Mummy shaming. Why do people do it. Why does it affect me so much. This morning I was mummy-shamed by two women at the cafe that #SnuggleBub and I love. It’s the only cafe that we go to – #SnuggleBub is not really a cafe-friendly person at this stage. She never stops moving, is constantly exploring the world around and her place in it. This morning she was exploring balancing. Balancing on a small step, balancing on a slope. She was in the doorway so I was asking her to make way when people wanted to come in or out, but it was reasonably quiet and this was a vast improvement on her running out of the cafe and down the footpath which happens to be alongside a very busy arterial road. I thought we were all good. I had pulled out my phone to send a quick email before we left – hoping that I was still early enough to delay a delivery (new oven – finally…whole other story). I’d asked #SnuggleBub to move out of the way of a delivery person, and a minute or so later the two women at the table next to me told me they were worried that she was going to get hurt getting run over by someone coming into the cafe, pointed out to me that she’d already fallen and hurt her head (which I had noticed, being her mother and all. It was a bad bump, she has a small lump on her head but not concussion-level, no blood and she is constantly bumping herself as she explores. This is how she learns what her limitations are).
Honestly I can’t remember what else they said to me. I felt such a hot wash of anger, shame, embarrassment and guilt at their judgement. Their words were expressing concern for my child whilst really saying “We think you are a terrible mum. You’re not looking after your child.” I gave up on the idea of getting the email sent (seriously, just needed to send off a two sentence email) packed up our bag and left. I said something along the lines of not needing their judgement but I don’t know if I said it loud enough for them to hear or not. I walked out shaking, blood rushing in my ears, heart pounding and #SnuggleBub asking “Are you ok Mum? Don’t be mad, mummy”.
I reassured her that I wasn’t mad at her and said that I was upset at what the women had said in the cafe. I had to work hard to get my head and body to a place of convincing reassurance for her so that she could relax and continue to enjoy our day. Children can be so aware of our state of being – #SnuggleBub takes in all the cues and can tell when I’m really upset or mad or sad, even when I’m trying to hide it.
All day I just wanted to cry. Actually, I did cry, at the museum, when catching up with a friend and telling her about my morning and how crap I felt. It got me thinking though. Why did it upset me so much. These women were complete strangers. I don’t even know if they have children. If they do have children, I suspect they have children like my firstborn; children who would sit at a cafe and read or do quiet colouring-in at the table, even at age three. They clearly don’t have an energetic, always-on-the-go, free wild spirit like #SnuggleBub. So why did it upset me so much. Why did I have such a strong reaction, especially when I didn’t feel that I’d been exhibiting “bad mother tendencies” – you know the signs of being a “bad mother”, excessive phone usage, not talking to your child, ignoring any bad behaviour by your child, letting your child run around eating sugar from other tables (which #SnuggleBub has been known to do, though she wasn’t this morning and it is not something I ever knowingly “let” her do ).
It upset me so much, shamed me so much because it tapped into my constant worry that I am not a good enough mum. I think that is why mum shaming is so hurtful and so damaging. We want to be good mums, we want to be seen as good mums but we are always worrying that we are not good enough and now a complete stranger has just verified that. I found myself questioning, does everyone think I’m a bad mum? All the parents at school, the ones who see me looking harried, see me searching the school yet again for my three year old who has run off – are they all thinking that I’m a terrible mum? Anyone who has ever seen us in the cafe, the customers that #SnuggleBub has joined and stolen food from (true story), were they all secretly appalled at my parenting whilst laughing off her cheeky behaviour? Are people talking about my lax parenting behind my back?
