many benefits her children are going to get . . . but I also think it’s a little bit too protective and it’s going to take them a little bit longer to separate or be independent.”

Is she hoping to persuade some tiger and helicopter mums to become average?

She laughs. “I don’t want to judge anybody else’s parenting, but I’m hoping new moms, who are trying to find their way will read what I’m saying and think, ‘Oh, OK, I don’t have to be so hard on myself.’ People make mistakes every day — it’s less about what happened and more about how you react to them.”

Whatever the final trigger, it dawned on Ilana Wiles, a Manhattan-based advertising executive, that in those first few months of motherhood she was just an average parent. Surrounded by women perfecting tiger, helicopter and attachment parenting styles, it took her longer to recognise that this was a good thing.

Now she’s on a mission to tell other American mothers and fathers that they don’t have to be perfect. You’ll have more fun and raise more balanced children if you accept that it’s fine to make mistakes, which in perfection-parenting Manhattan is a fairly radical statement.

Wiles, 41, who has two daughters, Mazzy and Harlow, aged six and three, says: “There’s so much pressure to be a perfect mom that people actually feel like they’re bad parents, but there’s a middle ground that’s the perfect place to be. Average Parenting is about people doing the best they can.”

Wiles has been communicating with parents around the world since starting her blog, Mommy Shorts, in 2010 when she was laid off from her job as a creative director at a New York advertising agency and Mazzy was nine months old.

“I thought it’d be a fun outlet. I was freelancing during the day and writing at night,” Wiles says. “When I started getting feedback, I realised how helpful it was to hear from people experiencing the same things and to get advice from them.”

Beautiful photographs portraying a perfect family life on social media do not tell the whole story

The blog’s mix of witty musings, parenting “war stories”, photographs and five-minute videos of Wiles interviewing celebrities in her home, including Julianne Moore and Orange is the New Black’s Alysia Reiner, attracts a million visitors a month. Its success enabled Wiles to give up the day job in 2013 to blog full time and led to her writing her first book, The Mommy Shorts Guide to Remarkably Average Parenting.

The stereotypical image of the Manhattan Mom comes from the women who inhabit New York’s Upper East Side: exquisitely dressed, coiffured and often uptight supermoms who live in multimillion-dollar homes and hothouse their children to ensure entry to elite private schools.

This is not Wiles. She and her husband, Mike, 43, who works for a financial software company, live downtown in an apartment that is, in her words, “bursting at the seams”. It is also bursting with character, with stylish mid-century furniture, rugs scattered across wooden floors and her children’s art pinned to the walls.

Wiles, who grew up in New York, is funny, with a self-deprecating humour. She describes herself as “5ft 4in with a faint moustache”. On the day we talk, she’s wearing a loose red top, black trousers and subtle make-up — a relaxed look that’s far from Upper East Side.

She’s aware that appearances are often deceptive. “Being in Manhattan, I’m around moms who seemingly have it all, but their kids still have tantrums and they’re still picky eaters. It’s easy to think that being in a certain circumstance makes someone a better parent and that you’re not living up to that, but all the same stuff goes on no matter where the kid lives or how much money the parents have.”

Beautiful photographs portraying a perfect family life posted on social media do not tell the whole story, she says, adding: “A lot of these people are really good photographers and art directors. They’re not necessarily better parents.”

Wiles admits she’s not immune to using the most flattering shots either. However, she also posts Average Parenting pictures of the ridiculous, often hilarious situations families find themselves in.

Although it’s fairly revolutionary in New York, Average Parenting values are not unfamiliar to British parents. Wiles’s book advises: don’t hover (“If you catch your kids every time they fall, how are they going to learn their limits?”); boredom encourages creativity (“Kids need space to play on their own”); and screen time in moderation (“There are people who say you shouldn’t let your kids watch TV until they are two, but those people are out of their goddamn minds”).

Banning sugar can also backfire. She says: “My mum was very healthy. She wouldn’t let us have any sweets. Any opportunity I had when I wasn’t around her, I was binge-eating candy bars. I don’t think that’s the outcome she wanted. It took me 35 years to figure out, ‘Ah, you can eat that stuff, just don’t eat too much of it.’ ”

Wiles is adamant that parents shouldn’t think they have to appreciate every moment, “because there’s tons of moments you don’t want to remember”.

She once went to an amusement park with her daughter, who had a tantrum when it was time to leave. “I can choose to remember that day by the meltdown or by the bit when I took her on her first rollercoaster and she had this smile that lit up the world.”

It’s also useful to know that a big parenting fail will become a great story, she says, recalling an Average Parenting incident when she was potty training Mazzy. “I walked into her bedroom and there was this pile of poop on the floor. I said, ‘Mazzy, did you poop on the floor?’ She said ‘no’ and my reaction was that she was lying. I got an entire roll of paper towels to clean it up because it looked kind of large and went to pick it up.” She then realised it was the detached head of a furry brown toy monkey. “The lesson there is that sometimes your kid is right and you are wrong.”

The key is to focus on the positive. “The wonderful things about being a parent are the little things, like everyone sitting still at dinner or a little kid putting on their own shoes.”

If you can’t or don’t want to breastfeed, your baby will be ‘just fine’

Wiles’s advice is practical and honest. She mentions in her book that she had a miscarriage and talks about being made redundant. “I think that knowing everyone else is having a tough time makes it feel less hard.”

Take breastfeeding, which she describes in one chapter as being more painful when you first start than a knife wound. If you can’t or don’t want to do it, she writes, your baby will be “just fine”.

Wiles did breastfeed, expressing milk while at work when Mazzy was a baby, which led to a decidedly Average Parenting moment.

“I was freelancing and in one office there was just one general bathroom. I thought I’d locked the door. My shirt’s off, I’m all hooked up to the breast pump and right as I started it the door opened and there was this guy who must have been 25. He just froze. I tried to move quickly to close the door, but the breast pump fell to the floor. The door was on this pressurised system and moved at the speed of a turtle. It scarred me and I’m sure it scarred him, but it made a funny story, and that’s the moral.”

While her advice runs contrary to the extreme parenting styles popular in the US, Wiles says she hasn’t received any negative reaction.

There are pros and cons to every method, she says. Her sister, a school psychologist, is more of a helicopter parent. “Every single thing with her children is a teaching moment. It’s amazing to watch. It’s very interactive. I couldn’t do that if I tried. There are many benefits her children are going to get . . . but I also think it’s a little bit too protective and it’s going to take them a little bit longer to separate or be independent.”

Is she hoping to persuade some tiger and helicopter mums to become average?

She laughs. “I don’t want to judge anybody else’s parenting, but I’m hoping new moms, who are trying to find their way and haven’t quite figured out whether they’re going to be a tiger or a helicopter mom, will read a bit of what I’m saying and think, ‘Oh, OK, I don’t have to be so hard on myself.’ People make mistakes every day — it’s less about what happened and more about how you react to them.”

 

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