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.
Here is the thing- there are plenty of challenging, tiring and worthy things that a woman can do other than being a mum.
I want to be a mum- we have been trying for a bit, had a miscarriage.
If it doesn’t happen I know I will have still achieved a lot in my life.
Those sorts of statements help nobody.
You’re absolutely right, and I’m so very sorry for your loss. My fingers are crossed for you, and I hope that motherhood finds its way into your life. And as you said, there are so many amazing and challenging adventures in a woman’s life, and tackling any of them is a task worthy of praise. But if having a child is something that you truly want, then I sincerely hope that you get to fulfill that dream.
A million heartfelt yeses to every single wise word you wrote.
With love & understanding,
Thank you so much sweetheart, that means the world to me.
Another aspect of mummy-shaming that really get’s my goat: Some women really want to be mother’s, but for a variety of reasons can’t. Some women are going through fertility treatment and not having success. Some women have lost pregnancies that they wanted. Surely it isn’t hard to imagine how hurtful it is to women in these circumstances when someone goes up to them and say things like “When are you going to have a baby?” or, my personal favourite, “You better hurry up, or it will be too late!”
And as for people who say, “Well, how am I supposed to know if someone is going through that?”. You’re not. You’re NOT supposed to know. That’s just another reason why YOU SHOULDN’T SAY IT TO ANYONE! EVER!
Most definitely. This is an aspect of Mummy Shaming that I’d thought about, but chose not to write about it because it’s not my specific situation. I can’t imagine how heartbreaking it could be to be going through the trauma of a miscarriage, or struggling through fertility treatments, or simply trying to fall pregnant and not being able to. That additional pressure is so unhelpful and so damaging.
And you’re right on the money with that final comment. That’s the whole point, you never know what someone is going through. And it’s not up to them to tell you. And if they DO work up the courage to tell you that they’re struggling, the last thing you should do is shame them.
Hello! I think it was very brave of you to write this post. Like you, I’ve chosen not to have children. In my case, its because I just know I wouldn’t be able to cope with everything that goes with it. I already have enough trouble taking care of myself and dealing with anxiety and other health problems. There are other reasons too, but they’re none of anyone’s business. People tend to make assumptions about others’ choices and personal situation, and it can end up hurting people.
And when I think about it, in ANY situation where someone needs support, the “well, I have it soooo much worse than you” tactic isn’t really helpful. I’m glad to see you standing up and saying that we all deserve better.
Believe me, I stressed out to the MAX about publishing this. I feel much the same about kids. It’s not that I don’t like kids, but some days I have enough trouble keeping myself alive and motoring. The last thing I need is a tiny person who needs my help all the time. Also, kids have just never been something I’ve felt a pull towards. All the other important goals I have, I feel like, a force inside me guiding me towards those things. And I am utterly indifferent about children. I feel that I should be 100% into it if I decide to bring a child into this world.
Absolutely, we deserve better than shame and belittling when we speak out about our struggles and our need for assistance. All of us deserve better than that.
Be strong. Just remember that, sadly, some people chose to procreate because they needed validation. And that is very sad, for the person and especially the child. I agree with you, everyone has their own battle to fight. Their own inner demons they wrestle with on a daily basis. It’s unfortunate that people feel the need to mummy shame. But remember if you feel the urge to panty dance at 5pm in the afternoon with a bottle of wine and watch a movie with loads of swearing, you can. You can because you don’t have children. I am sure some people find children rewarding but to me, freedom to do what I want when I want is rewarding.
Absolutely. Freedom is something that is super important to me. And to me that means the freedom to choose my own path, and the freedom of others to choose the paths which suit them.
It’s true that sometimes, the shaming comes from a place of jealousy. And sometimes for a need for validation. The sad thing is, if we were more compassionate and gave people the chance to speak up when they needed to, when we’d have less need for validation because we could get it just by asking.
What a mean thing for those people to say. Nobody knows how another person feels. I’m often tired for no reason other than I haven’t slept for about 4 nights straight. I don’t have kids, or bad health problems, or a full time job but even I can feel flipping exhausted!
Absolutely. We all get exhausted, and your exhaustion is no less valid than mine or anyone elses. Your life is challenging in an entirely unique way and it’s understandable that you get worn out. And even though I get worn out, I can still offer support and compassion to you when you’re worn out. 😀 It’s a two-way street!
I often get told I “don’t know what love is” because I don’t have children. It devastates me when people think I don’t have a full range of emotion. Or love. Like I don’t love my parents, my husband, my dog, my friends, my friends’ kids.
I’ve also been told “well, you have to be TOTALLY SELFLESS to be a mother.” Don’t even get me started.
Ooooooh, this one makes me really angry. I have no doubt that the love a parent has for a child is completely different to any other kind of love. But then so is the love a person has for their romantic partner. And friendship is unparallelled. And the love we have for pets is unique. As well as familial love. It hurts so much when someone says you “don’t know what love is” because you don’t have children. Like they think I’m some kind of robot with no feelings because I haven’t squeezed out a baby.
And the selfless thing….yeah, I’m not touching that one! It makes me furious too!
Beautifully written and a very real way women become pinned against each other. We shouldn’t be shaming other women because of their choices, we should be supporting each other’s RIGHT to choice. Especially when it comes to mental health in general all people need to take a step back and stop comparing. Stop comparing each other’s struggles, experiences, and stress, because you are SO RIGHT – “every single person you meet is fighting the battle that is life” & “we’re all struggling. we’re all tired. and every person’s struggle is real”.
This take away message can also be applied to age/generations, class/ses, gender identity, sexuality, and ethnicity/race. We’re all human, we are all trying to get by, and generally we are all trying our best most of the time.
Thanks for sharing!
You’re definitely right. Even though I chose to focus on the shame and comparisons that exist between mothers/ childless women, it’s just as true that there are so often comparisons and shame that come up between ages, classes, genders, sexualities and cultures. And it’s definitely true that we could all do with being a little more compassionate to the struggle of those we meet.