Family matters: May the best mum win
So much for a supportive sisterhood. Mother-of-two Louisa Wilkins says that, at the school gates, every day is judgement day. And that the battle to be the best mum is one she'd rather not enter
One of the hardest things about being a parent, I think, is dealing with other parents. Don't get me wrong, I've got some fab parent friends. When my kids are being particularly challenging and I tell these friends that I've had enough of being ‘mum' for one day and I'm counting down the minutes to bedtime, they respond with, "I have those days every day." They're the same ones who don't judge me for giving my children McDonald's for dinner every now and then, and who call me to remind me that it's school dress-up day. Supportive. Understanding. Honest. Then there's the other ones.
Last year, when my daughter had to join the after-school club unexpectedly one day because her father's meeting had run on and he couldn't pick her up, I received one of the most hurtful insults of my life from a mother who helps run the club. At pick-up time, I thanked the woman and told her what had happened, explaining that I worked full-time myself. She asked me where I work, and then what I write about. I said, "Oh, we cover everything really - health, relationships, parenting..." at which point she cut in with, "Huh! Great parenting." I was shocked. She runs a club that exists purely to offer support to working parents, and she had this opinion? I was able to laugh about it later but at the time it was like a slap in the face. It was obvious she thought I was an awful mother.
Speaking to other mums, both working and stay-at-home, many share similar stories. "Isn't he sleeping through the night yet? All mine were at three weeks." Or, "Please can you not put ketchup on little Enya's plate - our family doesn't eat processed food." Or, "What school are you putting Johnny into? Where? Don't put him there! Put him down at my children's school - it really is the best. You've tried already and couldn't get in? Oh, well. I'm sure he'll make something of his life."
Many of the working mothers I know feel like they are seen as lesser mothers because they work. One woman says, "I'm pretty much left out of the mum group at my daughter's school because I work and a lot of the mums have asked me if I work for financial reasons, or because I want to. I find it a really personal question... And I'm not sure which answer they'd rather hear."
A stay-at-home mum I know, who moved to the UAE less than a year ago, says, "I'm not working but I feel judged all the time, too. On what my kids are wearing, what they're eating, how they behave... I think a lot of mums get caught up with wanting to be the best mum, and all they talk about is what they feed their kids, where they take their kids... It's sad because you're made to feel guilty if you have anything else in your life."
Another friend, who works part-time, says she's been guilt-tripped in the past for buying her child's fairy outfit for the school assembly, rather than making it by hand - which she says she wouldn't do even if she didn't work. She says, "They don't know what's going on in your life, and they don't want to know. They've made up their minds already."
Interestingly, all the mothers who moved here after having children say that there was not this judgement and pressure in their home countries. So, it's purely a Dubai thing.
Norma Cairns, counselling psychologist at LifeWorks (lifeworksdubai.com), says, "Irrespective of why mothers do it, the bottom line is, who are we to judge other people, and is this point-scoring in the best interest of the kids? What is there to gain by being competitive?"
It's true. What is there to gain? I'll still have the same children, and my children will still have the same mother. So, should I care if people look down their noses at my daughter's store-bought contribution to the umpteenth bake sale this year? Or when my son brings the class teddy bear home for the weekend and we take photos of him at the beach and watching TV, then months later see that other kids have taken him up the Burj Khalifa, for lunch at the Rivington Grill and to Mini Monsters? Of course I shouldn't - and I don't. Frankly, the only opinions I give two hoots about are my children's. And even though we sometimes do homework in the school car park, and despite the fact that I don't make it to weekly coffee mornings, they think I'm the best mother in the world. I know that because they tell me all the time. That's enough of a win for me.
Aquarius is tweeting follow Louisa Wilkins on @louisa_aquarius