It’s no secret that being a mother can be tough. We’re all trying to nurture our children and do the best we can. Often the conditions are not ideal. It can be lonely, unrelenting and heartbreaking. (It can also be joyful, rewarding and rock you to the core… but more of that later).
In my time of being a mother I have received a tonne of encouragement from other mothers. So much support and care. But I have also observed a little something else. It’s a phrase that slips into memes and gossip about other mothers. It is: “you have no idea”.
It’s so damaging. It’s used when it comes to the hardships some mothers experience. I’ve seen it with mothers of large families, implying mothers of two or less have “no idea” how challenging it is to manage many children. I’ve seen it with mothers of twins, implying mothers of singletons have “no idea” how difficult their experience is. I’ve seen it with mothers of special needs kids, implying the rest of the population have “no idea” how hard it is.
And do you know what? Yep, you’re right. I have NO idea.
I certainly have no idea how demanding it is to have more than two kids, or twins, or a disabled child, or any other variable. And I especially have no idea how difficult it is to be a single mum. My goodness, a sainthood is on its way for those mums. Seriously.
But how can I possibly know unless I have lived their particular hardship too?
Here’s what I do have an idea about. I can only imagine how tough it is. I will do my best to understand and give you my compassion.
Newsflash: We’re all different. We all have different histories, different circumstances, different ages, different health statuses, different abilities, different opportunities, different resources, different support. And let’s not forget we all have different kids. Kids who can range from easy to manage to highly demanding. All these factors can make or break a mothering experience.
I’m fairly sure I’ve never met another mother exactly like me. And I don’t expect to. I’m different, but I hope you can imagine my life nonetheless. Let me introduce myself. I’m a proud mother of two beautiful and healthy kids. I have the resources of wisdom, a caring husband, and a roof over our heads. That’s the good bits. I’m also 42 years old, recovering from leukaemia, with post-traumatic stress disorder, without family support, and riddled with health challenges. That’s the hard bits. But I’m damn lucky to even have children at all. I’m more than grateful for the good bits. They ease the pain of the hard bits. But at no point do the hard bits give me the right to make another mother feel worse about their situation.
In return I ask for no judgment about my life. Please don’t minimize my hardships by saying I have no idea. Please don’t post memes saying I have no idea. And please please please don’t give me ‘why can’t you be more positive’ advice about my hardships. Everyone has different abilities to cope and different layers of complexity.
So why do mothers feel the need to express the ‘you have no idea’ thing? I actually don’t think martyr medals are the goal. I think it may have something to do with not feeling heard or acknowledged. I think it may have something to do with feeling unsupported. And it may have something to do with just how traumatic some of these experiences can be. It’s very difficult for anyone to know how to express themselves after trauma.
I am not condemning any person who has voiced this. Because I have too. I am guilty of using this phrase while venting about other mothers. And I am certain I have said it a gazillion times in my head over the last 6 years. I think it’s natural when we’re feeling so overwhelmed. And with motherhood it’s so easy to compare ourselves with other mothers. So easy. But it must stop.
There are no winners in the hardship competition. In fact, if we all pulled out of the competition there would be no competition. Hey mothers, we’re on the same side!
Listening to each other is soothing. Acknowledging each other’s pain is healing. Being on the same side is so much more fun than competing. And all those hardships? Maybe they won’t feel so hard if we’re supporting each other.
We are mothers. Nurturing is our gig. It’s our common ground. By definition we are caring and empathic human beings. And we can extend our care beyond our children.
Dear other mothers, please accept my apologies for thinking you had no idea. I hope you will accept the compassion I am sending your way.