I’m the only parent struggling right now.  Everyone else seems to be fine.  Parenting is such a challenge and I’m part of the minority of people who feel this way.  Why don’t my children behave like other peoples’ children?  If I told people how I really feel, what would they think of me?

How often do you feel this way?

Though it’s not often (or not as often as when I was a new mother), when I’m at a low ebb, it’s easy to give over to these negative thoughts.  When I’m thinking like this, I convince myself that it’s only me who feels this way.  Down the rabbit hole I go, where reason and logic hold no purchase.


Last week I wrote a post about trying to get out the door with young children, and I noticed a recurring theme in the comments:

“All the other mothers look calm and I feel frazzled.”

“Of course it goes without saying that many of us struggle to get places on time with children yet I’ve found the school gates to be a place of smiles and ‘good morning’s’ rather than mothers like me who clearly look like their morning has NOT started well!”

“Somehow to know that we all struggle some days is comforting….”

So it’s not just me.  I’m not the only one who wonders why other mothers seem to have such ordered lives, when mine is a whirlwind.  I’m not the only one who thinks that the neighbours can hear me when I shout, and what must they think of me, because of course they never shouted at their children.  I’m not the only one who wishes my house could be a little tidier, a little cleaner, like the other mothers I know.

I’m not the only one making comparisons and coming out at the bottom.

But then again, I’m part of the conspiracy to build the Potemkin village that my mothering life is ordered, tidy and calm.  I went to a friend’s immaculate house a few weeks ago, and when she came to mine a few days later, I confess I tidied, ran the vacuum around and cleaned the bathroom sink.  I hoped that I’d pulled off the illusion that it’s always like this, not covered with a layer of crunchy detritus that sticks to the soles of your feet, as it normally is.  Then, a day or so later, I was stomping out the front door with smoke coming out of my ears, only to come face to face with my neighbour, whereupon I quickly re-arranged my face, turned on a smile, and when asked how I was I said, “I’m fine, thanks, and you?”

So there’s a pretence that must be maintained.  I’m fine.  You’re fine.  We’re all fine.  We all arrive at the school gates, having had a frustrating morning, and we turn on the smiles and pretend that everything’s jolly.  “How you doing? Alright.”  I love that in south Wales, they not only ask you how you are, but provide the answer as well.  “Yeah, alright” is the only expected and appropriate answer.

If you say, “No, I’m terrible,” then you’re a moaner.  If you say, “Actually I’m having a brilliant morning” then you’re boasting.  You can’t win.  You can’t be real.

But I want us to be real.  I want us to be honest.  That honesty starts with what we say to ourselves.  There is no utility in telling ourselves that everyone else is fine.  Maybe I should whisper it because it’s really rather counterculture to say it, but they’re not fine.  They’re human, just like you.  I want us to believe in the fact that we’re in this together.  Some parenting moments are wonderful and some are downright challenging.  Some are mundane, some are mind-numbing.  Let’s free ourselves from the artifice that undermines connection and awaken to the fact that we’re not all that dissimilar.  Let’s make ourselves vulnerable and look one another in the eye.  Look a little closer and see yourself in those eyes.  Then there really will be a cease fire in the so-called Mommy Wars.

Like the proverbial swans, even though everything seems smooth and graceful on the surface, underwater we are all paddling like mad and secretly hoping nobody notices.  Or maybe it’s just me.

(See? There I go again.)

©Lisa Hassan Scott, 2013.

Thank you to Lori Pickert for inspiration.  See her brilliant post about renovating habits of mind here.

Photo credit: By Frank Vincentz (Own work) [GFDL (http://www.gnu.org/copyleft/fdl.html) or CC-BY-SA-3.0 (http://creativecommons.org/licenses/by-sa/3.0)], via Wikimedia Commons.

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Keeping up appearances

28 thoughts on “Keeping up appearances

  • 11/03/2013 at 9:34 pm

    Thank you for a thought-provoking post, Lisa. It reminds me of something similar I experienced a while ago, and wrote about less eloquently, where my boy and I had a really joyful hour or so in a coffee shop, in the midst of what was otherwise quite a tough time for us. I had this moment of clarity that we must, from the outside, have looked so very sorted and happy, and I looked calm and in control and well-rested, and all of that did feel true to me at that point – but no one seeing it would have known how atypical this felt at the time, how much it was in contrast with the struggling and uncertainty that was happening on so many other occasions. It helped me to realise (durh!) that the other mothers who I saw looking so perfect and together might just, perhaps, also be having a good day when I saw them, and might have bad days too. .

