The Evolution of Shirley

Wow. What a journey this new blog is taking me on. Again, I’d like to thank everyone who has taken the time to leave comments here on the blog and also on the facebook pages where I’ve invited discussion on the topics I’ve looked at here.

So far, in the four days since I started this adventure, mummykindness.com has had over two thousand views. That just blows my mind. I say this not to toot my own horn but to illustrate the point that maybe, just maybe, I’m on to something here. Maybe my ideas and thoughts are echoed by others. Maybe I can make a difference to people by being open and honest about my own struggles, and helping others to think about being kinder to themselves and to one another.

The Shirley post struck a chord with lots of people and I received some really heartfelt messages from women who have put up with some incredibly hurtful comments from their fellow mums. In fact, the topics they shared with me will undoubtedly be the subject of future posts.

Other comments offered suggestions as to things I might like to consider writing about. This is one of them:

“Rachel – I just wanted to say I love your blog! I am not a mummy – I am a baby care consultant who meets lots of wonderful mummies who have suffered at the hands of Shirley. I have also met lots of Shirleys! What I would like you to consider writing – if you are able to get your head round it – is something from Shirleys point of view. In my experience Shirley is often the most insecure mother out there who is really struggling and life often isn’t how she is portraying it. The only way she can make herself feel adequate is to make those around her feel inadequate. Now I am not saying that is right or even that it’s OK but it might be a perspective you would like to explore. I would be most interested to see what you make of that thought. Bless you! You are raising such an important awareness.”

This really interested me. Several of the comments via Facebook had been from women honest enough to admit to being Shirley at one time or another. I wanted to look in to this further. I was hoping to get some insight into what makes Shirley tick so I posted on two mum forums where I knew I’d get full and frank answers. I asked women to tell me about instances where they’ve been made to feel inferior by another mum, or explain situations where their inner Shirley may have come out.

One mum had a newborn baby so intolerant to lactose that she couldn’t even tolerate breast milk. She was devastated to have to formula feed her baby but genuinely had no choice in the matter. You can only imagine how she must have felt, whilst giving the baby her bottle in public, when a nearby mother loudly voiced the opinion “Look at that poor newborn with rubber in her mouth! I get so angry when I see that! She can’t even be a month old!”. My mind boggles as to how any woman could so openly criticise a fellow mother, especially within earshot, but this actually happened. Of course the poor mother ended up in tears. This goes beyond unintentionally triggering someone else’s insecurities by a country mile.

I was a bit unprepared for one of the first comments I got, though….

“Rachel, with regards to ‘Shirley’, every mother is one. Including you. If a mother tells you her child walked at 15 months and your child walked sooner than that, unless you lie about when your child started walking, you too are being a ‘Shirley'”.

Whaaaat?!! I thought. She has completely missed the point, did she even read the blog post in the first place? I was just about to send her a message highlighting these points when I started thinking about it. Could there be some truth in what she was saying? Whilst I was pondering this, she added to her original point by saying that we are entitled to feel “smug” about our kids from time-to-time. Now this raises something really interesting. Of course a parent is entitled to feel proud of and to discuss their children’s progress. If the fact that someone else’s child walked before mine made me feel bad, that would be my issue and not their responsibility for bringing it up. If we all walked on eggshells around one another for fear of offending the parent whose baby doesn’t walk yet when ours does, play dates would be pretty tricky and conversation would be stifled to say the least. In short, articulating your pride in your children does not a Shirley make.

(I highly recommend you check out this fantastic blog if you’re interested in why it is that we may feel it’s inappropriate to sing our childrens praises).

Another astute mama (I’ll call her Laura) expressed how proud she is of the routine she’s managed to get her daughter in to and the fact that her baby has slept through the night from an early age. Laura worked very hard to do this but worries that she may come across as a Shirley to other mothers for discussing this with them and potentially making them feel inadequate for not having accomplished what she has. I’d say that this is a really good example of how our insecurities (and sleep deprivation, in this case) could easily find us comparing with Laura and finding ourselves to be lacking. But Laura isn’t intentionally trying to make anyone feel bad, far from it. I’m sure if asked she would gladly offer advice and tips to her sleep deprived friends. The issue here is in the mind of the beholder. Another example of how we may read unintended meanings into our conversations, assuming that we’re terrible mothers because our children still wake regularly and someone else’s slept through from eight weeks.

Even as I write this, more and more brave mamas are sending me messages about situations where they’re unsure if they’re being a bit “Shirley”. Kate makes a really interesting point. Her son has been very easy when it comes to sleeping, eating and discipline. But Kate feels like he has to bite her tongue, she feels judged for having it too easy, like she isn’t entitled to contribute advice to her friends because she worries that they’ll think her “smug”. Not having a common complaint makes her feel alientated from her friends.

