The thing I’m actually dreading most about back to school is the class WhatsApp groups starting up again,” my friend said as we attempted to grab a cuppa in the midst of child chaos. Well, to be honest, I’m paraphrasing her here a little bit, because I’m not sure the expletives she used to describe the said WhatsApp groups will get past my editor.
Suffice to say, she really, really dislikes them.
“It’s the judgy mothers who really get under my skin,” she continued. “The ones who think they need to be your parenting conscience. I mean look at this. Look at this,” she demanded, holding her phone up to me. I was a little afraid not to comply.
Accompanying a photo of a poster advising that children not be given treats every day was a message from a mother, encouraging her fellow parents to say “no” and put up with a few moments of the child being upset, rather than a lifetime of ill-health. It was not the poster that angered her, rather the “arrogance of the mother with her perfect mother syndrome”, my friend insisted.
Her tone suggested to me that she might not believe this woman to be perfect. “Let her worry about her own kids and the rest of us worry about ours,” she said defiantly.
There are some comments that I have never quite forgotten, and the odd one I’ve yet to forgive
“I’m sorry,” I said stifling a giggle, “but pay no heed. It’s not worth getting worked up about,” I advised, glad that my own days of feeling judged were over.
I had been there and felt it too in the past. There are some comments that I have never quite forgotten, and the odd one I’ve yet to forgive. One wasn’t even intended for me; I think it may have been an effort at camaraderie. “You’ve three children too?” a mother asked, many moons ago, when that was actually the case. “Three is the perfect number,” she continued, confident in her choice and assertion. “Anything more is just ridiculous,” she declared. I was miscarrying what should have been my fourth baby as we spoke.
On another occasion, walking my littles to school (I had six children at this stage), I met another mother. Our sons were friends. Her little boy made a comment referencing how cool he thought it was that my son had so many siblings. She quickly clarified her thoughts on the issue. Turning to her son, she explained, “Look at all that I’m able to do with you and your sister. How much time do you think Jen has for her children?”
It took a few moments to recover from the virtual punch to my gut. In the meantime, realising what she’d said, she made her excuses and quickly scurried off.
Many conversations with countless mothers since and I’ve realised we’ve all felt it or feared it at some stage. From the mother who whispered to me, lest anyone else hear, that she’d just managed to take the soother away from her child who was almost four, to the mother who felt the stress of WhatsApp groups (there they are again) and the inability to make class coffee mornings because of work. “I’m sure they think I’m a crap mother because I can never make them,” she sighed.
Then there was the mother who felt the need to check there was nobody in the vicinity before explaining to me that her pre-school attending child was still being breastfed. She didn’t realise she was speaking to someone who’d breastfed one of her children until he was 3½, because I suppose we tend not to mention those things, you know, in case we’re judged.
I think my superpower may have come with the birth of my seventh child – “the mum-judgment deflector”. I stopped caring what others thought. I was too busy to continue to care and too experienced to let others’ opinions faze me. I’d been there, done that, and bought the T-shirt.
At least that’s what I thought.
Two weeks ago, my fully vaccinated eldest caught mumps. Aside from a frustration that she’d managed to catch it due to a lack of herd immunity, and a fear her also vaccinated brothers might catch it, I was comfortable that I’d done my best to protect her. But I felt an overwhelming urge to let others know it too.
I ignored the niggling feeling that compelled me to blurt out “she was fully vaccinated” at everyone who inquired as to how she was. I convinced myself, I was just stating fact.
I went to the pharmacy to get some painkillers for her.
“My daughter has mumps,” I began.
“Did you not get her vaccinated?” the assistant asked.
And there it was – judgment.
I need a new T-shirt.