Are you Shirley?

I thought writing my first post would be difficult. I was baring my soul and sharing my darkest secrets. The thought of it was so scary. But actually, writing it down was easy. It just kind of wrote itself, really. But writing this, my second post. Now this is daunting. Now I feel the weight of expectation.

You see, the feedback and comments I received after posting my Getting Acquainted piece 72 hours ago have been incredible and eye opening in so many ways. People, lots of people as it happens, agree with me and they understand. They more than understand. They are living with the depression I admitted to having in my last post. They agree that comparing their lives with Facebook images of picture-perfect parenting is making them feel inferior. They feel pressure to compete with or to fit into cliques of mums. They often feel inadequate.

Here are some of the comments you kind and lovely women have left, here and on Facebook :-

“I can totally relate to your observations about how reading other people’s status updates can give a very one sided picture of life! Also, I totally agree that us mums should be nicer and more supportive of each other and we should all be kinder to ourselves!”

“There is a huge stigma regarding antidepressants, but once people come out about being on them it’s amazing how many others take them too.”

“I suffered with depression years ago, before kids, and it took me four years to dig myself out. None of my friends understood what I was going through either, I didn’t really talk about it. To be honest, I didn’t think anyone would understand it unless they had been through it.”

“I suffered in silence. I didn’t even tell my parents. My mothers empathetic response would have been “get over it”. I wish I could have. That was all I wanted!!! It’s a dark time and now I’m through it I feel so sad I’ve missed out in those years with my kids (hopefully they were too young to remember it!)! Unless you’ve been through it I also believe nobody will understand. The more people talk about it the more those suffering will realise they can get help and they are not alone!”

“I think as mummies we struggle with feelings of being inadequate regularly. The honesty of your blog is refreshing.”

” I feel like you’ve gone into my brain and written about my life. Describing PND and being ‘in recovery’ is the the way I always describe it, too. It was lovely reading this and knowing there are others out there feeling the same, so thank you.”

We’re all different, with our own unique set of strengths, weaknesses, and let’s face it, insecurities. There is no “one-size-fits-all” solution to overcoming our issues. But I think I know where we can start and it’s quite simple, really. We can be kinder to ourselves and kinder to each other.

I know I’ve said this before, and I’ll undoubtedly repeat myself countless times when it comes to this point. Here’s an example…

You’re on a play date at someone’s house and your baby has just started to walk. Suddenly, your little explorer has a whole new dimension of things to touch and they’re all about a foot and a half off the ground. At coffee table height. You enter the lovely, tidy room (your house is never as tidy as this) and your heart sinks a bit. Oh look, you think, a coffee table. With lots of pretty and fragile things on it. You can see this ending badly. So you speak to your hostess, and ask her if she minds you moving the breakables out of the reach of your newly vertical offspring. A straight-forward request, you think. You’re not prepared for what happens next. Your hostess frowns, tilts her head to the side and utters these fateful words:

“Oh! Will he touch them, then?”

Your mind begins to race. Should your one year old child already know not to touch breakable things? How on earth has she managed to train her child to obey so quickly? Will your child ever listen to you? She must be a much better parent than you, surely? Look how tidy her house is! And she is still breast feeding, and you’re not. And last time you got together with this woman she told you the reason your child doesn’t sleep through the night is that you didn’t breastfeed him for long enough! Aaaaargh!!

We’ve all encountered her. The Mother Who Makes You Feel Like Shit. For ease of reference, we’ll call her Shirley (just because I don’t have a mummy friend of that name so there’s no danger of offending someone). Let’s deconstruct this situation for a moment. You’d got together with Shirley before. She had made comments previously that brought you down. But still you got together with her again. We’re all guilty of this and I’m not sure why…. If it was a date-date and not a play date, there would be no second chances if the guy you went to dinner with was inappropriate, rude and offensive, would there? There’s a lesson there if you think about it.

But anyway, we were talking about kindness. We can maybe practice some kindness to our fictional Shirley here, giving her the benefit of the doubt by assuming she was just tactless with her words. But let’s be honest. We’re grown ups. We need to take responsibility for our words and think about the affect they can have on others, especially mums, who if the responses to my last post are an accurate depiction, are a very vulnerable bunch.

That being said, we also need to practice some kindness to ourselves. In an ideal world, we’d avoid “Shirleys” like the plague, but that’s not always going to be possible. So, when a Shirley makes a comment, you have a choice. You can decide to let your inner “Anxious Annie” run rampage. You can let yourself believe that you’re a terrible mum, with uncontrollable offspring, a filthy house, deficient boobs… (((insert your own complex here))). Or you can practice some kindness to yourself. As I said in my “about” page, you can’t control what others say, but you can control how you react to it. You can have faith in the fact that you are absolutely best parent for your child. That you know them better than anyone else. That one day they’ll know not to touch stuff that they’re not supposed to, but for now, you’re there to protect them (and the innocent ornaments that inconsiderate Shirleys leave within their reach). In case you missed it the first time, I’ll say it again. You are absolutely the best mummy for your child. Please let that sink in.