    • 12/03/2013 at 10:45 am

      I experienced something similar but different in a coffee shop when my youngest, now 4, was an infant. I was out with all 3 kids to get the oil changed in the car, and we’d walked over to wait at a coffee shop. I was exhausted, of course, having a teething baby and two other kids (neither older than 7) besides, but I was feeling pretty good about myself. The car chore was getting done, the boys had cookies, I had a coffee… but I must have looked tired, and a college student (we live near a uni) must have interpreted that as angry or upset, because she got up from her table, came over to mine, ignored all of us except for my middle child, knelt down in front of him and said, “If you were MY boy, I’d be SO happy.” It was so odd and so judgmental. I no longer felt good about getting 3 kids out of the house to get the oil changed and having everybody happy while waiting. I felt judged, and judged harshly, just because I was a mom out with my kids and had neglected to, what, put on my “on” face? (I don’t even *have* one of those!) It upset me so much at the time I couldn’t even figure out the words to share it on my then-blog, and it still bothers me. I felt like every time I left the house I had a target on my back, simply because I am a mother, and I also felt like nothing like that would ever happen to my husband when he’s out with the kids, and how about some 20yo childless student assuming to know what I was feeling or thinking? The casual way in which strangers decide to torpedo someone else’s day. It’s always shocking.

      • 12/03/2013 at 2:58 pm

        Hi Amy,
        I read this comment this morning, and I’ve been thinking about it all day. What an upsetting experience: I think it would have stayed with me too.

        My hope is that when the woman who made that judgemental comment has her own children, she will come to see what it might be like to walk in your shoes. At that time she was unable to empathise with you, and ironically, came to a totally wrong conclusion about you and how you feel about your children. One day she might come to see how it feels to be tired, and to be doing the mundane things that come with being a parent: taking the car to have the oil changed, bringing the kids along with you, stopping for a coffee along the way. Does she really think parenthood is skipping through a field daffodils all day long?

        One thing that my husband often says is that negative feedback is more about the person giving it than the person it’s aimed towards. I wonder whether such a thought might help you? That student’s comments are about her, and possibly her upbringing, and are more about what was going on for her.

        So often, when we observe others, we see a distorted impression of who they are. Perhaps they are being real, but it’s us who is seeing things unclearly. This point came up in other comments and it’s given me food for thought.


    • 12/03/2013 at 3:07 pm

      Hi Helen,
      I really appreciate what you raised in this comment– that what we see in others might represent only a moment or an hour or a day. That’s a perspective worth bearing in mind.

      Thank you for taking the time to share it. It’s something I’ve been thinking about as I’ve gone through my day.
      Lisa x

  • 11/03/2013 at 10:09 pm

    this is how we know it is an essential truth — because we see it mirrored in our own lives. xoxoxo

    • 12/03/2013 at 11:35 am

      Yes Lori, Yes.
      Thank you,

  • 11/03/2013 at 10:14 pm

    Great post. I really think its the time of year because I have seen so many posts like this lately – everyone is SO struggling right now (and pretending they aren’t.) Thanks for being real. I appreciate realness – you’re right, that’s what will finally trigger the ceasefire in the Mommy Wars. 🙂

    • 12/03/2013 at 11:40 am

      Hi Amy,
      It’s interesting what you point out: that people seem to be sharing more of their struggles, and pointing out that it’s not helpful to pretend that all is well. Some of the other commentators on this post point out that it may not be that others aren’t being real, but more about our perceptions/judgements of other mothers. It’s an interesting point.

      You might like this other post that I wrote about the power of human connection: http://lisahassanscott.co.uk/?p=576
      Thanks for stopping by,

  • 11/03/2013 at 10:16 pm

    Well said, Lisa. The house cleaning thing in particular is so true. I’m trying hard not to do the crazy tidying before I have friends round, and to stop saying “sorry, my house is a tip today” as though it’s normally tidier than that – with the implication that others’ houses should be tidier than that too. Let’s celebrate our mess, I say! These are houses where children live. Let’s stop apologising for not being able to ‘do it all’ and for prioritising time with our children over housework.

    • 12/03/2013 at 11:41 am

      Hi Kirsten,
      Yes! I’ve started saying that I live in a ‘working home’– like if you go to a ‘working farm’ you expect a bit of mud and mess… my home is not a show-home, it is just where we make a family, and sometimes that’s a messy business. But the pressure to appear together can be immense, and yes, sometimes we want to apologise. As you say, there’s no need for that– let’s celebrate our working homes! 🙂

  • 11/03/2013 at 11:12 pm

    I just figure most of us are doing the best we can under the circumstances, whatever they are. Good days, bad days, in-between days… If motherhood is a competition, I’ve voluntarily taken myself out of the running.

