I was blown away by the comments on an article that I wrote recently called “Surviving Mothers’ Group”.
There was an outpouring of pain in those comments, particularly on the Mouths of Mums Facebook page, and I’ve found I’ve been thinking about it ever since.
Mums bravely shared their stories about their good, bad (and ugly) experiences with mother’s group.
There were some really interesting and different stories in those comments, for example I loved the story from one mum who shared what it was like being a new mum of an adoptive baby and feeling very ‘different’ because she hadn’t been through the pregnancy and labour experience.
Other mums spoke of the competitive mummies and their ‘perfect’ babies and how truly awful it made them feel, right at a time when they were trying to find their feet.
Sadly I don’t think that experience is limited to mothers’ group… I think we’ve all met our share of competitive and judgmental mummies.
For example, I have a Facebook page for my book, Survivor’s Guide to Colic, and somebody just posted on there rather smugly that the solution to colic was “simple, just breastfeed”.
Not only is this completely factually wrong (colic affects equal numbers of breast and bottlefed babies), but it showed a COMPLETE lack of insight about the challenges that other mums might be experiencing.
I responded politely, correcting the misinformation, but I confess that it really made me cranky. It was exactly the kind of behaviour other stressed mums described in their comments on my last article.
The common theme that united most of those comments was one of vulnerability and the fear (or the reality) of being judged.
What IS it about motherhood that brings out this fear so strongly?
Sure there are always compulsive perfectionists like me that hate to feel like they are getting anything wrong, but I think it might be something deeper than that.
The fear of ‘getting it wrong’ or acknowledging that we’re having problems or difficulties as a mum seems so much more exaggerated, the vulnerability so much more powerful.
Perhaps the drive to do the best we can for our kids (and therefore the fear of not measuring up) is instinctive?
Or does it just come out so strongly in the context of mother’s group because it is usually a group of brand new mums, who have just gone through major life changes and are trying to figure out a whole lot of new things for the first time – because new experiences often bring out our vulnerabilities.
Vulnerability, perfectionism, judgement… they often walk hand-in-hand, don’t they?
I don’t know about you, but when I’m feeling vulnerable, I have to confess that my knee jerk reaction is to pull up my ‘perfectionism shield’ quick smart so that nobody can hurt me/judge me.
So if I extrapolate that to other mums, maybe that’s where this problem of judgy ‘perfect’ mum issue really stems from? From a mum who’s scared of not measuring up and unfortunately her reaction to that fear actually triggers the fears of other mums around her.
What do you think? Am I being overly generous or am I onto something here?
OK, I’m sure its not ALWAYS going to be the case, but for me, I think the next time I run across a mum who’s trying very hard to convince me that she and/or her baby is perfect, I’m going to try hard to remember that behaviour is probably stemming directly from the fear that she (or her baby) ISN’T perfect.
So I’m going to grab every last bit of my mummy courage and share as much understanding and compassion as I can, combined with letting her see some of my own vulnerability, in the hope that might just break the cycle.
And if that doesn’t work, well there are so many other wonderful mummies out there who ARE prepared to be real and honest, so I’ll go spend my time with them instead!
Life’s too short – I’ll be spending my time with people that make my life better, not worse!
I’d love to hear what you think – is there something primal about our motherhood vulnerability?