An apology to all the mums I used to hate

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Photo: Getty

“I have to get out of this neighborhood,” a young woman wrote on a real estate website. “There are too many [mum]s. I keep almost getting run over by huge strollers. Some of these mums seem to use their babies as an excuse to be rude, pushing everyone else out of the way.”

Not too long ago, I would’ve nodded along. So many times I’d been impeded in the supermarket, backing up through a narrow aisle with a menacing double stroller coming at me from the other end.

“Sorry! I’m so sorry!” the mums usually said, but I barely heard them. I was in a hurry.

Reading the young woman’s comment now, I feel a little hurt. An excuse to be rude? Have you tried navigating a city footpath with a stroller? I want to ask her. It isn’t easy! It’s like an obstacle course with a crying baby and deep social potholes thrown in. When I first ventured outside after having a baby, I felt like all I did was apologise and try to stay out of people’s way. I felt slow, off-balance, distracted. I was trying to do five things at once. I was trying to muster a smile at the same time.

I remember, when my baby was new, meeting a group of other inexperienced mums at a restaurant. I parked in the back, pulled my wriggling baby out and settled at a table, leaving a trail of fuzzy hats, nappies, and brightly coloured baby toys in my wake. I was awkward. Things that I had once done without thinking, like taking the train or using a public toilet, now seemed complicated and overwhelming. But worst of all, I couldn’t help but notice that everyone hated me.

OK. That’s an exaggeration. Not everyone hated me. Some people cooed at the baby and called, “Congratulations!” and “He’s adorable!” (my daughter apparently gives off distinctly male vibes). But much of the casual compassion I’d experienced during my pregnancy had been replaced with expressions that plainly read “not another damn mum with a stroller clogging up the footpath", and it was worse in restaurants. It was especially bad when I was out with other new mothers. Young women at the next table over shot us annoyed glances that grew openly hostile as the babies began to fuss. They had laptops, they were trying to do important things on them, and we were interrupting everything.

During the winter, it isn’t easy to get together with other mums and babies in the city. There isn’t enough indoor space anywhere. Apartments are small and so are cafes. The park is freezing. It’s something that I’d never given a moment’s consideration until I had a baby. When I became a mother, I started thinking differently about many things, and the animosity between the young women at the next table over and the new mums suddenly struck me as strange, disorienting.

Maybe because I had just a moment ago been in the other camp.

We are so close together, our lives are practically brushing, like our nappy bags and sleek purses. We are just a phase or two apart. I was a single woman and then I was a married woman and eventually I had a baby and guess what? This is all very, very ordinary. These are predictable, normal phases of life. Which is not to say, of course, that everyone will experience them or wants to experience them. This isn’t a judgment about any of that. I really don’t care if you decide not to have kids or to never marry. 

What I mean is, if you do decide to get married and have a baby, you will find yourself suddenly like me, the way I found myself suddenly like the women whose strollers I’d hopped around in the supermarket. I was an unattached young woman who couldn’t be bothered to sympathise, and then one day I was a mother, my world automatically, unavoidably redefined.

But of course, I was the same woman all along. And sometimes I still feel like the woman at the next table over, rolling my eyes at my friend, inconvenienced by the loud, cluttering mums’ group. That was just three seconds ago. I blinked, and now I’m here. 

I guess this is just human nature. Us/them. The satisfying, reaffirming dismissal of the “other”, whatever that other currently is.

But still, I wish I could retrospectively apologise to those mums apologising to me in the supermarket.

OK, I’ll just do it: I’m sorry, mums! I didn’t know. Now I do. I’ll try to be more compassionate, in the future, about the other people who are doing something I’ve not yet done. Even if I never end up doing that thing. It’s still better to be compassionate.

Also, as a continuing favour to all you people without babies out there, I will make a huge effort not to run you over with my stroller. I swear. 

60 comments

  • Yes, nice column but scream it from the rooftops!!!

    I'm so tired of women who don't have children saying nasty belittling things about mothers. Or the other divide, working mothers belittling those who choose to stay at home.

    We need new words to describe these phenomena, women without children are (not all of them of course) the new misogynists. They say all the same kinds of belittling and rude stuff about mums that men used to say about women. Furthermore when you complain about it you get a kind of hysterical back lash about how working women and non mothers are so much worse off much like the comments you get from men when women complain about sexism.

    Mothers groups, prams, sick children, nappies, housework, to non mothers these are all considered brainless, stupid obsessions of the lobotomised cult called motherhood.

    But when you cross the divide and you realise what it is like and you write about it .....the only people listening are the mothers about whom you used to say those things.

