It’s a nasty, contagious, infectious disease. It can be blatant and obvious but also subtle and creep up on you in an unobtrusive way. As a mum it can move you from feeling awesome, and like you can take on the world to rubbish, feeling s**t, guilty and like you are the worst mum in the world. There is a known cure but you need to recognise it first, identify the symptoms so you can diagnose it before you can treat it.
WHAT ON EARTH IS THIS TERRIBLE DISEASE?
New word, not yet in the Oxford English Dictionary, but should be, as it is taking the world by storm and will continue to do so as long as there are people out there who measure their success or failure by others choices, decisions and lifestyle.
It’s a nasty illness as it really can catch you unawares. Even your best friends can trigger the symptoms in you and the feelings can last for days. Social media can enable it to creep up on you when you just weren’t looking and it can send you into a spin of frankly feeling rubbish.
It’s at its most prolific when we are not feeling great about ourselves, we might be feeling emotional, or moody, or fed up with life and ‘our lot’.
Specific symptoms include irrational anger, directed at yourself, the children – transforming into ‘shouty mum’ or unplanned, unscheduled arguments with the husband, he’s had put his shoes away for once and you still managed to pick a fight.
So what makes us more vulnerable to this dreadful disease?
We want to know the details about others and their children’s lives. Not to celebrate the successes and the achievements but to measure ourselves and our children up against others to make sure we are ‘doing okay’ that we are good enough and, most importantly, our children are ‘good enough’.
What on earth ‘good enough’ means I am yet to find out.
As an example, it can be triggered when your child is not doing an activity that another is doing and the general discussion prompts you to think ‘I wonder if my child should be doing that’. The key phrases which another mum may say to indicate that she is going through this particular guilt induced thought process are ‘I am so glad my son/daughter does not do a,b or c – we have so much more time to spend as a family, do other things, have a lie in at the weekend’ (delete as appropriate).
Let me give you an example.
My son swims. He is an awesome swimmer and he has been from a young age. He suits swimming, his physique, his attitude and his personality suits it. I love watching him and he loves the sense of achievement competing in galas and improving his personal best times gives him. It also releases stress and body aches and pains from sitting in the classroom, as well as helping him with his diagnosis of hypermobility. Swimming is the safest and most effective way to release and build his muscle strength.
He does not, however, play football. He would love to more than anything. But his physical ability is not suited to land based sports, he can’t keep up and he tires much faster than other children, despite his fitness from swimming. We supported him to understand this and whilst he loves a kick about in the park and out in the garden with his brother, that is where he gets his enjoyment of this sport.
These are decisions we have made as parents based on our son and his health and personality. However, I have lost count of the parents, when I talk about his natural ability and love of swimming, who will turn to me and say ‘Oh, I am so glad my child isn’t into all that, it takes up so much of your time and energy, it’s such a commitment’.
Ummm – how do you know (I always ask in my head) and then out loud – ‘same as standing on a windy, cold, muddy football pitch for hours at a time watching football match after football match?’
Where’s the difference?
And there is the comparison. Those comments are made from a place of that mum (usually a mum) deciding that the sport of swimming is too much effort because their child doesn’t do it. They have no idea how much time, commitment or energy it takes, but they feel the need to pass comment to make sure they are not denying their child a vital opportunity in their lives.
I am so over this attitude where one child has to be pitched next to another as a measure of their success. Most recently 11+ results have deteriorated from who passed/failed to who got the better score!
THIS, I repeat, THIS is what is keeping us mums from feeling good about ourselves, from enjoying our lives for what they are, enjoying our children while they still want to spend time with us. We are constantly looking to others lives and comparing with our own, and it is SO damaging to all of us, our children included.
Just today I spent the day with my 10, nearly 11-year-old whilst my youngest was at cub camp. We have so little opportunity to do this, for this extended period of time and we had the best day. All we did was go shopping in town but we did it at our pace, in our time and had a laugh along the way. My Joseph is such good company and I told him so, I loved every minute of today and it gave me more pleasure than most of the organised ‘activities’ which we can fill ours and our children’s time with.
So, my message to you lovely mums. I firstly want you to know that I am not excluded from the blog post today as I am as guilty as the next person for comparing myself and my children to others. It reminds me so quickly now that this comparisonitis does not make me feel happy, it does not get me, or my children anywhere and it stops me enjoying the here and now.
My guidance is this. Look to your own lives, your own families and STOP comparing. We are all individuals choosing to bring our children up in our own, individual ways and when we compare, it means there is something missing from our own lives. When I work with my mums I always look for the uniqueness in a person’s situation, what individual qualities does that mum, and that child have?
I was chatting to a mum the other day who was really upset because of the behaviour of her young son and the comments it was inducing from other parents about how he was behaving. What she was describing was a lively, active, agile 3-year-old (which I could totally relate to having 2 of my own) who sometimes struggled to express himself verbally and therefore exhibited behaviours which could be observed as challenging. However, it was some ‘well meaning’ parents who were making comments and judgements about this child, comparing them to their own, impeccably behaved children (really?) and leaving this mum feeling flat, embarrassed and like the worst mum ever. Once we worked together to recognise this child’s strengths, this mum started to chill out in social situations as she realised that her worry and anxiety was impacting on her son, leading her to struggle to deal with any challenging situations and also feeling vulnerable around these other judgemental mums.
STOP feeling inadequate, you are good enough, you are doing a good enough job, and the next time someone else feels it is okay to pass judgement about your child, their choice of activity or their success in a belittling and negative way (I am all for compliments so take them and celebrate) ignore the hell out of them as their comment says everything about the way they are feeling about themselves and their lives and absolutely nothing about you.
Love Clare x