Shame and the Mommy Silo

Important Background Information: My daughter loves to wipes surfaces. She likes to wipe down the whiteboard, getting rid of all the

Industrious, this one.

marks. She likes to wipe tables,

pretending to clean up. She likes to do this with boogie wipes, disposable baby wipes, and if she has to, a tissue or other dry cloth.

The story: My daughter had pooped. I put the changing pad on the floor so she could have some agency, at 20 months, in the changing process. I wiped her, and put on a clean diaper.  I got her dressed for bed. I went to wash my hands. She still had some time before bed, so I let her play by herself, not worrying about where she was.

The next thing I know, my daughter is wiping surfaces. I didn’t give her a wipe, so I go to investigate, and find that she has taken a wipe out of the diaper I had stupidly left on the floor. I had made a parenting mistake in my haste to wash my hands. Oops. So I take the old wipe away, wash her hands, give her a clean wipe, and wash my hands. I’m a little concerned, because I can’t find the diaper where I left it, but it doesn’t bother me — it’ll turn up. I post on Facebook about it because I feel it’s right to be honest and vulnerable about the mistakes that you make when you’re parenting, especially when you tend to share the stories that you find inspiring and beautiful, like I do. (And sometimes you complain. It’s a continuum and balance.)

All the comments were about how disgusted they are. Someone sticks their tongue out at me, someone says they puked a little in their mouth, another that it was TMI. And I felt shame. I was ashamed that I had been absent minded, that my daughter had some something unintentionally disgusting. Shame is silencing.

I deleted the post. And then I got mad. I ranted to my friend (and cousin) Scroogy. She reassured me. And then I wrote this post.

All parents make mistakes. But we don’t talk about them. We don’t talk about them because we’re afraid that our mistakes will make us unfit parents.  If we’re honest about

them with other people, we’re being vulnerable — and the people who commented did not respect my vulnerability.

The Moral: Shame and fear put us into silos where we feel all alone as mothers and caregivers. We constantly worry that we’re not good enough. I feel a sense of responsibility to share my experiences so that people don’t feel that they’re alone, but it is so hard. It is so hard when people who are supposed to be your family and friends, your supporters and cheerleaders, decide that your reality is too much for them.

I’m saying no to that.

I’m going to tell you about my depression, in all of its darkness and worry and anxiety and fear.

I’m going to tell you about my mistakes, in all of their grossness and pain and horror.

And I’m going to tell you about the beautiful things in life, and the ones that make me proud.

Because you know what? My daughter picked up her diaper off the floor and threw it away. That’s why I couldn’t find it, and that’s how she found the wipe — she was cleaning up after herself. I am damn proud of that, even if the pride is wrapped up in the embarrassment of a yucky thing she did.

I am going to keep telling my vulnerabilities, so other people out there don’t feel so alone. I hope you do too.

7 thoughts on “Shame and the Mommy Silo

  1. Hear, hear! Why do we hide the most vulnerable parts of us and pretend that we are “perfect”? We are only doing a disservice to ourselves and others with similar fears, anxieties, and worries. We are not alone. We shouldn’t have to pretend.

  2. Hear, hear.

    I saw your original posting … and wasn’t disgusted by it at all. We’ve all made mistakes, with messy results. And, like in this case, it sometimes comes when our kids try to “do the right thing”, without the proper understanding of context.

    I wonder if some of your critics are those who’ve never been in your shoes. It’s easy to criticize parents from the sidelines.

    I laughed when I saw your post … not the laughter of derision that comes from a far, but the sympathetic knowing laughter of someone who’s been there, and thinks “yeah, that could’ve easily been me”.

    We learn by doing — not just Sylvie, but the rest of us, too.

  3. I don’t remember if I commented on that post or not (I remember reading it though and chuckling a little), and if my words made you feel ashamed I am very sorry and I apologize. I imagine that most of the people who commented about grossness are not parents as I’m sure every parent has a similar story (they might just have not posted it on facebook). I associate babies (and pets, actually) with bodily fluids and messes and things that are gross and humor is really the only way to approach it because there is no avoiding it.

  4. Were people supposed to find a story about your kid playing with her own feces “inspiring and beautiful”? You can’t expect your every overshare to be met with applause and unconditional adoration. That’s not how adulthood works. Until you understand that, you’re not going to be respected by the people around you– and you’re certainly not going to be able to get through the difficult process of starting a business.

    • Popping in from the ether via Twitter: The comment above is maybe unnecessarily harsh, but not totally off-the-mark. Things you get to choose: 1) who you share your stories with and 2) how you respond to the responses. But if you choose to put something out there on the big bad world of the internet, you don’t get to expect that people will take it the way you meant it, let alone praise you for sharing it. Confessional blogging/tweeting/updating is not, in itself, some sort of activist, resistant, virtuous act that should inherently be exempt from negative response.

  5. Parenthood is hard, and no one can fully understand or appreciate it until they are in it. Admitting mistakes out loud, in any kind of public forum, is brave and generous. So many of us who blog, or post on FB are introverts looking to use the written word to connect, to be seen and accepted. Reading about another Mom’s anecdotes connect us all as a community. Being respectful and open-minded is what adulthood is all about.

  6. I get a lot of perspective from reading your words. I’m thankful for your candid discussion, about your personal life, family life, and even the discussion your stories generate.

    I sometimes worry, especially with you and other younger parents that I care about, that my “me too”-isms can be silencing as well. I worry that by saying “yeah, I totally understand that” can be minimizing and dismissive. I think what I really mean is “I have a similar experience, but I still want to hear about how you feel about it”.

    That said, parenthood has made me much more of a fearless person. Making your way with breastfeeding and dealing with fecal cleanup is how it starts, but it goes to so many things that a new adult would be frozen or repelled by: explosive vomiting, large earthmoving projects, dead animals, search and rescue… ultimately to being a better person despite pain or personal suffering, but in a way that is truthful to my self.

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