    Commenter
    Belle
    Date and time
    May 19, 2014, 8:12AM
    • As a child-free woman I have had it up to here with the so called mummy wars. Everyone is having a go at everyone and what a lot of tedious rot. Deciding to call women who don't have children the new misogynists is a brilliant way to keep the war going. Bravo.

      Commenter
      Ripley
      Location
      Hunting Aliens
      Date and time
      May 19, 2014, 10:34AM
    • Oh yeah sorry coz mothers don't deserve a term to describe their abuse, sorry to offend.

      Commenter
      Belle
      Date and time
      May 19, 2014, 10:46AM
    • "Oh yeah sorry coz mothers don't deserve a term to describe their abuse"

      I'm afraid you may have fundamentally misinterpreted the purpose of the article. It's not to drive a wedge between people but to point out that people view their worldviews based on their current circumstances and that we should, perhaps, try to put ourselves in others positions because we're not that different. Not a new thought, I'll grant you, but one people seem to have a particular aversion to listening and adhering to.

      Commenter
      Swarley
      Date and time
      May 19, 2014, 11:08AM
    • Yes I get that but my point is that people without children never ever know the difference.

      A mother has been both child-free and then has children, she experiences both sides of the divide.

      A woman who never has children simply continues to see only her side and my point was that she is not listening. My point was that not all child free women are like this but the ones who are hateful and abusive towards mothers tend not to listen or care what the other side feels.

      They are the new misogynists as they are often found to be using EXACTLY the same belittling statements that men used to used against women but they use them against mothers.

      I liked this article but child free women who don't like prams, nappies, mothers won't listen, they will continue to make the face and feel superior.

      Commenter
      Belle
      Date and time
      May 19, 2014, 12:02PM
    • No, you want to abuse back by calling people names. That's not okay. I get insults for being deliberately child-free so I honestly don't get why you think calling me more names will improve anything or make you feel better.

      Commenter
      Ripley
      Location
      Hunting Aliens
      Date and time
      May 19, 2014, 12:56PM
    • "my point is that people without children never ever know the difference."

      And mine is that you don't need to touch the fire to know it burns. Most people learn by observing others and asking, rather than experiencing everything themselves. This is no different. It's no replacement for direct experience, but it suffices most of the time...enough to allow for empathy at least.

      Commenter
      Swarley
      Date and time
      May 19, 2014, 1:37PM
    • @Belle, please consult a dictionary before you label a subset of non-mothers, who allegedly dislike a subset of mothers, as misogynists. Disliking a person for ramming you with a pram, or whatever the "offending act" might be, does not make someone a misogynist.

      Commenter
      Vanessa
      Date and time
      May 19, 2014, 1:46PM
    • Oh-my-gosh Belle, are you for real? There are so many things about your comments that I find completely ridiculous, sensationalist and somewhat narcissistic I'd have to exceed the allowed word limit just to reply.

      However this one comment made me spin in my seat.

      "Yes I get that but my point is that people without children never ever know the difference."

      The very fact that I, as a childless women, DO know the difference between a life with and without children is the reason why I choose NOT to have them. This is not an experiential thing; it is a choice of logic, lifestyle, ambition, finances, emotion, and so many other things.

      I don't want what you have, I don't want your life, your prams, your nappies and your parenting. Not because I disrespect it, but because I do not think it is the path I need to follow for my own happiness and fulfilment.

      Being or not being a mother has no difference on whether I am tolerant of other people in everyday life situations - irrespective of whether they are pushing a pram, walker frame or a skateboard. What makes me tolerant, gracious, empathetic and kind to others (something you could learn) is that I am happy with who I am, the choices I have made in life and the direction I am taking my life.

      I am exactly where I want to be and heading exactly where I want to go. The people I know who can't say the same of their lives are usually the ones complaining about what everyone else is doing and saying.

      So now, finally, you have a real perspective from a real childless woman, not the fictional malevolent character you have created in your head.

      Commenter
      happily childless
      Date and time
      May 19, 2014, 1:50PM
  • Of course mothers have it hard and they deserve compassion for that, and yes I agree we should move out of their way and tolerate their children and not grumble about it.

    However all types of people are rude sometimes, including mothers, and I think some of them think that having a child gives them a license to be rude, which it does not. Everyone should do their best to be polite no matter what and the world will run a lot more smoothly.

    What really bothers me are actually those people with shopping trolleys who think they own the whole damn aisle, now they are the worst!

    Commenter
    Escritora
    Date and time
    May 19, 2014, 9:21AM

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