Confessions of a self-conscious parent

I wrote an article for Real Parenting recently. I don’t usually put my articles on the blog, preferring to keep it a seperate space from other writing I do, but this piece was a personal one.

You see, I was admitting to something I haven’t ever admitted to before.

I thought it may touch a chord with other new parents, so I’ve decided to post it here too. I’m hoping other people will ‘fess up to make me feel better. So read on and tell me – are you a self-conscious parent?

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As parents we put a lot of pressure on ourselves to get things right. Too often we worry that others are judging our parenting skills, and sadly sometimes they are. Molly Forbes tells us how one throwaway comment from a stranger made her an overly self-conscious parent.

I’ll never forget my first trip to the supermarket with my daughter. It was terrifying and incredibly stressful. Not least because I ended up carrying her (she hated to be put down as a newborn) while I tried to lug around my carrots and nappies in a heavy basket, but also because she didn’t stop crying.

The whimpers started in the vegetable aisle and continued through the meat section, so that by the time I’d eventually struggled to the checkout we were in full-blown screaming mode. It was horrendous. And to make matters worse, I was told off by the woman behind the till. “Your baby’s hungry”, she said, as if I wasn’t keenly aware of that fact. I felt like a terrible mother.

And from that day on, I have been a self-conscious parent. If my baby cries at baby and toddler group, I panic, thinking I’ll be judged as an incompetent mum. If we’re out for lunch at a restaurant and my baby-led weaned baby makes a mess, I worry that people will wonder why I’m not spoon-feeding her. Will they think I don’t know what I’m doing? Everyone else always seems so “in control” – what if they think I’m not up to the job?

Turns out I’m not alone. When I confessed to my friend that I sometimes felt I was being “watched” in my new role as a mum, to see how I was coping, she admitted she felt the same. Caroline is one of the most confident mums I know, so it came as a surprise to find out she didn’t always feel that way.

“I like to sit back and watch my 3 year old explore”, said Caroline. “But I think I often let him do things other parents may disapprove of, like peering into the water in a canal to look at his reflection. He leans right over the side, but I know he won’t jump or fall in, because I trust him to know his boundaries and what’s safe. I know this may be an unconventional approach to some parents.”

Caroline admitted this approach can sometimes make her feel like the odd one out amongst her friends who are parents, “This means I’m always worrying that other people may think I’m a bad mother, because I let my son do things they may not let their child do.”

For Caroline, these crises of confidence have got worse as her son’s grown older. “I think I was more confident when he was a baby. Now that he’s growing up and wanting to explore his world more I find there are bigger differences in the choices I make as a parent to that of some of my friends. This makes me really self-conscious at times. I know a lot of this is probably my own perception, but the odd comment from other people doesn’t always help.”

Consultant Clinical Psychologist and Parenting Expert, Claire Halsey, says it’s actually pretty normal to feel self-conscious as a parent, “There can be a real sense of being judged even though it is highly likely that you’re not. Being offered well-meaning advice can be seen as suggesting you’re failing when actually it’s usually supposed to be a helping hand.”

Claire puts much of this down to the high expectations many parents place on themselves, “Parents do place a lot of pressure on themselves to be the parent they see in the adverts or soft focus magazine shoots looking dotingly at their baby. When ‘real life’ is a mix of sleeplessness and worry about topics from when to wean to where to get good child care, so it’s easy to feel like you’re not doing too well. In fact this is all entirely normal.”

So when does the self-consciousness and lack of confidence stray from the realms of “normal” to “problem”? “While it’s entirely normal to struggle at first with a new baby, it’s time to seek advice if you’re feeling in a low mood for more than a few weeks after the birth,” recommends Claire. “It is always wise to seek advice and support, no matter whether the difficulty is large or small.”

As a new mum, I’m aware that a lot of my feelings of self-consciousness were completely normal. I was getting used to a huge new responsibility, juggling breastfeeding with sleep deprivation and a new role at home. But instead of being honest with other friends who had babies, I was eager to appear that I was taking it all in my stride. This meant when conversations about sleep patterns or development came up, I’d often find myself telling white lies, to “keep up” with the other mums. I didn’t want to be the one to be left behind.

Looking back, I wish I’d just been honest. If I’d have admitted my daughter wasn’t a brilliant sleeper, maybe those mums who claimed their newborn was sleeping through the night would have come clean about the odd white lie too. According to Claire, honesty is the best policy when it comes to parenting, “While it can appear every other parent has everything under control, underneath they are probably just as uncertain and lacking in sleep as you are. It’s definitely most helpful to let on if you’re unsure of how to handle some parenting situations, as your health visitor or friends with babies are your best options for reassurance or new ideas. “

Luckily for me, trips to the supermarket no longer bring me out in a cold sweat. That could be partly because I’ve never ventured back to the shop where I was “told off”, but also because I now know all the other parents there are probably too busy trying to keep their own children happy to notice my daughter throwing a tantrum at the deli counter. And if I get an attack of self-consciousness, I’ll just have to remember it’s probably in my head. Afterall, I’ve got through the first 14 months of being a mum just fine, so I must be doing something right.

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21 Comments

Filed under Baby stuff, Being a mum, Family

21 responses to “Confessions of a self-conscious parent

  1. DSW

    You are definatley not alone!!! I think all new mums are self conscious – I remember my dd not behaving very well at a development check when she was 2 years old and the nurse telling me that the reason she didn’t behave was because I worked full time!!! Needless to say we didn’t go back, however these situations will always arise and as long as you and your child are happy – who cares what anyone else thinks!!! 🙂 You have a lovely happy baby and you are a happy mum and that is all that matters!

