Thanks to my eldest daughter, I’ve become very acquainted with The Greatest Showman. It’s a great film – it shits all over Frozen – but after 1,438 times of seeing it, it could be declared the best film of all time in any universe by the film gods and you’d still spoon your eyeballs out to stop yourself having to sit through it one more time. The fact that my daughter has ruined it for me aside, it did make me realise one important thing.
Motherhood is, without doubt, the greatest show. There’s a point in the film when a theatre critic asks PT Barnum whether it bothers him that everything he sells is fake and he replies, “The smiles are real.” At first his response can seem cynical, deceptive, sneaky but it got me thinking…if the smiles are real, what else matters?
As parents, we are the PT Barnums of our own familial circus. I look around at my tribe and I realise, this is my circus and these are my monkeys and no matter how I’m feeling, the show must go on. As parents, we’re in the business of ‘show business’. Sure, we love them but we don’t love every minute we’re with them, we don’t love every book we read, every tea party we pretend to eat manky cucumber sandwiches made from playdoh at with Barbie on our left and a teddy bear covered in snot on our right. We don’t love the bedtime struggle, the constant searching for one missing shoe or a matching sock (I don’t think my kids have worn matching socks once in the last three months) but we persevere with a smile on our tired, haggard faces.
And of course there are times, many times, when there is no struggle, when you are truly joyful to be the ringmaster and make it all happen. There are times when just watching them do their thing astounds you; when it makes the hairs on your arm stand up on end and dance in the air, electrified by their energy. There are times when they say something and you look around hoping desperately that someone else heard it because it made you belly laugh until your pelvic floor collapsed and you want someone, anyone else to understand that feeling.
But it would be foolish for us to think that was what it was like all the time. Sometimes, as parents, we do fake the joy and the energy and the showmanship of parenting. We don’t do it because we’re liars or shit people – we do it because we love our children and because its inherent in us to want to make them happy. Just because, on the inside, there may be times that you hate, there may be moments that make you wonder what on earth made you decide to procreate and sacrifice your life, your sanity, your energy, your libido to these small, slightly rabid performers, they don’t know that and you should never feel guilty about it because even if you’re faking it sometimes, their smiles are real.