Now, one final thought for you. I’ve talked a lot about Shirley here, and what we can do to control our reactions to the thoughtless, insensitive or judgemental things she might say or do. But consider this. Could you be Shirley? Without even realising it? This is why I’d like us all to practice speaking with kindness to each other. Remember the comments at the start of this post and think about whether the person you’re speaking to could have just written one. I try to see the good in people and I sincerely hope that the Shirleys out there aren’t intentionally trying to make the rest of us feel inferior. Let’s choose kind words, for our inner voices as well as our outer ones.


I’d love to hear your thoughts on this, please do leave me a comment if you can.

Much love

Ps.. I’ve now set up a Facebook page to accompany my blog. Please hit “like” to share the mummy love with your friends.


9 thoughts on “Are you Shirley?

  1. As a 3rd time recovering pnd’er I hear you… I am reading this and thinking maybe I should start a blog but it wouldnt be so different from this one… I am Jewish and very in touch with my Jewishness. Part of me would love to say that helped but in truth it didn’t. Especially when societal pressure is to have lots of children but don’t ever mention the pnd word… As for Shirley so often she is a family member and that is when the real problem is… Doomed if you meet up doomed if you don’t! Thank you, thank you and thank you

    • Hello Blessed Mum and sorry it’s taken do long to reply. I really appreciate your message. It’s true that some negative influenced are easier to steer clear of than others, that’s for sure! I’m hoping that one day we’ll all be confident enough in our own abilities as parents that we’ll be able to laugh off criticism of thinly veiled judgements from “friends” or relations. High hopes I know but I do think the solution is within. I’ll just keep looking!! Thanks again xx

  2. Beautifully written, and hugely thought-provoking. I have suffered from depression (post-natal and bog-standard) and unusually, I know, have never had a problem talking about it – in fact I’ve noticed people are more uncomfortable hearing about it than I am speaking about it.

    On a different note … last year I went to a one-day seminar on parenting twins, and was taught a mantra that has absolutely stuck with me: “‘Good enough’ parenting is good enough.” With that once sentence I was able to let go of so many of my complexes and feelings of inadequacy, and realised I don’t have to strive to be the “perfect” mother. I just have to be a good enough mother for my children. Whenever I’m doubting my parenting skills I try to remind myself of this mantra – my own little act of self-kindness.

    Thank you for your beautiful, honest and refreshing writing. Please keep going! xxxxx

  3. Really well written and a joy to read, thanks Rachel. I think I’ve been there on both fronts if I’m honest… we do all need to be more supportive of one another and think more sometimes before we offer out pearls of wisdom. I’m very lucky, I have an excellent circle of mummy friends from NCT – not sure how I would have survived the last 18 months without them!

  4. Thank you for starting this blog.
    I spent the first year of my little monkey’s life drowning under a wave of my own anxieties about not being a good enough mother.
    It is only in his second year that I have started to take time for myself and relax a little.
    Seeing a therapist once a week has also helped me see that my anxieties are just me judging myself and I should calm that little voice in my head down and not be so hard on myself. (Along with a whole other heap of issues from my teenage years, which I won’t go into!)
    I haven’t made any additional friends since having a baby and I am the first in my main circle of friends to have one. I have often found that any mum & toddler groups I have ventured to have been very clique which I have hated and not at all welcoming 😦 (Clearly I’m going to the wrong ones!!)
    I am hoping this Blog will help me to calm down about being so ‘perfect’ and realise that all mums struggle with the same anxieties and if we only shared them with each other we could get rid of them!!

    Thank you again and I am looking forward to reading further posts πŸ™‚

  5. Pingback: Complimentary Thinking | Mummy Kindness

  6. Wow!this post really gets you thinking! No one should ever feel inferior, especially as a mother, we all hit mothering and baby milestones at different times but we all get there in the end! Hooray for mummies and be kind! πŸ™‚

  7. Hi Mummy Kindness – Interesting post x I also suffered PND with my eldest daughter and it can be a very lonely and long journey to recovery. Supporting each other is so very important. There are indeed many Shirleys out there but I think there really is a bit of Shirley in us all. Maybe not knowingly or intentionally but we all judge each other and how we parent our children. It’s human nature. I think as you say, it’s actually more about accepting that none of us are perfect, we are all trying our best given the circumstances we find ourselves in and it’s maybe more about building our own confidence up so that those “Shirley” moments don’t really affect us. There is no such thing as a “Perfect” Mum. I do also leave certain objects/ornaments at my toddler’s height so I can teach her that not everything is a toy to be grabbed so that if we visit someone without kids she knows that not everything on show is for her. It is in no way about being an inconsiderate Shirley trying to trip your LO up – just thought I’d mention it πŸ˜‰ xx

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