Unfortunately, I doubt I will ever forget that day. Here’s the worst advice I received in motherhood, how I responded, and how I wish I had responded.
Unfortunately, I doubt I ever forget that day. I had two young children running around, plus was pregnant with another. I had morning sickness, but the kind that actually lasts all day. My oldest was homeschooling because I knew he needed more one-on-one learning attention than a public school could provide. And then it happened, the worst advice I received in motherhood.
My house was a mess. One hundred percent a mess! There were dishes piled high in the sink, toys everywhere, and laundry that needed to be done.
Then my friend came to visit.
I saw the dissatisfaction on her face. She was so put out with me for the appearance of my home. (Did I mention I was living in pajamas as well?) It was one of THOSE seasons. The advice began to come, “You aren’t doing this right. You aren’t doing enough for your children. You have to do more.”
Ouch! Not doing enough??? I could go through my list of what I WAS doing. I could certainly prove my case right then and there of how I had laid down my entire life for my kids. But what would it help? I never expected such a wounding that day. Here’s how I responded and what I wish I had said instead.
The Worst Advice I received in Motherhood
Before you start believing this person is horrible, let me go ahead and clarify they aren’t. They are actually a kind person. Some people will have mean intentions, but most don’t. That day they came in completely overwhelmed. They had no expectation of the actual state of my messy home, and they also didn’t understand how sick I had been. Perhaps they believed it was a time I would entertain per the usual: serve coffee, be a listening ear, and bond.
My expectations were totally different. I was working to simply survive the day, and entertaining was out of the question. They simply had built a case in their head that I was being selfish and acted out under that belief. The way it was approached was pretty devastating to me as the accusations fought to confirm what so many of us moms already struggle with, “You feel like a failure, so you must be.”
I cried. Well, first I vomited, and then I cried. Pretty dadgum hard. Those words cut like a knife.
Certainly, I wanted a clean home. I absolutely wanted to be a happy and healthy, fun mom who could do all the crafts, make all the meals, and whistle as I worked. I wanted to chat with friends as we sipped coffee. But I could barely get out of bed. I was wrestling to keep myself out of the hospital from dehydration, and struggling with depression from my ongoing physical sickness. My kids were dressed, mostly clean, and well-fed, and that’s what my best looked like right then.
The Worst Advice I Received in Motherhood
This kind of advice is one of the number one reasons we don’t reach out for help. We fear that if we do, we will be met with this very criticism: that we aren’t enough. We feel nervous we will be looked down upon. So we continue to go it alone because it feels safer.
So, how did I handle it?
Well initially, I didn’t. When my friend saw the way it affected me, they realized how bad their words had hurt, and they asked for forgiveness (That is commendable, for not everyone does). I didn’t hide the fact it hurt, and I also told them I chose to forgive them. But I had to fight through the sting for some time. Oh, how I wish that the moment we forgive, the hurt would go away too, but it doesn’t always work that way. Sometimes it’s a choice to let it go daily, weekly, or monthly. Unfortunately, we can’t ever take our words out of someone’s memories once they’re said. We each have to decide whether to settle the matter with forgiveness in our own hearts.
What to say when motherhood advice hurts
“Ouch!” This one statement keeps you in control of you. Everything within you will want to defend yourself, but don’t go there. They have already built a case in their head and presenting your case at this time will only hurt and exhaust you more. “Ouch” allows the other person to know the comments hurt and is usually enough to begin damage control. If you feel you can keep talking, follow it with, “This feels devaluing to me as a mother. I will be glad to continue this conversation when we can honor each other with our words.”
This can be so difficult. When we are hurt, it’s hard to have a respectful conversation, especially if we have to have repeated conversations over unwanted or hurtful advice. Starting with having a calm conversation that involves, “I feel _____, when you ______,” is a good start. If the behavior continues, drawing healthy boundaries, such as, “You are welcome to come over when visits are helpful and not hurtful,” or “I understand it’s hard to watch me learn with my baby, but it’s important that I do. When you step in, you are preventing me from learning ______,”
It is so crucial that we come alongside of each other, whether friends or family. That we adopt the attitude of, “We’re on the same team,” and “How can we help each other?” That we choose to lay down any judgments or criticism and pick up merciful understanding.
There is one absolute, we WILL make mistakes, but we also will learn from them.
Here is what I wish I had been told that day. I wrote this poem for all of the mothers who struggle with feeling inadequate in motherhood. You’re Doing it Right was what I desperately needed to hear as a young mother.