The dilemma of other mother envy

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It’s a joy and a privilege, but parenting is also a 24/7 relentless job, one that often leaves little time for reflection. According to research it’s still mothers who take responsibility for most of the housework and childcare, even though they may be also working outside the home as well. Research also reveals that it’s primarily mothers (84 per cent) who are the main influence at home when it comes to big and small financial decisions. It’s very often mothers who’ll put themselves last after family commitments, and they arguably have their fair share of guilt about what’s not being achieved, or blame themselves when they can’t afford to buy something for one of the children, or when the kids won’t stop fighting, or get bad results in exams. It can be endless.

Often it’s tempting and natural to look at others and wonder how on earth they manage to keep all the balls in the air, have bigger smarter homes, fancier holidays, run better cars and pay for private education. When the green-eyed monster appears, all the other wonderful stuff you’re doing can fade into the background under a canopy of disillusionment and jealousy. If the envy pangs ever hit home, be reassured that you’re not alone.
As one single mum reveals: “I’m a solo mum without family support in the country and I have to rein in my envious thoughts about everyone who has a second income or a second pair of hands in the form of a partner or family member close by. One particular ‘friend’ used to say that she’d never take her child on public transport (her husband had bought them a brand new BMW) but was happy for me to trek to hers 40 minutes on an overcrowded bus. Ironically we had the same posh buggy – hers was brand new and cost over €1,000, while mine was seven years old bought cheaply on eBay!”
And often, it’s simply not worth being envious, because you never really know what’s going on beneath the surface, as another mum attests:  “I remember all the mothers in my baby massage class were jealous of one particular mum who two months after giving birth she was able to fit into her size 8 jeans and had perfect nails and highlights and her baby signed up to classes every week. She had a night nurse to do night shifts and her mum over in the day. In the end, after a coffee morning at her huge house, I stayed back and she ended up bursting into tears because her partner was cheating on her with a 22-year-old.”
Envy may well kick in at those time when you’re feeling less certain about what you’re doing, times when you’re clearly more vulnerable and insecure, and at times when you’re beset with new challenges – such as new motherhood, having multiples, having another child, having a child with special needs, when you have less support but possibly well-meaning but domineering people around you, when your growing children are facing challenges like relationship struggles or important exams and when you are experiencing life changes from financial difficulties or moving home to family issues like separation, divorce or bereavement.
As an older mum recalls: “Back in the day I remember almost weeping because a mum at the baby clinic was wearing perfect pale pink capri pants and pink cashmere jumper and was obviously so well-off she didn’t have to worry about the baby vomiting on it. Whereas I was in the (then) mum’s uniform of black leggings, denim shirt and fetching muslin sick scarf!”
“Personally I get more jealous of other mums’ husbands,” admits a working mum. “Particularly the one who gets up at 7am and baths and dresses his two boys, makes them breakfast, then goes to work and comes home at 7pm and cooks dinner for his wife – every day.”

So what can you do purposefully to break the cycle of envy when you find yourself besieged by thoughts that aren’t helpful?

1 Go easy on yourself
We are our own worst critics. However tough it seems on the surface keep reminding yourself that you are doing a good enough job and all is well, rather than filling your head with insecurities about where you’re falling short.

2 Put yourself first often
It’s important because you’re often the foundation on which everything else lies. As the saying goes, ‘fill your own vessel before tending others.’

3 Silence your inner critic
If you constantly compare yourself to everyone else, you’ll never live up to the ideal – the fact is you’re probably doing an amazing job in the eyes of your child. It’s not a disaster if you forgot to change the sheets this week or if you reheated leftovers for dinners.

4 Take small steps to improvement
Everyone gets dissatisfied with their lot from time to time – that’s what keeps us growing and moving upwards. Examine the areas of your life you wish to improve and take the small steps needed to make those positive changes.

5 Ask questions
Don’t be afraid to ask those who you admire how they do it, whether it’s about running a business alongside family or organising multiple children at once.

6 Give yourself praise where it’s due
Make a list of all the fantastic things you already do for your family, whatever your resources, whether you’re a great cook on a tight budget, or your child’s a great reader thanks to your enthusiasm.

And finally, as another mum, Laura, says: “We all need to be kinder to ourselves and each other. For everyone apparently better off, there’s always someone worse off.”

Catherine Devane