Mommy guilt. It’s well-documented. And with dads doing more equal parenting and feeling the strains of work-life pressure, daddy guilt is a thing too. But:
1. This post is not a list of all the things I feel guilty about as a mom. Life’s too short, for one thing, and for another, it can be helluva boring to read other people’s confessions (except when they make you feel better about yours).
2. This post is not an uplifting guide to feeling better about yourself, composed of things that you probably feel guilty about but shouldn’t. There are lots of those out there. Start here, here and here. You don’t need me for that.
So what is this post about? Why’d I write on mommy guilt, if not to ‘fess up or mollify?
I’m writing it to draw attention to something that’s started bothering me even more than my guilt does, and that’s the new trend in the nursery school parking lot:
The Crappiness Contest
We seem to have evolved from bragging, boasting and raving about our kids, competing for best kid in the world, to trying to out-crappify each other.
You may recognise these:
Mom A: “Is she potty-trained?”
Mom B: “Nope. Sits on potty. Gets up. Pees on floor. Yours?”
Mom A: “Nope.” (They laugh.)
Mom A: “I feel so bad. My kid ate Flings for dinner. The whole weekend.”
Mom B: “Me too. Mine ate nothing but tinned peaches.” (They laugh.)
Mom A: “My kid hasn’t slept through in two weeks. I’m a zombie.”
Mom B: “Mine hasn’t slept through in seven months. Don’t go there.” (They groan.)
I do it too, unfortunately.
Mom A: “Your toddler speaks so well.”
Me: “Yeah, she never stops talking.” (I groan.)
Mom B: “Your daughter is so pretty.”
Me: “Thanks. But what a little terrorist.” (I laugh.)
Mom C: “You’re such a relaxed mom.”
Me: “I let her eat all sorts of junk from the floor!” (We laugh.)
Why can’t we thank the other mom and take ownership of those moments when our wonderful child is being brilliant and looks gorgeous, we’re relaxed, and all is well? Why do we — when, deep down, we thrive on those compliments — feel such a need to dismiss them with jokes or diminish others’ horror stories with our own?
I read an article recently in which a mom responded in a highly unusual way to the compliment, “Your toddler is so good; you’re so lucky.” She said (and I’m paraphrasing), “Actually, we’re not lucky. It’s hard work to have a well-behaved toddler. We spend a lot of time, effort and energy teaching manners, rewarding good behaviour and instilling discipline. So, thanks, but luck has nothing to do with it.”
I was shocked. Stupefied. That’s how rare it is for moms to publicly take credit. Why?
1. Is it about nonchalance?
My friends Jaclyn and Leanne, who don’t have kids, and my friend Danielle, who has three, agree that all women do it — along the lines of “Wow, you’ve lost so much weight!” met with “This outfit is very slimming”. It’s a false-modesty “Oh, this old thing?” phenomenon, designed to make the achievement seem easy or effortless.
2. Is it about comfort?
Possibly. Moms try to outdo other moms with how their child is naughtier, cheekier or fussier. Often to make the other mom feel better about what she’s going through, share the load or provide support. But, as Melissa, mom to three-year-old Ella points out, it can reach a point of quasi-insulting one’s own children. And it’s bad for mom mojo.
3. Is it about humility?
Melissa thinks it is: “We downplay our parenting skills and successes, turning the conversation around so we don’t have to experience the awkward feeling of ‘I dare not thank her for the compliment because then she’ll think I’m arrogant’ … ‘”
4. Is it about superstition?
I sometimes feel as if participating in the Crappiness Contest is a conversational way to avoid the “evil eye”. If we refrain from saying too many positive things about our little ones/our parenting, there’s a smaller chance of being whacked by some bad juju.
5. Is it about contrariness?
In my own case — maybe. I’m such a contrary archetype to the Stepford Wife that almost everything I say about being a mom and partner comes out as a joke: “If my husband didn’t cook, we’d starve”; “I wish I could work 16 hours a day”. “She can suck a dummy til she’s 12”. And “As a baby, my little one watched a lot of CSI“.
Which one are you? The nonchalant? The comforting? The humble? The superstitious? The contrary? Or, are there elements of all five in your responses?
So what do we do now?
Whatever our motivation for “crappifying”, I’m going to ask that we try to opt out. The research suggests that it’s bad for our kids and there’s a good chance it’s bad for us.
Instead, let’s talk about our efforts and successes. Take ownership of what we’re doing right. Accept compliments when our tots are angelic. Be proud of what we’re molding them into. And above all, be honest with each other. Who’s with me?
Image – Kym Edwardes-Evans