I was lying in bed last night – early, in that heavily-pregnant way I now have – and messaging my mum. We were talking about motherhood and my mum remarked:
“Mums are just so competitive these days. And so bitchy*.”
And it was funny, because, in that moment, I was like: “What? It’s not always been like this?”
I’m 28. I’ve been a mum for almost four years now. And to be honest, the mixed and dangerous plains of motherhood are ones I’m used to walking. Don’t get me wrong, we all tend to find our pack, so to speak, but I actually find it sad that we have to find one at all.
These days, we’re always doing something wrong.
You get feedback on your good days, your bad days, your successes, your failures.
Happy mums are fake.
Sad mums are dramatic.
Proud mums are boastful.
Struggling mums are useless.
Working mums are neglectful.
Stay-at-home mums are lazy.
And the thing is – you can be a combination of any of those things above, depending on the day.
And I’ll let you into a little secret. Sometimes I see things. Where I see them? Well, it could be anywhere. I see it online, I see it on the street, I see it in the news, I see it when I spend time with fellow mums.
And I sometimes hear my internal voice go off: “God, I wouldn’t do it that way.” Or: “I don’t know if I agree with that.”
And of course I think these things. I’m human. I do the exact same thing when I see someone wear leggings as trousers.
But in the same way as I don’t shout: “Oi love, I can see your arse, and your knickers!” I just shrug, realise that those thoughts are extremely personal and are often about a woman I don’t know, and who I have no right to judge. And so instead I box those thoughts up, and pay attention to my kid instead. Or my leggings and my arse. Whatever.
And I hope to God that every fellow mother, or father, I encounter does the same for me.
Because I’m pretty sure I do things that get me judged every day.
I don’t always look made-up or ‘together’. I don’t wear (or even have) a wedding ring. I am soon to have two children, with different fathers. I sometimes dress like a mum and don’t wear heels to Tesco, but I’m absolutely fine with that. I share my coffee with my son when I get a free one at Waitrose. And I have to explain that now because, shock, caffeine, but a) It’s a latte and I add lots of extra milk, b) he’s almost four and has probably eaten a worm before now, and c) it keeps him happy and keeps me happy.
And the one I get the most – I am an honest and a happy mother. I am. I don’t keep up some charade to make other mothers feel like shit. This is motherhood we’re talking about, come on, I don’t have time for that. It’s my life. I’m just trying my best.
And even then, I have the worst possible days you can imagine. They are just as bad as yours, but different. Because we aren’t the same person. And in the same way you can’t understand how it feels for me to say goodbye to my son, I don’t know what being a stay-at-home mother can be like (yet).
I don’t know where we forgot this part, in the time between our own mothers and ourselves, but mums are just different people, with kids.
You don’t have to get on. You don’t have to be best friends. You don’t have to fit in. You just do what makes you happy.
But when did we decide that it was 100% okay to make another mother feel bad about herself, because she’s doing things her way?
I have friends who worry about sharing their good times in case they are seen as being boastful, or someone labels everything that they have worked for as ‘lucky’.
I have friends who want to ask for help, for advice, to just get it off their chest. But they hold back because they don’t want to be seen as ungrateful.
And so we’ve set up these groups of mums – all different types, with funny names to make it sound less like we’re being dicks, because it’s a joke ha, ha – and we’ve labelled them the bad guys. But we’ve actually been so thorough about it, that we’ve actually made us all bad guys.
I don’t actually know if I believe that these caricatures of motherhood even exist. I don’t think there are bad mums out there trying to make other mums feel bad on purpose.
I just think there’s a lot of scared mums feeling like crap a lot of the time.
We’re victims of living in a world where our progress as mothers is played out with the help of filters, thumbs up and: “I’m not being mean, but…”
We’ve got the ability to hold a mirror up to motherhood now. We see how we’re doing, and then we see how everyone else is doing. And so it’s become a competition none of us can win, because, and here’s the thing, it’s not a competition.
You can only parent your children. You can only do a good job with your kids (and a bad job sometimes too – we’ve all been there).
I remember, when I was a little girl, if ever someone was mean to me, I used to mutter quietly: “Sticks and stones may break my bones, but names will never hurt me.”
And how I wish little me was right.
It’s more like: “Sticks and stones may break my bones, but thank God for the NHS. Names on the other hand will always hurt me, so just stop.”
It’s funny, we’re all so worried about doing this parenting thing right, that we’ve forgotten what we’d actually teach our kids to do.
If your child was sent home from school with a note to see the teacher because they had been bullying another child. You’d be mortified. And you’d think: “That’s so unlike my baby.” You’d probably bollock them first, but then you’d sit them down and say: “Come on, you’re better than this kiddo, what’s wrong?” And then they might tell you that so-and-so was happy doing their own thing, and playing with a toy that your child wanted, and wouldn’t share. And so it looks a lot different on reflection.
So the next time you have a moment of:
“I can’t believe she gave her baby cake.”
“I can’t believe she left her two year-old downstairs.”
“I can’t believe she goes out like that.”
“Her house is so tidy – I bet she spends no time with her kids.”
“I think it’s so unnatural that she works and doesn’t look after her own children.”
“Bottle-feeding is a cop-out.”
“She wears so much makeup, she must be so vain and a total bitch.”
“God, some mums get all the luck.”
“Why does she always moan about her kids?”
Just go and find a mirror. And say it to your reflection. And realise how horrible it sounds.
And whether you really have to say it.
Because, trust me, someone’s thinking something similar about you.
And there’s a huge difference between freedom of speech, and just being a bit of a dick.
The way I parent has no bearing on you as a mum. And the way you parent has no bearing on me.
Unless we let it.
But at the end of the day – no matter what kind of mum you are, or what choices you make, let your kids be the judge.
Because, given the option, they would always choose their useless/fake/ungrateful/lazy/neglectful brilliant mum.
*P.S. Thanks Mum, for inspiring me to write this post.