    • 12/03/2013 at 11:42 am

      I really hope it’s not a competition Amy, but some people (the media?) seem set on making it one… I’m out too. Let’s go have coffee and leave them to it. xx Lisa

  • 12/03/2013 at 11:05 am

    If it is truly true that your house is as described you are yet again making me feel so much better as with most of your posts especially your last one too. Not that I am suggesting you are not being honest just that Ironically you are one of those Mothers I imagine has it all sorted! Which I think only reinforces your point – we all have perception of other mothers doing so much better than us!

    I relate oh so much to the put a brave face on it all. You made me laugh with the South Wales “how are you – alright? “. It is so true and not just in South Wales!

    • 12/03/2013 at 11:48 am

      Hello Charlotte! Yes, I know that sometimes people think I seem together– I realised long ago that people don’t seem to notice my soft underbelly and my shingle-strewn floor! 🙂 We do all have a perception of other mothers doing it all better than us; we put that brave face on and answer ‘Alright’ when actually it’s not.

      Thanks for stopping by,
      Lisa x

  • 12/03/2013 at 11:21 am

    Thanks for this post today Lisa, very well timed for me! I think the keeping up of appearances extends beyond other mothers though. A single and childless friend of mine called me a princess recently when I told her that I had a cleaner for an hour every week! What she doesn’t know is that I would certainly sink beneath the waves without that lifesaving help every week but it made me reconsider with whom I share that information in the future, which is a great shame.

    • 12/03/2013 at 11:46 am

      Hi Abbe,
      Ouch! I’m sure that didn’t feel very good. Like Amy’s comment below, it seems you have been treated inconsiderately by someone who is unable to put herself in your shoes. I’m sorry that happened to you.

      Part of what makes this such a damaging thing is that it’s led you to be more circumspect with what you share. Being real and truthful about your circumstances and what helps you to manage your home has put you in the way of criticism. I can understand why you feel you might not share so openly in the future. It’s very like how I feel when people criticise what I write here or on facebook. Why bother sharing if people are just going to be judgemental? But for every one person who criticises, there are at least 10 who are grateful for honesty and openness. And only when we let down that armour can we really connect. It can be painful.

      Hope you’re well,

      • 12/03/2013 at 1:14 pm

        …and everyone who reads your blog now knows I have a cleaner, lol 😀

        • 12/03/2013 at 2:49 pm

          That put a smile on my face. Do you mind if I share it on Facebook? Haha

          • 12/03/2013 at 3:21 pm

            Why not?! Let’s shout it from the rooftops! 😀 x

  • 12/03/2013 at 3:00 pm

    I wonder if part of what you write about here is tied to the need to be polite, or neighborly, to not burden others with our “stuff”, when we only share a quick moment in passing. If I’m taking the time to actually connect with a friend then my reply to “how are you?” is honest, not just the “oh, fine” reserved for the shorter greetings. I agree that if we aren’t prepared to hear someone’s truth, then asking “how are you?” might just be skipped and simply replaced with “hello, nice seeing you”. But when at the library and encountering another mom who I don’t know well, I’m likely to answer with a “oh, hanging in there”. It tells part of the story, and along with my eye roll, it’s enough to convey my fatigue of mothering two under three. It also is enough of an invite to illicit more of a dialogue if the other mom is interested, but it doesn’t leave her compelled to delve if she’s not in the space to do so. Does that rambling make sense? I’m one of those that always manages to brush my teeth before leaving the house, but rarely gets a brush through my hair. I grocery shop in the t-shirt I slept in (it’s under my fleece) and I try to keep my cool in public, so that my kids also keep their cool. But I’m not one to wear my struggles on my shirt sleeve. Oh, and if you could see my house right now, well, you know… it’s wrecked! I’ve been avoiding the pile of laundry in the living room chair for three days and there are toys scattered all over. But if I knew you were on the way over, I’d frantically clean and maybe vacuum, too. It’s not that I care so much what my guests think, it’s just that I like to sometimes fool *myself* into believing that I’m capable of picking up more often. You know, like my house can still (sometimes) look like it did before I had small children. 🙂

    • 12/03/2013 at 3:12 pm

      Thanks Lisa for stopping by and making these observations. Yes, I know what you mean when you say that I don’t just want to unburden yourself to anyone. That’s so true of the UK as well, where people are generally very reserved. Asking “How are you” is many peoples’ way of simply saying hello, and as my friend Denise says, “It’s pleasant to be pleasant.”

