There are a lot of laughs to be had with the #badmum / #badmom hashtag. Being a ‘bad mum’ is a release of sorts. Here are the first four #badmum tweets that pop up when I did a search in Twitter:
when you try and file the babies nails but end up making them worse #badmum
— danielle (@daniholly) October 24, 2017
Feel so guilty I didn’t wash her football socks. Trying to teach her a lesson. #badmum
— Zahna Hull (@zahna_hull) October 29, 2017
Just eaten basically a whole big bag of jelly babies myself and feel no guilt. Sick, yes but guilt?! Nah…. #badmum
— PrincessMe73 (@RyanJackMum) October 25, 2017
“Mum, a boy at school doesn’t even know who Tenacious D is, is this kid even alive?” …. 🤦🏽♀️ #BadMum
— Abi Vercoe (@Abi_Vercoe) October 16, 2017
Reasons we’re a #badmum range from the random to the ridiculous to the downright borderline. We suffer #mumguilt because of our careless, careless ways.
I’m laughing, but I’m really worried too.
See, I worry that #badmum and #mumguilt are masking a heap of genuine anxiety in mums. I worry that so many mums out there really are questioning whether they’re a bad mother because they ‘drop the ball’ from time to time. Or even refuse to play ball at all sometimes.
I worry this because I hear it just about every day. Strangers write to me of their hidden fears, because they know that I get it. My own friends let me know through throwaway remarks, because they know that I’ll understand.
“That doesn’t make you a bad mum!” I laugh.
And it 100% doesn’t.
Being human doesn’t make you a bad mum!
We know this. Surely we know this. And yet, why are mothers so darn hard on themselves? Why are we constantly anxious that we’re not doing a good job? That our kids are somehow missing out because of our failings? Why, why, why?
Here’s one of the reasons why.
You think you’re a bad mum because you actually don’t think you’re particularly good at anything
This makes me so sad, but I think it’s out there in abundance, masked by the #mumguilt and #badmum moments.
Despite years of trying, so many, many women still have rock-bottom self-esteem. They don’t feel worthy. They don’t feel enough. A 2016 survey by Dove found that low self-esteem affects daily life in up to 4 out of 5 women. Up to 85% of women report that feeling bad about her appearance means she opts out of important life activities like joining a club, or engaging with family or loved ones.
Here’s what my friend Lisa (not her real name), who inspired me to finally write this post, had to say:
“I feel like I’m always watching other mums and trying to do what they do to be a happy mother and make my kids happy, but I can never do things as well as they can.”
“I wanted to be the ‘yummy mummy’, but I don’t know why I thought I could pull it off. I’ve never been a ‘yummy’ anything.”
So much ouch.
When I asked her how she thought this affected her parenting, Lisa was very upset. Through tears, it all poured out, and it broke my heart that she felt this way.
- I’m not a good role model for my kids like other more together mums
- I’m not organised like other mums, we live in chaos
- I’m not pretty like other mums
- I’m not skinny like other mums
- I’m not funny like other mums
She concluded by saying, “I always wanted to do that ‘dance in the kitchen with my kids’ thing that other mums do, but I never have because I know I’d just look stupid and the kids would be embarrassed.”
Like I said, Lisa broke my heart that day. I honestly didn’t realise.
Because let me tell you about Lisa.
Lisa is one of the kindest, most generous, most uplifting people I know. She always has a little compliment to make a gal feel good about herself. She listens and she notices. She’s the first to volunteer to help out and works tirelessly to make things happen that support our community in so many ways.
Lisa is a go-getter – she’s an ambitious working mother who has been promoted twice in the past two years. She is an amazing networker, mentor and friend.
Lisa loves her kids and her husband beyond measure. She radiates love for that family and it flows into every conversation I’ve ever had with her. She has 10x more patience than me and 100x more selflessness.
In short, Lisa is an incredible woman and an incredible mother.
