When I had my first child I thought I was picked on for being a young mum. I was 19, looking a couple of years younger and on numerous occasions people made some horrendous assumptions and were unreservedly nasty. But since then… I’ve become friends with a woman ostracised for being perceived as “too old”, women criticised for going out too often whilst I recall a time I was warned repeatedly of the dangers of abandoning my social life altogether. It was said that my breastfeeding till fairly late was going to lead to emotionally retarded children- in addition to being downright antisocial in public- but I know that the decision not to breastfeed meets even more vitriol. Working mums are selfish, stay at home mums are lazy… Every single decision from how bedtimes are handled, to what children eat, how they are disciplined, what they wear, what they do and don’t do is going to get someone’s back up- more often than not a perfect stranger and a lot of people are perfectly comfortable letting mum’s know exactly what they think.
It’s a truism for mum’s that the more involved you become in play groups and cafe-society then nursery and school the more intense the pressure becomes. Because, the real venom tends to come from other women which is disappointing, if not altogether surprising. It strikes me that we live in a competitive society and when you suddenly find that you can’t prove your worth through nailing the interview and beating the other candidates to a job or proving yourself smarter and funnier in social situations (for example. Then, possibly) convincing yourself that you’re one of the best mums can become vital to your self esteem. The most well intentioned origin for the habit of making ruthless value judgements is rooted in the array of books, websites and approaches to child rearing. Gone are the days of community led parenting where mum’s take their lead from family and friends, now there are more ideas and perspectives than you can ever keep up with and the road is lined with pitfalls that will ‘ruin your child’s life’ if you fail to anticipate them and conflicting, sometimes not immediately obvious, ‘needs’ that must be attended to. It’s a stressful place to be. So you mix and match a couple of doctrines and cultivate a fanatical zeal in your method because the thought that you could be anything less than ‘doing it right’ is too terrifying.
Then, to defend your self image, you may begin systematically invalidating the opposition. And that’s so easy! Because bitchiness is bred into us from an early age and nurtured in adulthood through media. Glancing over headlines in celebrity magazines reveals women who give their children silly names, women who are (shock, horror) out drunk when they should’ve been at home with their apron’s on- or devoting themselves to their careers leaving their children in abject misery with other women who are only paid to like them- or, even worse, women who are so wrapped up in their kids they’re neglecting their partners who will surely have no choice but to stray and break up the family… Judgement comes as easy as breathing. And all this wonderful derogatory gossip bonds women, it’s fun, it’s something we can all potentially have in common (which can be handy when you find yourself in a crowd of women who otherwise share only their maternal status). And, most importantly, if you and your friends are perpetuating gossip about someone else you know you’re not in the firing line! How utterly secure, right?
But the thing is that in this climate it’s very hard (if not impossible) to avoid judgement altogether and a single critical comment about your parenting can ruin your day, your week, your month… It can stay with you forever always ready to rear it’s ugly head during moments of self doubt… And what will you do then? Strive desperately to reassert your superiority over another woman? How about break the cycle? Because while hurtful comments stick, compliments do too. I remember the spontaneous words of praise and encouragement that I’ve received just as vividly as the harsh ones and recalling them can really refocus my mind into a positive state of being from whence I can be the best mum that I can be. That’s what we’re all ultimately aiming for: to be the best that we can be. And that does involve being better than other mum’s at some aspects of the job- and not so good at others, and having to make different decisions (not because they’re necessarily ‘right’ but) to accommodate our strengths and weaknesses, the personalities and dynamics within our families. All of that is fine but realise that obsessing over negative comparisons- whether it’s about where you’re failing or where other women are- really isn’t going to help. A sincere and well placed compliment however can be so beneficial to a mother. So, that’s why I’d like to see, this Mother’s Day, some women being nice to each other and making each other feel a little more confident. Why not do it now? I’m sure you can think of a mother to text or connect with on social media that you’ve always admired for some reason but never told? You might just give her kid’s handmade card a run for it’s money!