I got shamed at the gym a few weeks ago. Not Body shamed or Fat shamed. I got Mummy shamed. After class, I was chatting with a group of women I work out with, and I admitted that I almost hadn’t made it to yoga class that day because I was feeling so exhausted. One of my workout buddies exclaimed, “Ness, until you have kids, you don’t know what it means to be tired”. The others nodded in agreement and I felt, well, shitty about myself. And then on the walk home that shitty feeling broke up into shame, anger and frustration.
Now it’s true that I don’t have kids, and I don’t know what it’s like to be a mother. Raising children is a task that is impossible for me to even imagine. I can’t really fathom how tiring it is or how challenging it can be, and I’m not here to suggest that motherhood is anything other than trying and difficult (and probably also ultimately rewarding).
But here’s the thing: in spite of me not having spawned a brood of offspring, I definitely know what it means to be tired. I work full time. I live on my own and run my own household. I support myself financially. I deal with chronic mental illness. I keep up family and social obligations and occasionally do some dating. I’m busy, I’m challenged and at times I’m fucking exhausted. I know all too well what it feels like to be tired.
Thinking back to that day at the gym, I recall how small I felt. I’d admitted to this group of women that I’d struggled to get to the gym that day, that I was struggling in general, and instead of being met with support and encouragement, I was made to feel shame. Like my efforts were less than theirs because I’m not a mother. Like my tiredness wasn’t as important as theirs because I don’t have a family at home to take care of.
This isn’t the only time I’ve ever been Mummy shamed. In fact, it’s happened to me a whole bunch of times. And in each instance I’ve felt invalidated and unimportant. Looked down upon for my choice not to bring children in this world. And that really sucks.
Here’s a big truth: every single person you meet is fighting the battle that is life. And they’re fighting it in their own way. We each have a unique set of hurdles and struggles, and to each person those struggles feel entirely real and sometimes overwhelming. From the outside, an observer might think that any given individual’s burdens are simpler and lighter than their own. But to the person carrying them they are heavy and complex.
Mummy shaming hurts. It hurts the person being shamed and it hurts the person doing the shaming. It adds fuel to the flaming idea that a woman’s life isn’t complete until she’s had children. It invalidates the choices of those who decide that kids aren’t for them. It dampens the ecstatic notion that a woman can choose a life that suits her, rather than just being what she’s “supposed” to be. It perpetuates the idea that women need to be snarky and competitive to each other, rather than being supportive and compassionate. It creates situations where we aren’t comfortable asking for help, or speaking out when we are struggling for fear of being stamped down or made to feel unworthy of the help we need. And it creates a further divide between those who have chosen to have a family and those who have not.
We’re all struggling. We’re all tired. And every person’s struggle is real. Every person is deserving of a kind ear and an encouraging word. So let’s do away with shaming and just give the support and kindness that we can. If a person says “I’m really worn out” you can offer your support. And then if you need to, you can say “I’m worn out too” and tell them about your struggles and get the support you need. If we all give that kindness and support and stop shaming, the world can be a much better place.