Blog Motherhood

Mums, Sticks & Stones

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. 

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No Comments

  • Reply
    Alex Gladwin
    4th March 2016 at 2:08 pm

    YES to this Charlotte. I'm sick of the judging lately.. so so so so tired of it. Why can't people just focus on themselves? I've written about this on my blog too! Personally, I try to surround myself around people like you, the positive, kind, considerate people. x

  • Reply
    Pamela Muncher
    4th March 2016 at 2:16 pm

    On bloody point darling (I'm giving you a virtual standing ovation right now) x

  • Reply
    4th March 2016 at 2:23 pm

    Oh Charlotte this is such a fantastic blog post! I could not agree more Why is motherhood a freakin' competition?! It's ridiculous. I have been thinking about this a lot lately. Like Alex said, I try to surround myself with nice positive people! Xo

  • Reply
    The little things...
    4th March 2016 at 2:37 pm

    I couldn't agree more with this!! And the leggings comments really did make me laugh while in my sick bed! Love it xxx

  • Reply
    4th March 2016 at 2:39 pm

    This is totally what I'm feeling right now. Funny how mean & judgemental some mums can be to other mums ? i just think concentrate on you and yours and make sure they turn out fabulous! X

  • Reply
    4th March 2016 at 3:16 pm

    Love this;

    A good head and good heart are always a formidable combination. But when you add to that a literate tongue or pen, then you have something very special.

    Nelson Mandela

  • Reply
    Katy Reeves
    4th March 2016 at 4:33 pm

    I love this! We waste so much time worrying about people's judgements, because whatever we do we know that somewhere out there someone has a nasty label for 'that kind of mum'. Live and let live I say (and stop the judgement of ourselves too while we're at it)

  • Reply
    Kelly I To Become Mum
    4th March 2016 at 7:21 pm

    Hear hear! I'm so sick of there being so much negativity around mums, around parents and around women in general. From post birth bump shaming Mrs Tom McFly to The Sun running a DPS analysing who had the best cleavage at the Oscars, all we see is negative connotations of being a woman and being a mum and what's worse, it's actually changing the way we think, behave and act with others.

  • Reply
    lucy at dear beautiful
    5th March 2016 at 7:10 am

    This is such a lovely post Charlotte, and so true. And I wonder whether the fact that so much of the motherhood experience is shared online now actually exacerbates the problem. The status updates, blog posts and shared photos can be lingered over to be judged in a way that chatting with mums in a coffee shop or on a play date can't.
    I do think that it doesn't matter what you do these days as a mother, it feels like someone is judging you for it. I know that I often feel judged, probably because I am, and often it does eat away at me. Like you say judgement is part of the human condition, but again I feel like the online world is often to blame for making people feel it's okay to say it. And on the flip side the online world puts you in contact with so many more mothers than you would be in the real world, and it's far easier to see how others are doing it and let those judgements get at you. Comparison is the thief of joy and all that!
    I always like that quote about being too busy tending my own grass to notice if it's greener on the other side, and I try to live my life like that. Easier said than done sometimes of course. x

  • Reply
    Jenny Ripatti-Taylor
    5th March 2016 at 10:34 am

    Oh I feel the very same about all this and wish people would judge others. Why do we even do it? Even if I have a thought like you said I focus on something else. We don't know everyone's story or our way may not work for the next mom I just wish everyone thought that way. We should as parents support each other more for that. Great post hun.

  • Reply
    Trying at life
    6th March 2016 at 10:34 am

    Well flipping said!! Love your posts xx

  • Reply
    Esther Hancock
    8th March 2016 at 9:04 pm

    I feel like such an alien reading this because I feel like I should know about all that goes on – but I obviously don't! Eeeep. I really don't feel competitive in motherhood and never have – I don't know why. I'm naturally not a nosey person and I really don't worry what people think of me, or my parenting. I have quite a lot of mum friends, but maybe I've just managed to find ones that feel the same? I have no doubt that all of this goes on though, but it sounds like so much pressure and really quite awful. So well written xxx

  • Reply
    Sarah Rooftops
    15th April 2016 at 7:26 pm

    YES. My mum has commented several times on how much more information we have than her generation did; I'm not sure it's always helpful – it puts us into boxes ("She's a gentle parent"; "She's a Gina Ford mum" etc) and makes it so much easier to think we're better than people who read a different parenting book from us. I also think it makes us less inclined to trust our own instincts, but that's a whole other story…

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