Is it any wonder that Lisa doubts her worthiness as a mother when she appears to doubt her worthiness as a person?
She has so much going for her, but she just can’t see it.
When I asked her how she can explain all the wonderful achievements she’s had in her life, her response was fairly typical of those low in self-esteem: luck.
Not hard work, perseverance, kindness or courage. But luck.
I’m sharing Lisa’s story with her permission because I think it’s the perfect example of what motherhood looks like for so many wonderful women right now.
Woman who have, for whatever reason, grown up feeling like they’re not good enough.
A woman who doesn’t feel like she lives up to expectations is going to be a mother who feels exactly the same way. Having children doesn’t miraculously fix a person. Motherhood doesn’t wipe away decades of feeling like you’re shit at everything. If anything, motherhood makes it so much worse, because the stakes feel so much higher.
The scrutiny that women are under our whole lives is simply exacerbated by motherhood. The one-size-fits-all expectation that society places on us becomes an even tighter fit when we have children.
We’re supposed to raise our kids a certain way and we feel like we’re judged harshly when we deviate from the norm.
If you’re a woman who worries a lot about what other people think of you (a characteristic of most people with low self-esteem), then the spotlight is very bright and very hot when you’re raising kids.
That spotlight illuminates the most #mumguilt thought of all, “My precious kids deserve a better mother than me.”
To that, I say,
“Raise yourself first.”
It seems to me that in order to help women realise that they are good mothers, we need to remind them that they are good people first. Forget the little people we are raising, forget the role we play as their mother. Focus on ourselves as multi-faceted, striving, emerging people.
We need to seek the help and support we need to raise ourselves along with our kids.
Low self-esteem is not an easy thing to fix, but talking about it certainly helps set a person up to rise.
Steps to raising yourself that I have found help a lot
The first step is to stop the comparisons. It’s hard to ignore what other women are doing when their achievements are endlessly paraded in front of us. But we can choose what we decide to take on board. We can remind ourselves that we have achievements of our own, whether we choose to share them with others or not. We can redefine what being a ‘successful’ person really looks like. Success isn’t success if it doesn’t make you feel great.
Something I’ve been thinking a lot lately is this: there’s room on the broom for everyone so even though I’m starting something new that I know so many have done before me and done it so well and it’s scary so think how talented they are and how learning I am but I just stop thinking that way and instead think there’s room on the broom and suddenly I’m eager to squeeze myself in and take my spot.
Which brings me to the second step: just opt out. Give yourself permission to stop trying to live up to the expectations that surround you. Sure, it’s not that simple (I quit, I quit, I f*cking QUIT), but you can at least have a go. Start small.
I basically wore the same couple of outfits all throughout winter and only a handful of people even noticed and the ones that did thought it was great and I loved it and it’s a small thing but it was my thing and it helped a great deal.
The next step is to stop the pretending. Stop ‘faking it until we’re making it’. Kick the ‘imposter syndrome’ to the kerb and stop pretending we’ve ‘got this’. All of these ridiculous platitudes are just making us feel worse about ourselves. So, let’s stop with the mantras and the pithy motivational bullshit and admit we don’t feel like we like we live up to societal expectations.
Because, frankly, nobody can live up to societal expectations.
There’s a shame attached to not being the go-getter ‘best’ these days and it’s time we stopped buying into it.
Whenever I tell people that I can’t afford something I am always really surprised by their surprise that I would admit such a shock horror thing but it’s the truth and I don’t think of it as a failure or a negative thing at all it just is what it is and people tell me that’s really freeing to hear such a thing and then they tell me they can’t really afford it either.
We need to stop hiding our worries behind #badmum hashtags. Stop buying into the assumption that something like missing a stupid school concert makes a woman a #badmum in the first place. Ask ourselves why we think that #mumguilt is an acceptable emotion and do what we can to shut that shit down.
Let’s raise ourselves first, so we can raise our kids the way we really want to. With kindness and grace.
Image: Annie Spratt