      Your reply of, “Oh, hanging in there” with the accompanying body language is a nice way to reply because it’s friendly, invites further discussion/delving but can also be simply let go if no one has the time or inclination to take it any further. I think I might try that one.

      When I come over, don’t worry about the laundry– I understand that thing about it being a point of personal pride– but I’d rather just visit with you rather than admire your clean house!

      Your comments made me smile today.
      Thank you for stopping by,
      Lisa x

      • 16/03/2013 at 4:31 am

        Recently, I was invited to a family’s home that moved into town 6 months ago. it was for a birthday party for her 10 y.o. daughter and there were about 6 children there plus the 2 of us moms. the rest of the family was not there and the house was upside down. It was a beautiful home but it was a mess. There were toys and papers, trash and things everywhere. At first I was horrified but as the time went on (we were there for 2 hours) and we got to know each other as we entertained the girls, I was in awe of this woman. She became my hero because she did not bother to put on a show to impress anyone. Her only business was to make sure that her daughter got her b’day party and her and her guests had fun. The rest was the rest. WE became friends. I so wanted to know this REAL person who had no reservations of showing her true colors. Now whenever I feel stressed to perform I remember my friend and just try to be myself. 🙂

  • 12/03/2013 at 5:30 pm

    The day after my first husband broke up with me, a co-worker I barely knew said, “Misa! How are you doing?” Poor thing. I answered truthfully, “Well, pretty horrible. I just had bronchitis for a week, my husband broke up with me yesterday, and now I’m living with my mother in the suburbs. I hate it and feel like I can barely function but I have to be here today because I just missed a week of work. How are you?” But, you know what? After that, we became friends. So there must be something to being truthful. 😉 Plus, later on, I think it made her feel more comfortable being “real” with me.

    Even nurses in the ER will ask, “So, how are you doing today?” and I always feel like that’s a trick question.

    These days, I try to be more aware of asking that question – I try not to ask unless I really care to hear the answer. And my answer is often, “Oh, I’m doin’. How about you?”

    I think if we weren’t all busy pretending to be fine all the time, then when we were struggling, we wouldn’t feel alone or like we’re the only ones.

    • 13/03/2013 at 11:36 am

      Hi Misa,
      Your comment about the nurses’ question being a trick question made me smile. Sometimes it’s hard to know what people are willing to listen to when they ask how you are.

      It sounds like you were having a really hard time when you and your ex-husband split up and you were fortunate to be able to speak to someone who was actually willing to connect with you. This is how friendships are made!

      I really appreciate that you took the time to read and comment, Misa.

  • 12/03/2013 at 11:35 pm

    Dear Lisa,

    Please can you stop making extra work for me? I started a poem about this very topic a while ago, and never finished it. Now I need to finish it.

    And there I was, all pleased with myself, because I had just finished the earlier poem on the theme of your ‘getting out the door post’ moments before I allowed myself the treat of reading this new post.

    Kindly refrain (for a while) from being so inspirational; it’s very time-consuming for me 😉

    With thanks (and love)
    M x

    • 13/03/2013 at 11:31 am

      Hi Marija,
      Thanks for the smile today! I hope you’ll share the poem when it’s finished!
      Lisa x

  • 13/03/2013 at 6:51 pm

    From my experience, I feel like almost all moms are willing to share all of the difficulties they are facing. Most mommy dates feel like therapy sessions or at times like complaining festivals and it’s totally addictive. Everyone is struggling and we all have a lot of those types of stories to share. Some days I even feel pressure to overstate my difficulties just so that it doesn’t sound like I’m having too easy of a day! That can’t be healthy. I think most of us on most days could come up with some positive stories to share and that it might help us feel better. I’ve been trying to challenge myself to spend more time thinking about the successes than the failures and it does help my worldview. Parenting young children (the only kind of parenting I know so far) is ridiculously hard, regardless of your circumstances, but chances are that most of the time, you are doing a perfectly good job at it! (I say as I’m surrounded by a complete disaster area of a house. 🙂

    • 14/03/2013 at 8:46 pm

      Hi Erika,

      Thank you so much for sharing your experiences. I know what you mean about mothers’ meetings turning into complaining festivals! 🙂 It can be easy to get sucked into the negativity, and I admire your commitment to trying something new: focussing on the positive and changing your world view.

      It sounds like you are surrounded by really honest, open-hearted mothers. You are so fortunate to be able to share your parenting highs and lows with others.

      Thank you for stopping by, and for taking the time to comment,

Comments are closed.