What is it about becoming a mother that suddenly gives people the licence to judge us? And what is it about becoming a mother that suddenly has us listening to this judgement and taking it on?
My children are now young adults. I had three babies in 3.5 years and when I look back on those early years of being a mum, it was literally a whirlwind of nappies, vomit, no sleep and constant self doubt. On top of that, there is the shocking overnight transition from competent, high performing professional/ business woman to a leaky boobed, traumatised vg’d, sleep deprived zombie. Is it any wonder we are feeling less than at our best?
B.C. (Before Children) I was much more resilient, and much less inclined to worry about unfounded judgement (or let’s face it, even founded judgement). A.C. (After Children), however, I was consumed by this whole baby world where I felt completely out of my depth most of the time and my self-confidence took a hit. I found that I was dialling down the value I placed on my own voice and judgement, while dialling up my preparedness to let the voices of others undermine my decisions. And that permeated from baby world to the rest of my world.
Add to that the fact that everyone — and I mean everyone — has an opinion on how you should be mothering, and ladies, we are on a hiding to nothing. I remember one man expressing his surprise at my going back to work after I had my second son. He asked me what I was going to do with the kids (mind you, what was ‘I’ going to do — not what was my husband going to do …) and I told him I was working part time and my boys would go to creche three days a week. ‘Did you know,’ he said, ‘studies show that children who go to creche from an early age are more likely to suffer from anxiety and depression?’ Terrific, thank you for your support.
And that comment stayed with me. I was racked with guilt. The whole time I was at work and not with my kids I thought about them and worried that I was damaging them. One day I turned up at creche to collect the boys and my second son was sitting on the floor crying. No-one was comforting him and the emotion I felt at seeing him was quite literally physical — it was like I had been punched in the stomach. I rushed into the room, swept him up, turned on the carer and demanded to know what was going on. I was furious and she was flustered and defensive and I don’t blame her in any way for saying, ‘What you need to understand is that your son is a very unhappy little boy.’
Having survived those early years, I want to share with young mums the four realities that helped me overcome absorbing other people’s judgement of my choices:
People will judge you no matter what choices you make
Recognise that if you are a mum and work full time, people will judge you. If you are a mum and work part time, people will judge you. If you are a mum and don’t work, people will judge you. If you are exactly like them, they will judge you. If you are different to them, they will judge you. You are literally damned if you do and damned if you don’t. And so I urge you not to give a damn at all.
Live your life the way that works best for you
Make the choices that work best for your family and for you. Wear a coat of mirrors so that you reflect back to people the judgement they seem to want to inflict onto you. And bottom line — as hard as it can be to accept — their opinion of you is absolutely none of your business. Stop wasting your precious energy and time worrying about their judgement.
Control your time
You can’t control what people think of you or say about you or to you, but you absolutely can control how much time and energy you invest in worrying about what they say.
You are good at what you do
Never forget that you have worked extremely hard for your success. You are really, really good at what you do. You are an incredible role model for your daughters and for your sons and there are plenty of women and men around you who are immensely proud of everything you have done and continue to do to make it all work for you and your family. Yes you have made sacrifices and yes there have been tradeoffs, and that is what being a strong, amazing woman is all about.
There are no winners in the judgement game, so make your own rules or simply refuse to play the game.