  2. DSW

    Oh and you did well not to retort to the rude lady in the supermarket!!! I don’t think I would have been as refrained!

    • I know, looking back I wish I’d said something rather than muttering an apology under my breath and rushing out of the supermarket, only to burst into tears in the car. She probably didn’t even mean in it in a “bad” way, but as a sleep-deprived new mum whose hormones were raging, I took it in the worst way possible!

  3. Don’t be so hard on yourself. I know I am secretly happy when I see someone else’s child misbehaving, it reassures me that it’s not just mine! Is that wrong?

    All we can do is our best. It doesn’t matter what anyone else thinks. Xx

  4. Well done for coming out as a normal, doubting mum!

  5. I had some numptie tell me i should give my daughter sweets to her shut up.

    Now i’m not allowed in that store for blowing up at the idiot (she was crying as she sad as she could not understand why school was closed.)

  6. Babies are all different, they’re just people ( but littler). My first daughter ( who is now 23) didn’t stop crying as a baby, wouldn’t be put down at all. In fact, I think I probably carried her around for the first two years. Turns out she has a really colicky tummy that she still suffers from as an adult. She also had a very traumatic birth which I believe makes a big difference to how calm the baby is afterwards. My second baby who was born in the blink of an eye, was totally different. She was calm and contented and gurgly and would happily just sit /lay where you put her .
    As parents we need to realise that other people don’t matter. Sod what they think, the people who really matter are our children and our children need us to be confident as they look to us to feel safe and secure. Babies, like dogs, live in a world of energy. They need us to give out calm assertive energy states to feel safe. If we doubt ourselves, anxiety creeps in and baby feels insecure too.
    So your baby cries and you have to hold her all the time… you’re doing what your baby needs. Stop doubting yourself and trust your instincts.
    Thumb your nose at the doubters. They can go and look after their own.

    • Brilliant advice there, thank you. I think instinct is such an important thing when you are a parent. It’s what has got me through the first year intact! The hard thing is when your instinct may tell you to do something different from what another parent or family member or friend would do themselves. As a new mum, it can be difficult to trust your instincts are “right” and go against advice from other people if you disagree. I always try to bear in mind that I’M F’s mother, and so I’M the one who knows her better than anyone else. This has helped so far!

  7. I had these feelings, I think all mothers do. Mine developed into PND & I felt I wasn’t coping for the first year. Unwanted parenting advice from strangers in the street used to make me feel like a failure. It took me a long time to build my confidence.

    • I’m really pleased you’ve managed to build your confidence back, it’s such a difficult time when you become a new mum isn’t it? I think what Claire (the psychologist) said is interesting – to always seek help even if you’re uncertain you actually need it. The worst thing about PND seems to be the guilt mums can sometimes feel when they’re suffering, so that they end up trying to hide it because they’re worried other people will think they’re a bad mum.

  8. “While it can appear every other parent has everything under control, underneath they are probably just as uncertain and lacking in sleep as you are.”

    A thousand times this. Nobody has it all together, and if somebody says they do, they’re boring and they’re a liar.

  9. When the little man was about seven months old, we were queueing up in a supermarket (why does it always happen in a supermarket?!) and he was enjoying experimenting with his voice – not crying, just seeing what sounds he could make. As I was paying, an elderly man who was sitting, reading the paper and waiting for his wife to finish packing their shopping spat out “shut up” in our direction. I don’t think he meant me to hear but unfortunately for him I did and I was filled with a hot flush of indignation. I can understand that a baby making rather loud sounds with his voicebox might grate on the nerves but we weren’t in a library or a restaurant so he was completely out of order – and I told him so. To quote – “Don’t tell him to shut up, he is just experimenting with his voice.” And as I swept away – “Learn some manners.” I am so pleased I actually managed to have my say as I usually work out what I should have said half an hour after the event. I suppose it might have been my maternal instinct to protect and defend but it felt good. Despite that, the next time I was in the supermarket and the little man started getting chatty again, a wave of panic came across me that we might be disturbing others. It was a horrible feeling as it made me feel like an unwanted outcast – that we should stay inside and do not disturb until he has at least learnt his social graces. I would have liked that elderly man to think back to when he had young children and whether he would have wanted their mother to be made to feel the same. I think not. You are not alone Molly!

    • Why is it always supermarkets! What a horrid man. I’m glad you had your say – looking back there are a thousand responses I could have made to the lady at the checkout but I was too shocked, upset and tired to think of one at the time. Not to mention I was desperate to get back to the car and feed my baby. I don’t think people realise the impact of a throwaway comment. I’m sure if they did they wouldn’t say it!

  10. I agree, everyone should just be upfront and just admit that most aspects of parenting are just a mare! What’s not on is when you fess up to finding something hard and another parent refuses to do the same. That’s called unfair trading and friends like that should be ditched immediately!

    • “Unfair trading” – love it! I suppose it’s the competitive side of parenting coming to the fore. Or the desperation to make others think you’re finding the whole thing “easy”, because that makes you a better mum.

  11. Nikki

    Just stopping by to say hi and love your blog! Your posts are funny and so true! We’re all drowning in a big pond and trying our best to stay afloat xxx

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