An overwhelming amount of people contacted me regarding my previous post (See ‘Mothers Guilt’ Part I) saying they related to what I had written. It feels good to know I’m not insane so thanks! Due to the responses I received, I thought it would be fitting to now speak again about this topic but from a different spectrum. Yes, often a mother’s guilt is due to her own insecurities and negative thoughts. However, it is also the simple comments, judgements and observations vocalised by other people (especially other mothers) that can cause a mother to feel uncertain about her performance as a parent. Rather than writing about my own personal experiences, I’ve spoken to some mothers this week and will be outlining their stories (their names have been changed to more generic ones for their privacy).
So, lets get stuck in.
Molly-The ‘Irresponsible’ Mother
This first story can help illustrate how the smallest of comments can effect how a mother feels. Molly has two children; a one year old boy and a 2.5 year old girl. Being a mother who travels on public transport (she deserves a fist pump for that ), she was once returning home from an outing on the train with her two little ones. If you’re from London, you’ll know the significance of the operator’s voice ringing out on the train’s platform, ‘MIND THE GAP’- the ‘gap’ between the train and the platform is stupidly wide (long jump type wide). So, when Molly reached her stop, she first picked up her daughter and put her on the platform then carefully began pulling the pram, with her son sleeping inside, over the gap and onto the platform. Being a toddler, of course her daughter tried to run off somewhere (why wouldn’t she? I would if I were her age!). A woman, who had been watching, stopped her daughter and returned her to her mother safely. All was well until she said to Molly, quite sternly;
“Please, please, look after your daughter!”
I’m sure the woman meant no offence by her comment. Perhaps she was even a mother herself, meaning she was one to always fear the worst (as all mothers do), so seeing a toddler running in a dangerous area shocked her and made her think of her own children. However, these 6 words caused Molly to feel awful. Amidst her guilt and shame, she thought, ‘How could I have let this happen? The woman must have thought I don’t look after my children properly and she’s right. I am such an irresponsible mother.’ In reality, she is no such thing, this was very obviously a mistake (that couldn’t have been avoided if you think about it) but the tactless tiny comment made by this stranger made her believe otherwise.
Holly-The ‘Career Oriented’ Mother
Holly has one daughter who is 3 years old. She is a full-time teacher who decided to return to work when her child was 6 months old. Many opinions circled her decision to go back to work. It was often said to her; ‘you went back to work when your daughter was very young! You’re very career oriented, aren’t you?’ After hearing this a number of times, she began, as expected, to feel guilty. Her thoughts were this: ‘I’ve chosen to make money instead of looking after my daughter. Career oriented? More like ‘selfish’. I left her so young, why would I do that to her?’ Do you see how the comments of others were the cause of this intense feeling of mothers’ guilt?
None of her thoughts have any truth to them of course. She is an excellent mother who, after a long, tiring day at work (she teaches young, boisterous, challenging boys) , rather than putting her feet up, spends the rest of her time with her little one. When Holly is at work, her daughter is with her grandmother, the woman who raised her, so she is in the safest hands possible. There is nothing wrong with her choosing to go back to work, there is even research to suggest that working parents are more able to provide their children with life skills. And, quite frankly, money doesn’t grow on trees (if it did we’d all be living in tree houses).
Unfortunately, there are a number of negative connotations associated with working mums and there is a lot of negative connotations associated with stay at home mums. As well as this, workings mothers feel really guilty and stay at home mums feel really guilty. Do you see what all mothers are unable to escape? GUILT- And it doesn’t help with those around us making accidental insenstive comments.
Polly (What? I did say I would use generic names)-The ‘Careless’ Mother
Polly was an exclusively breastfeeding mother to her 1.5 year old son (I’ll be awarding her with two fist pumps for that). As I’ve been told by most breastfeeding mothers, babies feed on supply and demand so, even when they are older, their routine can sometimes be much more unpredictable than babies who are bottlefed. Therefore, it is understandable why sometimes Polly’s son would go through phases where he would be up late hours and unwilling to sleep. On these occasions many people, even those who aren’t mothers, would make comments such as ‘wow- does your son still not have a routine?! It’s way too late for him be up at this time. You should really work on trying to give him a more consistent bedtime.’
These comments, whether or not if it was just intended as helpful advice, made Polly feel really low. It caused her to think, ‘I am such a careless mother, everyone must think that of me too. Everyone else’s child has a nice, clear-cut routine whilst mine is up all hours and it’s all my fault.’
I wish she knew how amazing she was for being able to breastfeed her son for so long, giving him the best source of food in the world, struggling sometimes, whether it because she could never leave him, or because she was extra sleep deprived, but still pushing through for his sake. She should have been immensely proud of herself. Instead, due to the opinions vocalised by others, it caused her to feel the depressing feeling of mothers’ guilt.
Dolly-The ‘Failing’ Mother
Dolly is a mother to a lovely 4 year old girl. When her daughter was 1 year and 9 months old, she took her to a play date with some other mothers. Dolly noticed that one little boy -who was a month younger than her daughter- was able to speak fantastically, better than her own child. He had an older sibling, which explained why, but nevertheless she thought is was necessary to praise his mother.
“Wow, your son speaks so well! My daughter still struggles to be honest, still trying to string words together. You’re doing a great job. I guess that’s one of the perks of him being your second? The second child picks up so much from their older sibling’ she said to her.
His mother replied, quite cuttingly, “well no actually, his older sister was even more advanced than him at his age. My children are just much more advanced than others. I’m surprised your daughter still doesn’t speak!”
This comment (an insensitive and boastful one in my opinion) caused Dolly to feel guilty and question her whole performance as a mother. She thought ‘I must be doing something wrong with my daughter. Maybe I don’t speak to her enough? Or play with her enough? I’m failing somehow, I must be. Look at this mother’s child, he’s so much more advanced.’
Maybe this mother said what she said just to provide Dolly with more information about her children. However, there is a common trend of these incidents happening amongst mothers and I’d love to understand why. Do some parents think it is necessary to complete with others? Or are they just proud of their child and want to tell others about them? Either way, here is an example of how a brilliant mother was made to feel far from brilliant due to the words of another.
I hope the examples I have shared are relatable to some and have helped readers understand that sometimes we need to be careful what we say when speaking to a mother about her child.
My next post will be a much more lighter read (I’ve actually depressed myself harping on about mothers guilt for two whole weeks!)
Thank you to the mothers that shared their story with me 😊.
Please feel free to leave comments, you know I love those.