Have you ever had one of those moments as a mum where you feel like you’re just not good enough? When you feel like you’re failing at this mothering malarky? Nothing triggers the shame of not being enough quite like motherhood does. I had a powerful mother shame experience earlier this month.
Early in December we experienced a snow storm in my local village. This snow storm lasted several days and led to pretty dangerous road conditions in my rural community. So much so that my son’s school took the sensible decision to close.
This led to five consecutive days of my son and I pretty much being snowed in at home. During this time I found myself not only in the middle of a snow storm, but a shame storm too!
During this ‘home snow experience’ with my son my social media feed was full of other parents celebrating having their children off school. Excited about building snowmen and sledging across snow-filled fields. These social media photos epitomised what it is to be a great parent. Embracing unexpected time with your children. Creating magical moments and memories that will hopefully last a lifetime.
But the more I absorbed these photos, the more I felt my shame storm building.
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If you’re not familiar with the term ‘shame storm’, it comes from the brilliant work of Brene Brown. Brene is a research professor and her ground breaking work on shame and vulnerability has become world renowned.
Shame is an emotion that can unfortunately seep into our lives as mums, especially as working mums. As Brene brilliantly states in her book Daring Greatly:
- Shame; we all have it
- It’s universal and one of the most primitive human emotions we experience (unless we’re a sociopath)
- We’re afraid to talk about shame
- The less we talk about shame the more control it has over our lives
The Meriam-Webster dictionary defines shames as
“a painful emotion caused by consciousness of guilt, shortcoming, or impropriety”
During my snow experience I felt that I ‘should’ be outside building snowmen with my son. I felt I ‘ought’ to be embracing the magical moments that other parents were clearly creating perfectly on their social media. The trouble was I didn’t want to!
- Maybe it’s because I hate the cold.
- Maybe it’s because I was 9 weeks pregnant at the time and feeling completely horrendous
- Or maybe it was because I’m was a crap mum!
The more I sat with those feelings, the more my snow shame storm built. My inner voice was saying things like
“If you were a good mum you would be outside enjoying this snow with your son.”
“If you were a good mum you would naturally want to be playing in the snow with your son.“
“If you were a good mum you would be as excited as other parents are about their children being off school.”
Obviously, this line of thinking led to the inevitable conclusion that I’m not a good mum. Hence my shame storm. I was making myself wrong.
A few weeks later I met a good friend, who’s also a wonderful working mum, for lunch. Making time for this meet-up can often feel like an indulgence in our busy lives. But we make it a priority as creating a space where we can show up and feel safe and secure in being ourselves is a necessity not an indulgence, During this lunch we shared our recent experience of the snow.
She shared her guilt at being away at a work conference over the weekend that the snow had fallen. Not only having to cope with being snowed in and away from her son. She also had to contend with receiving a photo of him building his first snowman with his grandparents. She shared how she felt overcome with guilt that she hadn’t been with him for his first experience of doing this.
I then shared my shame. I had been with my son for five days. Five full days! And not built a snowman despite the social media pressure of seeing other parents do it.
In sharing our feelings of not being good enough we each felt so much better. As if holding onto these feelings had made them worse and sharing them made it OK to not always be the perfect parent.
In her book Brene Brown shares:
“Shame derives it’s power from being unspeakable. That’s why it loves perfectionists – it’s so easy to keep us quiet. If we cultivate enough awareness about shame to name it and to speak to it, we’ve basically cut it off at the knees. Shame hates having words wrapped around it. If we speak shame, it begins to wither. Just the way exposure to light was deadly for the gremlins. Language and story bring light to shame and destroy it.“
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We’re a community, reinventing how we combine work and motherhood without sacrificing our sanity and wellbeing.
As shame hangs around motherhood so much, it’s important for us to practice shame resilience. The best way that I know how to practice shame resilience is to have people in my life, like my friend. People who help me to feel safe and comfortable enough to share my shame. As shame is social concept – it happens between people – it also heals between people. So by finding people with whom we can share our shame, we prevent the insidious force taking power in our lives.
That’s why the Wisdom For Working Mums community is so important. It’s a way for us to build our shame resilience. It’s a safe place where we can show up as the perfectly imperfect parents that we are.