Ok, so I think I’ve done pretty well to be 4 years into motherhood and to have not been mum – shamed! I have not annoyed someone else SO much that they have ever felt the need to tell me, to my face, what an awful parent I am. But all good things must come to an end. And last week, it did. I was fully shamed in the middle of a shop and it was horrific. I wanted to share my experience because the two that did it are still at large and liable to do it again! (Eye role emoji) But mostly because whilst it’s not nice to be judged, it’s inevitable. It also usually says more about them than it does about you and we need to remember that how we handle it is the important thing.
I didn’t handle it perfectly as you are about to see… however, after having spoken to lots of other mums, we often don’t handle being judged very well!! Why? Because to most of us, being a mum is our most important role. Your perceived ability on how good of a Mama you are affects all aspects of our lives. Everyone wants to be the best mum they can be and many of us pile pressure upon ourselves to be this ‘perfect’ version. We develop certain beliefs about what the perfect parent is from the pressure of our communities and society as a whole. Experiences with our own parents, expectations of friends, family, and social media pressures all take their toll on our confidence and mental health in the pursuit of perfection. These outside influences can have so much power and control over us that when we finally do become mothers ourselves, it is unbearably difficult to listen to our own ideas of what this “good mum” thing is all about.
Human nature means that we are all capable of judging people on their actions. I had an unfortunate incident where I was judged and shamed last weekend and it really got me thinking about why some people are so quick to judge others. I think women are often the worst offenders and sometimes it’s mums judging other mums. In my case it was a Saturday morning and terrible mum that I am, I had brought my 1 year old child out in a pram, in the rain. I needed to buy a gift for a friend and also needed some toiletries and a card, so the poor little mite was dragged from shop to shop in the pouring rain. She is new at walking and LOVES to walk but isn’t brilliantly fast; so in the rain, the pram is our safest option. In between shops she’s easy to entertain with songs, chatter and occasional animal noises but INSIDE actual shops she’s a tad bored. So, after half an hour of wriggling and begging to be freed, I resort to some peppa pig to ease her boredom and cheer her up a bit from the fact she’s being forcably held against her will in a chair. I wouldn’t massively love that either.
So anyway, so far our day was going ok. We negotiated a few shops with Peppa in tow, without incident. Marley was happy, I was getting my shopping done… Woo. #mumwin. And then it happens. I’m in a queue, my arms laiden with deodorant and razor blades (in hindsight I was not a wise choice of victim – had I been a psycho I could have chopped them up into little pieces or set them on fire! Jokes!!) I hear behind me “Is there no end to this incessant need for technology instead of actual parenting? What a disgrace!” Cut to me spinning on my heel, like something from the exorcist, to face the person behind me. “Excuse me, but are you talking about me?” I ask politely. “Yes I’m talking about YOU!” She practically spits at me. “Why?” I asked. I couldn’t believe someone was THAT bothered by what a baby was doing. She was in her 70s but I was still kind of stunned and at a loss for words. What followed is slightly blurry due to the shock and rage pulsing through me, but she then went on to say something along the lines of, “She shouldn’t be entertained with a phone. You’re a terrible parent. Blah blah blah.” I then told her, quietly I might add, in no uncertain terms that her unsolicited opinion on my parenting was not of interest to me and yes, I am feisty, and the word ‘f**k’ was in there for good measure. (Ok, it’s not big or clever to swear. I do know that.) Her husband then joins in with shouting at me as does the old dear behind them.
Once I was back in my car I rang one of my most sensible and rational friends for some words of reason. I was a bit shaky and just wanted to talk to someone to be honest. After a little chat she made me feel much better and reminded me that the judgement came from a place of ignorance and complete misunderstanding. The old people who shamed me didn’t have the internet 50 years ago (and I’m sorry, but if they had, they’d have used it!) They parented in a different world; a much safer one where kids could run around and go on adventures and climb trees, safe away from the scary world we live in now. That’s not their fault but neither is it mine. And also, the horse has bolted: Technology exists and in small amounts and used in the right way it’s a brilliant tool. Bribing kids with an iPad isn’t the highlight of anyone’s parenting day but needs must sometimes. Had I been able to give her my full attention or let her walk around freely in the shop, I would have and that’s the difference. The phone went away when we were at home and the toys came out. HOWEVER, had I been having a terrible day or needed to do the washing up I may have needed to rely on Peppa for half an hour. Or maybe i’d have given her some food, or a colouring book… And that’s ok too. It’s called moderation and balance and I’ll be damned if two rude people in a shop are going to make me feel bad about myself. If you care THAT much about what someone else is doing, you need to give your head a wobble.
I’ve since spoken to a few other mums and they all had stories about feeling judged. One mum was judged by her mother-in-law because she had gone back to work after having her 3rd child. “In my day women stayed at home and looked after their children,” her MIL had told her. Another mum had been criticised when her child with significant learning needs had had a tantrum in the middle of a shop and she couldn’t console them. She told me she had gone home cried about it because she had felt like such a failure! Another Mama told me that after dropping her baby off at nursery for the first time she had walked around the corner to a coffee shop and walked through the door which was being held open by someone. Without thinking she had walked straight through it in a rush to get to the loo so she could cry, however the person holding the door open had shouted after her “Oh you’re welcome by the way!” She said this had made her cry even more. You just never know what other people have going on in their lives but it’s so easy to judge on one small action! One of my friends told me that when she first became a mum she thought being a ‘good mum’ meant always putting her child first, always being with her child, never resenting being at home all day with her kids, never being bored with her children, always being happy around her child… the list went on. I felt tired just listening to all of the ‘always’ and ‘never’s’ in her list. It’s just not realistic is it? No mum always feels like that! Instead, a good mum should want to try her best, should love her kids, should know some days her kids will irritate her, should provide food and shelter for her kids, should make time to have fun with them… all of these things are much more achievable but lets just aim to try and do a few a day. That makes us good mums in my books, I don’t know about you.
Mums judging other Mums seems so much worse to me, as we all know how personal it feels and how tough it is to be a mum sometimes! Why on earth would we want another mum to feel bad about the job she is doing? SAH mums often feel judged by working mums as though they have it ‘so much easier’ because they don’t have the ‘juggle’ that working mums have. I spoke to a few SAH mamas and they told me they can have their own set of issues – a loss of identity outside the home, not having additional childcare, possible financial pressures. Working mums feel judged by everyone as though we are awful for wanting a life outside of our children! Some women have no choice and need the money, but for some women they love their careers and shouldn’t have to justify wanting to work. After all, men don’t! Some mums also have to battle the worry of sending their children to nursery or to a childminder and have to worry about missing out on firsts and milestones. No mum choice is without compromise, difficulties or GUILT. So maybe we need to back off from thinking we need to be perfect and expecting other people to be too. We’re all trying our best.
SO, I guess I’m just going to have to chalk up my little incident as a horrible experience but ultimately a learning one. Will I snap back next time someone judges me? Yep, probably. But will I let it bother me to this extent again? No. For now I’ll just carry on doing me and hope that anyone reading this remembers that how YOU parent your child or live your life is YOUR business. You don’t owe anyone an explanation. It’s not your fault if someone doesn’t like what you do or how you parent but it’s your responsibility to make sure you rise above them. Don’t let them ruin your day or make you doubt yourself. You can’t fix ignorance or hate – just counteract it by going home and loving your family. Being kind will always win.
Holly, LL Southport xx