I can’t even begin to tell you how many times I have felt shamed as a mum. Sitting on my phone at the park; probably being shamed. Bribing my kids with TV, shamed. Desperately ignoring a stage 4 meltdown at the supermarket, shame, shame, shame. I’m sure most mums know what I mean.
It’s become so ingrained in modern day motherhood that every time I see a ‘mummy shaming’ post online I wonder if it’s actually about me. The judgement we cop as mothers is intense, there is no denying it.
Yesterday was my ‘day off’. I work three days a week from home. With me on my workdays (and the other days) are my three children- all under the age of five. To say it gets intense sometimes would be an understatement but I love the chaos. I love my job and I cherish being able to be with my kids while they are young. Like most mums though I am filled with a constant feeling of ‘not being good enough’. I always feel as though I’m letting someone down in some way. I think a lot of working mums can appreciate the feeling.
So on Tuesdays when it’s just me and my babies we try and do something special to make up for the continual ‘I have to work, I have to clean, I have to wash’ excuses that they hear from me for why I can’t give them my undivided attention on other days.
Tuesdays are our day.
In the morning we have swimming lessons followed by running errands or going to the park or the beach. Usually it’s not particularly exciting as there is only a small window of time before the younger ones need to get home for a sleep but I try to do something with them to use the time we have together as best I can.
Yesterday I wanted to do something 'just us', so after swimming I took them to our local cafe. I let them order whatever they wanted (which is very unusual for me). Both of my boys chose chocolate milkshakes and smartie cookies. Not overly indulgent in the grand scheme of things but enough to get a kid's heart racing. I even took a photo of their excited faces to send to my husband because he knew that for me to take all three kids to get sugared up was a special treat.
As we sat at our table I noticed an older lady and her husband sitting at the booth opposite us. She was looking at me and my children. In my mind I assumed she was judging me. 'Her toddler is climbing everywhere', 'Look at the sugar she’s feeding those kids- that’s why we have an obesity problem', 'These stay at home mums have the life- out at a cafe on a Tuesday'. All of these things I imagined her thinking about me.
While the kids inhaled their drinks and cookies she kept watching. I felt myself become self conscious. I know I shouldn’t care what people think of me but just like every other mum I try really, really hard to do my best and no one likes to feel judged.
I felt like getting up to explain myself. I wanted to tell her that I hardly ever allow them to eat junk food. I wanted her to know that we never go to cafes, that almost every time we walk past one I give the kids a reason why we are too busy to stop.
I chose to ignore her stares and enjoy the time with my kids.
We laughed as my two year old covered his face in chocolate and the boys loved their baby sister sitting with them in a high chair squealing every time one of them made eye contact with her. In that moment we were happy.
When we finished our treat we got up from the table and walked past the woman who I felt had been judging me. She grabbed my arm as I made my way past her table. “You’re doing a great job mum, look at those happy kids”.
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I was wrong, she hadn’t been judging me at all. She explained that she saw my kids laughing in the cafe and it reminded her of when her own boys were young. She told me to cherish our time together because life moves fast. In fact she was waiting on her son to celebrate his 49th birthday during his lunch break. “He’s my baby,” she said while looking longingly at my younger boy. I could see the memories flooding back behind her eyes.
It taught me, next time you think that someone might be judging you and your mothering try not to let it affect you. My critic wasn’t judging me at all, she was just reminiscing about the time when she had what I had, right there in front of me.