Before becoming a Mother I was never bothered what people thought of me. I was happy, confident, friendly and outgoing. I was not fool enough to think that everyone I met would like me, but I knew I was a good person with my heart in the right place. I had no reason to care what others’ thought. As long as I made myself, my family and my friends happy then everything was fine with me.
Fast forward to having a baby, my self-confidence was shattered. Not in how I looked particularly, but in myself as a mother. I felt like a complete imposter. Who trusted me with the responsibility of keeping this small person alive, teaching him how to be a good human and everything that goes with being a Mother? What qualification did I have that made me capable of the most important job of my life? This was the one thing I had wanted to do most in my life, the pressure I felt was immense.
Reading parenting books only served the purpose of making me feel worse. It seemed whatever I did there was a book to say I was doing it all wrong. I was either ‘spoiling’ my baby, or not giving him enough love. Crying won’t harm him, or crying causes ultimate distress. My ‘routine’ was inconsistent, or my ‘routine’ was too constricting. I was totally in love with my gorgeous boy and wanted to be his perfect Mother. How in all this was I supposed to know what to do for the best? The pressure of the task of being Mum and the weight of this love was all-consuming. My usual logical though process and common sense went out the window.
Then there were the seemingly innocent questions from strangers; Isn’t he small? How is he feeding? Is he a ‘good’ baby? Is he sleeping? These questions seemed loaded with meaning. Each question seemed to strike the core of my insecurities. My baby cried a lot; did that mean he was a ‘bad’ baby, because ‘good’ babies don’t cry?! What kind of Mama can’t get her baby to sleep! In my sleep deprived mind the questions became loaded with meaning. I was oversensitive, my mind was working overtime and I took too much notice of what were really just passing comments. I began to dread conversations with people where I would feel my parental decisions were being questioned.
Sometimes it felt that everywhere I looked I was being judged; breastfeeding in public, how I dealt with my crying baby, how quick I was to responded to his needs. As the years passed by this moved on to how I handled tantrums, how I negotiated and encouraged good behaviour and how I taught my boy right from wrong. Was I being too harsh? Too soft? It seemed whatever I did there was a disapproving eye somewhere watching, judging my every move. As I grew in confidence as a Mum I began to care less. The more parenting situations I had to handle the less I began to care who was watching. I knew my own child best so I dealt with all that parenting threw at me to the best of my abilities and was happy with that. Once my second boy arrived I barely had time to remember my own name, never mind give a thought to the opinion of others. But there was still the odd occasion where I would feel disapproving eyes watching and my confidence as a Mother would become a little shaky. I would remind myself that I was doing my best and none of us are perfect so I would just keep on Mothering in the best and only way I knew how; by trusting my instincts. Ditching the parenting books was my best ever move.
I have read that judgments can be like a mirror image of the expectations a person sets for themselves. Perhaps in my early days as a Mother I was so desperate to do everything ‘right’ I was setting my own expectations too high. When I couldn’t meet the standards I was setting for myself I saw the judgement of others as critical, when perhaps I was just being oversensitive and lacking in confidence. There were times when I felt judged whilst breastfeeding in public, but was then told what a great job I was doing by the very same person I thought was judging me. Similarly, when managing a difficult toddler tantrum another Mum came along and told me “we’ve all been there,” with a sympathetic smile, even though the watching eyes had seemed judgemental just moments before. As my experience and confidence as a Mother grew the judgements of others seemed to abate, but perhaps I was just judging myself less harshly.
Recently I went to a Christening and in the Church there was a notice which read “Don’t worry if your children wander around or make noise. People will turn to look but they will turn because they heard, not because they disapprove.” It struck me how lovely and welcoming this sign was. The essence of the sign is ‘you are not being judged’. Where babies and children are present people will always turn to look. Those looks aren’t always of disapproval; they may be because they heard; they may be because the person is remembering when they had small children; or because the person is hoping for the day they will walk in your shoes. For all the new Mamas out there struggling to find their feet, or the more veteran Mothers having a confidence crisis, remember this and feel your confidence soar.