I think the real point here is our definition of “Shirley”. She clearly represents different things to different mums. Everyone who read the original Shirley post seems to have their own mental picture of who she is, and what she means to them. She is voicing our inner insecurities. Often literally.

My friend H works full time. She doesn’t want to but she has no choice. A stay-at-home mum recently told H that she was damaging her daughter by going out to work each day. H was understandably left feeling devastated and more guilty than ever. But the stay-at-home mum has barely enough money to put petrol in her car. She is struggling to make ends meet. Could it be that her comment to H came from a place of envy? Could it be that she wishes she had a way to contribute financially to her family? This does not excuse the mean and thoughtless thing she said but it does illustrate that her unkind words probably came from the place where her own self-doubt lives. Her Inner Shirley was speaking.

The point I’m making is this. What if we ARE all a bit Shirley? What if Shirley was all in our minds, all along? A bit like Fight Club?! What if she is the devil on your shoulder, causing you to doubt your parenting skills? Making you read judgements where actually none were intended? What if by having more faith in our skills as mummies, we could silence our inner Shirleys? Or to take this logic one step further, what if we harnessed the power of our inner Shirley to ask for help?

Here’s an example.

It’s playdate time again. You turn up at Shirley’s house, and you’re dreading it. You’ve been up all night, pacing the floor with a screaming almost-toddler in your arms. You’re exhausted, emotional and by your own admission you look like you’ve just survived a natural disaster. In a way, you have. You’re asking yourself why you didn’t just cancel the arrangement, but in a toss-up between an afternoon with Shirley and an afternoon listening to the ironing pile calling you, Shirley wins by a narrow margin. Let’s look at how this conversation might go and the meanings that you may very well be reading in to the conversation that weren’t actually even there.

Shirley says: Hello! Crikey! You Look tired!
You hear: Oh God, I look even worse than I thought. She can see right through me. How on earth has she managed to get mascara on both of her eyes? She hasn’t got porridge in her hair either! And look, her socks are matching! How does she do it? I’d sell a little bit of my soul right now for some sleep. Did she REALLY need to point out how rough I look?!!I

This is a prime example of how one comment from Shirley can be like the starting pistol on your very own mental marathon of self doubt. Pointing out that someone looks tired is never the most tactful thing to say. But what if, actually, Shirley was coming from a place of care and concern? What if she doesn’t feel comfortable offering unsolicited advice to you, for fear that you might think her “smug” or a show-off? Or what if she worries you’ll-think-that-she-thinks-that-you’re-doing-it-all-wrong? What if, actually, what we’re all doing is paying too much attention to our Inner Shirley and second guessing each other all the time?

Think about it. Shirley here could have said “Sweetie, I hope you don’t mind me saying this, but you look shattered, is there anything I can do to help? We’ve all been there. I know exactly what it’s like to feel so utterly exhausted that you look at childless friends with envy, knowing that they’ll have no-one to interrupt them just as they get comfy tonight. What can I do to help you?”. Now this could open up floodgates. Shirley could stop being someone you feel is judging you and start to be the person who directs you to the one sleep-training technique that saves your sanity. (For me it was the Baby Whisperer’s Pick-Up/Put-Down technique but I’ll go into that another time).

By listening to our Inner Shirley and paying attention to what she has to say, we can ask for help and guidance. Equally, by thinking a little bit more about the words we use with others, we can affect change. We can be more confident in our own abilities, both as parents as friends.

Most of what we hear when other people speak comes from our own Inner Shirley. There is no such thing as a perfect parent. That I do know. The woman you think of as “Shirley” has undoubtedly got her own issues and most of the battles we’re fighting are with ourselves.

So, in answer the the question posed in my last post: “Are You Shirley” the answer, in all of us, is actually Yes! But some of us are more capable of keeping her in check than others. She is the voice inside us that makes us sometimes doubt ourselves. We (read: I) need to learn to ignore her when she is in our heads causing us to doubt ourselves, or recognise that we need support in certain areas and ask for it.

I was asked to look at Shirley through her own eyes. Turns out her eyes are brown, like mine.

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(Picture credit: Pinterest)

PS.. I’m going to paste some of the Facebook comments below, where is says “what do you think?” as to put them all in the blog would’ve been a bit of a lengthy read.

PPS.. as always, please do leave your thoughts here and share via Facebook if you think a friend would like what’s going on here.

