1 August 2014, by Tan Yi Lin
I checked in with a colleague recently on how she was coping with the perennial juggling act of handling career and motherhood.
After exchanging tales on how things were going for each other, she wrapped up the short sharing session with, “Being a mother is not easy huh? Take care. Remember, we mothers can do anything – or rather, that’s what we must believe and remind one another. This is how we can encourage one another.”
That has to be one of the NICEST things that a fellow mother has ever said.
That one statement alone summed up the best things that any mother can give to another: Acknowledgement. Empathy. Encouragement.
In contrast, how many times have we received the following from fellow women whom we thought would be in the best position to understand what we are going through?
Questioning personal choices…
Issuing unsolicited advice…
Drawing comparisons with other mothers…
As a new mother, I used to share openly with all and sundry about my new motherhood experiences. Almost 3 years on, I’ve whittled my audience down to only a close circle of girlfriends whom I know would truly understand how this motherhood gig was going for one another – my tight trio of IVF girls, a few colleagues who share my life as a working mum and of course, my own mother and mother-in-law.
These women are not my sisters in motherhood because we share the same ideas. We are close because we listen and empathise with one another, and acknowledge views and parenting decisions that differ from our own. Some of us did total breastfeeding, some gave our babies formula. Some co-sleep with their babies, others don’t. Some believe in the benefits of an early start in pre-school, the rest choose to let their kids start school later. Some send their children to music, language and other enrichment classes, some don’t see the need to. In short, we can agree to disagree when it comes to parenting decisions.
The key thing is to keep an open mind and our exchanges, open. There is nothing worse than uninvited comments that draw lines, build walls and make people clam up.
Raise your hand if you have been on the receiving end of any of the following:
“But YOU have…”
Oh, I get this all the time simply because I live with my parents, who in turn have a helper, and they help me in caring for the girls. Once, soon after Claire was born, a friend enquired how Dan and I were coping with an 18 month-old and a newborn. “We’re doing okay with the baby care,” I replied, “but managing 2 kids really sucks up all our time – we hardly have time for each other.”
The immediate response I got was, “But YOU have your parents to help you. So-and-so have to handle 2 kids on their own, you know!”
Well, yes, being the sole caregivers is undoubtedly harder, but a simple acknowledgement of our sharing – instead of drawing comparisons with “worse off” parents – would have been much appreciated.
While my parents, in-laws and extended family have been extremely supportive in our parenthood journey, Dan and I are still the key caregivers. We take on many responsibilities ranging from significant ones like education and discipline, to day-to-day tasks such as washing milk bottles. While we are immensely grateful for the help that we have, statements like these come across as putting down our parenting contributions and efforts.
Mention that kids’ stuff is taking over the house and the response is “But YOU have so much space. So-and-so has to squeeze everything into an apartment!”
Mention that you find some baby items expensive and the reaction is “But YOU already don’t have to spend money on accommodation. So-and-so has to pay for their own house!”
Uhhmm. Okaaaay. Firstly, people may have other types of financial commitments that they choose not to talk about. And secondly, just because someone doesn’t openly exalt the heavens on all social media platforms for each and every blessing received, it doesn’t mean that they aren’t counting them – like we do: quietly, deep in our hearts.
“You think this is bad? Just wait till…”
Ugh. Nothing worse than a know-it-all tone to shut down conversations.
I acknowledge that even the most unwanted advice usually stems from good intentions. Still, there’s a way of offering advice without coming across as being overbearing. I learnt how to do this graciously when relating Coco’s eczema situation to a friend, who kindly asked, “Would you be open to bringing her to this doctor?” When making suggestions, she also started her sentences with, “Could I recommend…”
What a gracious way of offering advice!
“Well, if this is tough, imagine how more difficult things are for full-time mums”
Oh? The last I checked, I am a full-time mum – just like every mother out there. We never stop mothering. Not for a single minute. We may not spend every waking (and sleeping) hour physically with our children but that doesn’t relegate us to being part-time mums. I think of mothers as rivers. We are always running a course known as ‘motherhood’. Sometimes, we meander off to do other things. But like how a river flows to the sea, we single-mindedly keep running in the direction that our role as a mother points us to. No matter which path it chooses, every river runs deep – deep with love.
Deep down, all mothers are the same. It just takes 3 simple words to bring us together: Acknowledgement. Empathy. Encouragement.