The judgement tapped into my own insecurities, my own judgement of my parenting. The thing is, no-one is a harsher judge of themselves than a mum. Nearly everyday I feel that I am not enough. That I don’t read enough, play enough, do enough with my kids. I am well aware that #SnuggleBub gets away with so much more than I ever dreamed I would allow. In part it is because she is the second child and the concept of how quickly time flies is very tangible to me as I look at our eight year old. But mostly it is because she is a different personality and I am a different mum now. She is a fighter, she is so chock full of will and determination and independence. And I am exhausted. I have chronic migraines which are very much a disability. A fluctuating, invisible disability which impacts us all and results in me just not having enough energy to do all that should be done, and to be strong on all the points I would choose to be. I have to choose carefully where my energy gets spent each day. Some days I have more energy to spend and other days I have very little. I spend 99% of my energy on my children, and each day I have to choose which issues I am going to be firm on and which issues I am going to let slide. Genuine issues of safety, health and kindness are always priority and anything else is a bonus. A certain amount of energy is also dedicated to managing the emotional side of the migraines and minimising the impact on my children. I get very irritable and need to work hard to not get cross at the kids for just being kids. I spend so much of my energy balancing out to be a somewhat reasonable parent and I think that that is more important than spending my energy on getting #SnuggleBub to stay in her seat. All this adds up to me just not being as good or capable mum as I could be without the migraines. I know this because the few, few days I’ve had without migraines, everything has been so much easier and I can feel how different I am with the kids. I hate that our kids don’t get the mum they could have, if there were no migraines. I feel like they deserve better. Even though it is something not of my doing, and I am doing everything I can to manage them, I still feel a lot of guilt, shame and a deep sadness that they get this version of me. Guilt that they are not getting a mum who operates at 80-100%, shame for all the times that I don’t mitigate my irritability enough and I get unreasonably snappy and sadness because there is so so much more that I want to do with them and experience with them and I just can’t.
When I am really struggling with migraines, I am much more vulnerable and sensitive to the judgement of other people. I will not go somewhere if I don’t feel safe, or feel like I will be held up to additional judgement. I have really appreciated our favourite little cafe because the owners have been so lovely, and are always so warm to #SnuggleBub. I do try to adhere to social niceties and expectations but I miss things. I am so aware that I miss things at times. I already feel like I am that parent that others shake their heads about, tut-tutting at my poor parenting choices and skills. #SnuggleBub can run rings around me and it is all I can do at times just to be in a playground with her. The noise, the light, all the input is full-on for me. We go but at times all my concentration is on dealing with the input, and I imagine that I must seem disinterested at best, to other people.
Once I calmed down, had had a cry with a friend who gets it, and thought about why it had got to me so much, I wished that I had actually stopped and said something to those two women. If I could go back, my response to them would be something like this:
“Thank you for your concern about my daughter’s well-being. I can see that you think I am being negligent in my duties as her parent. Please keep in mind that you know nothing about me or my daughter. You know nothing about our lives. As you have watched us and judged me, you have not known that I have spent the last two days struggling with horrible migraines where all I wanted to do was lie in the dark and quiet, but instead I have taken my daughter to her circus class and playgroup and playgrounds, and I have attended my son’s music performance, where I had to wear earphones just to be able to stay in the hall with that level of sound. I am still having trouble processing aural input, have a slow reaction time and my brain is functioning at only 50% capacity. You have not known that I have chronic migraines, so this is not unusual at all. I have just had to work out ways to live and parent with varying levels of disability. You have not known that it has been three and a half years since I had regular, full nights’ sleep every night. I am beyond bone tired; my soul is tired. For much of these past 18 months, I have felt like I am only just barely keeping my head above water and that just one more weight would be enough to pull me under. So the next time, you feel the need to voice your judgement to a mum, stop and remember that you know nothing, absolutely nothing about that mum’s life and the circumstances which have led to the 10 minute snippet that you are judging. And ask yourself, do I want my judgement to be the weight that pulls this mother down.”
A complete stranger’s opinion shouldn’t matter. It shouldn’t even be a blip on my day. It rankled and stayed with me all day because even as I can see why people would think I was a bad mum, I want them to think I am a good mum. I want external opinions to contradict my own internal monologue of all the ways in which I am not good enough. I have enough judgment going on in my head; I do not need any additional judgement from anyone else.