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7 thoughts on “The Evolution of Shirley

  1. As Promised, here are some of the comments the blog has received on facebook.

    I have just read your blog and wanted to commend you on your bravery, honesty, warmth and sharing parts of yourself that many people would not. I work with parents and treat many women (and men) for depression. It is a debilitating and isolating journey and is even more difficult when you have task of caring for little people that are completely vulnerable and, although wonderful, can feel very demanding and overwhelming. I have the privilege of helping parents on their journey to be self- accepting, self- aware and to do the best to nurture themselves so that they can in turn nurture and feel like ‘good enough’ parents to their children. This is your blog – not mine-and feel free to delete this comment once you have read it, but I just wanted to comment on how much I respect and appreciate your willingness to share and to talk about your difficulties in such a way that it might encourage others to feel less alone, share their feelings and difficulties with others, and seek the support from others that they may need. 🙂

    Apart from the step family side of your life I felt like I was reading an autobiography!!! Very beautifully written. Well done x

    This was a beautifully written piece Rachel! So true and can totally relate to your observations about how reading other people’s status updates can give a very one sided picture of life! Also, totally agree that us mums should be nicer and supportive of each other and we should all be kinder to ourselves! Well done and look forward to the next installment!!

    Well done lady. Huge stigma re antidepressants but once people come out about being on them you are amazed how many others do. I’ve never followed a blog before but I will give you a whirl 

    Beautifully written and I am looking forward to reading your next post.

    I say the same about PND. 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 no body will understand it!!! Keep writing you’re brilliant!! The more people talk about it the more those suffering will realise they can get help and they are not alone!

    Hey Rachel.. I too suffered from bad depression before my daughter was born so if totally feel for you and as you’ve had it with kids.. You deserve a medal!! Well done and keep blogging as its wonderful to read xxx

    Rachel, again, another beautifully sincere and accurate piece! I’m sure, if we are all honest, we have all been a ‘Shirley’ at one time or another! Social media makes it even easier now to pass judgement and voice opinions onto faceless people.

    Amazing blog Rachel …u r saying what most think but would never say themselves! Met many many Shirleys since having the kids , glad it’s not just me who has felt like that!

    Rachel, that is fab. I suffered with depresstion years ago, before kids, and it took me 4 years to dig myself out so i totally sympathise. How u have done it WITH kids is very admirable and i am proud of u, even though i dont know u!!! None of my friends understood what i was going through either, i disnt really talk about it. To be honest, dont think anyone would understand it unless they had been through it, and i certainly wouldnt wish it upon anyone!! All the other stuff is so true too – keep up the good work!! xxxx

    Rachel – I just wanted to say I love your blog! I am not a mummy – I am a baby care consultant who meets lots of wonderful mummies who have suffered at the hands of Shirley. I have also met lots of Shirleys! What I would like you to consider writing – if you are able to get your head round it – is writing something from Shirleys point of view. In my experience Shirley is often the most insecure mother out there who is really struggling and life often isn’t how she is portraying it. The only way she can make herself feel adequate is to make those around her feel inadequate. Now I am not saying that is right or even that its ok but it might be a perspective you would like to explore. You are clearly a very articulate and talented writer and I would be most interested to see what you make of that thought. Bless you! You are raising such an important awareness x

    Great blog, very interesting read! We have something in common, depression! Mine lasted for 10 years but after medicine then CBT, I’m a very different person. I’m finally in recovery, 2 years with no black cloud! I still have therapy and i know she still lives within me but i keep her at bay with the CBT.
    love, love, love your Shirley piece. I had a friend who judged everything I did and made me feel so horrible I cried at work in the toilets for 3 hours one day because of her. it wasn’t that she was nasty towards me she just questioned my decisions all the time, made strange comments which made me feel paranoid and looked down on me. It was another friend who made me see the light, she pointed out all her flaws and i realised she was a hypocrite. What hurt the most was that she was supposed to be my friend, you know that loves and supports you through all your faults!
    Great to know that others feel the same about things. I will be sharing your page and will promote your blog when I get the chance through the many projects I work in!
    Keep it up x

    I personally feel that we all have a bit of ‘Shirley’ in us; not necessarily for competitive or malicious purposes but more as a method of reassurance for ourselves as mummies. Comparing your baby with others, and stating your little one’s triumphs and successes is not a way of bragging but perhaps just a way of convincing ourselves that we are doing an ok job. 

    We are all human, and we thrive on success, which often makes us feel happy and positive. This can also be said for our babies. If we are having a ‘Shirley’ moment, then the confidence that shines through us when we have finally got our baby sleeping through the night, or when baby can sit up on their own for example, can also have a positive effect on our babies. This pure feeling of confidence can lead us to forget the detrimental effect our ‘Shirley’ statements can have on other mothers, regardless of the fact that we were actually pulling our hair out less than a week ago, and had probably also been made to feel like utter dog poo by the infamous ‘Shirley’ ourselves only recently. 

    Often, when we are sleep deprived, frustrated with the fact that little one won’t take that first spoon of porridge, or just simply having a rubbish day, the last thing we want to hear is how wonderfully so and so’s little one is doing. However, when we are having an ‘up’ day and are consequently feeling victorious for a number of different reasons, we want to be the ones who feel confident enough to shout from the rooftops about how wonderfully OUR little ones are doing. 

    Personally, I don’t think that ‘Shirley’ is a specific kind of person that aims to make us feel inferior about our role as mummies. in fact, ‘Shirley’ is the little ‘devil ‘that lives on all of our shoulders that aims to make us feel better about the most important job we will ever do in our lives, without taking into account the often very negative effect it can have on others. Unfortunately, when having a ‘Shirley’ moment, the only people we think about are ourselves and our little ones, which can be of a great detriment to all of the other wonderful mummies around us. Perhaps the lesson that needs to be learnt from this is that we all need to turn our ‘Shirley devils’ into kind and caring little ‘Angels’ that can actually help other mummies and bubbies. ‘Shirley angels’ should not impose successes and triumphs upon others to make them feel inferior, but should instead make other mummies feel comfortable enough to be able to ask the questions that they are often too afraid to receive the answers to.

  2. Wow, you know you’re right! I had not thought of it this way but it’s true.
    I have always (for some unknown reason) assumed that all women are judging me, whether it be what I wear, the lack of make-up I have on etc. I know it is my issue and it is the main reason I have very few women friends.
    It had not really crossed my mind that this would transfer over to how I feel other mum’s look at me.
    I will also think more about how I phrase what I say so I (hopefully) won’t be misunderstood by other mums I speak to and be seen in their eyes as a Shirley.

    Isn’t it funny how something can look like a huge battle one minute and then be struck down to size the next! Making Shirley our issue means we can actually deal with it and change how we are made to feel.

    Once again thank you for being so honest.

    • Thanks Katie. It means such a lot to me when what I say resonates with the people who read it! I really think that if we’re all just a bit more confident in ourselves we won’t read in to things others say, or assume other mums are looking down on us. Practicing what I preach is something else altogether of course but that’s what the blog is for! Thanks again x

  3. I’m really enjoying reading your blog. It’s so honest and brave.

    I’ve never suffered from true depression but I’ve had some dark times in my life. I’m an older Mum (I’m 38 and my kids are nearly 3, and 14 months – took a while to find the right man…) and perhaps because of that, and because of my personality (inward looking, reflective, always looking to grow and improve) I’d like to suggest that we all need to take responsibility for our own emotional development and growth, as you clearly have. Maybe we just shouldn’t have play dates with people who, knowingly or unknowingly, make up feel bad. I hope that doesn’t sound harsh, that’s not my intention, but I just want people to be aware that they have a choice of who they spend their time with, I would like to hope?

    The more self aware we are, the more mindful we are of our words to others and the more we are kind to ourselves, as you are so fabulously encouraging us to be, the happier we could be. And also maybe we can be even better parents, by teaching our children emotional intelligence too?!!

    Of course I’ve compared myself to other mums who seem to look amazing and glamourous when I feel decidedly unglamourous (and that night when I painted my nails I felt proud that I was paying myself some more attention, but the next morning by 10am my nails were so chipped I told myself it was OK at this point in my life to not have painted nails!!). However, it’s taken me a while to tell myself these positive messages. The support of my mum, a counsellor I have seen in the past, my wonderful husband – I now feel that I can be ‘my own best friend’. Silly isn’t it, that it takes us so long to figure these things out. And I’m definitely kinder to myself being a Mum 2nd time around.

    Keep blogging, you’re fab!!!!

    Jude xx

  4. So much of the blog resonates with me, and I think being a mum makes all your insecurities bubble to the surface so that your inner Shirley rears her ugly head, or makes you vulnerable to the sharp words of a Shirley. My biggest Shirley was my MIL. Learning to manage those emotions is still a daily struggle and I never stop feeling inadequate in her eyes……

    • Hi SLJ and thanks for your reply. I can totally relate to what you’re saying. I honesty believe that if we were all more confident in our own abilities as parents we’d read far less in to what others said to us. This is a massive work in progress for me. Relationships with MIL’s are a constant topic amongst my friends (and mine may well be reading this…) If nothing else, many of my friends have learned how to be better MILs themselves in future years!

      Thanks for your honesty, I hope that this blog continues to support you, stay strong xx

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