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Tuesday, April 12, 2011

Toxic Mothers

Lately I've been visiting a few internet parenting forums to see what topics might be of particular interest to my readers here.  Of course I've dropped a few comments into the threads along the way, with my usual good intent, and I've been amazed by some of the volatile (and sometimes downright offensive) reactions I've received to some very mildly worded input from me.

It got me thinking about how hard many young (and not-so-young) mothers, especially first-time mums, find it to deal with the Toxic Mother.  Maybe it's time to talk about that.

So here's a helpful guide to identifying some of the species of Toxic Mother, which might help you to avoid them.  There's no point arguing with them.  Steer clear of them.

1. My Way or the Highway (the MWOTHer)

These mothers are commonly found in forums on sleeping, breastfeeding, natural birth, discipline, food for children... come to think about it, they're probably the most pervasive of the lot.  (Sadly many relatives seem to fall into this category too, which makes it really hard to avoid them.)

If you have a slightly different view on the MWOTHer's pet subject and have the hide to say so, you will be insulted, accused, slandered or ridiculed.  If you strike a really venomous MWOTHer, you might get all of the above.

For example, if you think a swift smack on the bottom is probably okay when your child does something life-threateningly dangerous, a Pacifist MWOTHer will accuse you of being some form of child molester and threaten to report you to DoCS.  (I have had similar reactions when I've dared to recommended 'controlled crying' to mums who were going out of their head with sleep deprivation- never from the person who was asking for help, of course!)

If you try your damnedest to breast feed but eventually have to turn to the bottle because your baby isn't gaining weight, the Breastfeeding Hardliner MWOTHer will call you a quitter and accuse you of harming your child.  They are no respecters of your emotional state- they're far too busy pushing their barrow.

Is your baby responding well to the way you're doing things? Good, because YOU are the one who has to live with that baby, and YOU are the one who has to wear the consequences of your choices.  Get this person out of your face. Remind yourself that this person is SO inflexible that karma is going to get her one day, probably in the shape of her own child turning on her.  You might even find you're able to feel sorry for her.

And if you can't avoid the MWOTHer- let's say she's your sister-in-law, or your own mother- don't get sucked into an argument.  Try saying 'That's an interesting point of view' and changing the subject, while enjoying a mental image of a rattlesnake in the place of her head.

2. Life Is A Race (the LIAR)

Whatever your baby has done, the LIAR's baby did it better.  And earlier. And your baby is probably retarded, actually.  The LIAR will do anything to feel that her baby is the Best Baby and Winning the Developmental Race.  You'll find these mothers a lot in the Gifted/Talented forums.

There's absolutely no point telling her that there's no race. Ignore her.  Babies will pop teeth, walk, talk and obtain their medical degree when they're good and ready.

Is your baby happy? Good.  I bet her poor kids will get well and truly tired of having the tape measure run over every single thing they do.

3. Never Ever Good Enough (the NEGEler)

The NEGEler is hooked on the details. She's a frustrated teacher, with her red pen poised to swoop on some tiny flaw.  Even if you did it right, there's SOMETHING about it that was wrong.  When you're happy, this mum has to bring you down.

If your child just got 94% for Maths, this mum wants to know where those 6 marks went.  If you've just had your hair done beautifully, she doesn't like what you're wearing.  She's a dyed-in-the-wool Spoiler.

And if you've made a really useful comment on the forums, she'll pick out one word, or one phrase, and make like you're a monster because you said that, completely out of the context of what you were saying. Remember her now?  I had one NEGEler pick me up for saying I loved the kids I taught.  You'd think I was a pedophile, the way she carried on.

The NEGEler is a real danger to her children, because they're never going to be good enough.  She'll pick at them till they unravel. I've seen it.

The NEGEler is trying to make herself feel more powerful.  Maybe she's got something to feel bad about herself that she's trying to drown, or maybe she's just one of those people who likes putting others down.  Either way, she's toxic.  Ignore her.

If she's in your face- maybe she's your mother-in-law- make strong comments back to her without addressing whatever she's picking at.  Like, 'I don't feel a need to be perfect. I'm happy to do my best.'  Or, 'You're entitled to that view.'  And walk away.

4. It's About Me (the IAM)

Whatever you start to say, the IAM will turn it around and make it about herself.  If you ask her advice about a discipline issue, she will have much worse problems with her own kid.  If you put a question up on a parenting forum, she'll derail it and the whole thread will end up rotating around her interjection.  If your mother just died, the discussion will somehow end up being about the day her dog got run over 20 years ago.

You think I'm exaggerating? Not by much.  I used to have a 'best friend' like that.  The day after my mother died, she chose to abuse me for behaving 'all wrong' during my mother's illness; she turned it into a lecture about how well she'd handled things when HER father died.  (She wasn't my 'best friend' for long after that.)

This person is completely without empathy.  They are so lacking in self-esteem that they're trying to use you as a springboard to talk about themselves. Typically, they live through their children, instead of letting their children have their own lives.  They see their child's victories as THEIR victories.

They're not interested in your problems.  Stop sharing and start avoiding.  And imagine how their own kids are going to feel when they're old enough to be serious competition for mum.  This is the sort of person who tries to monopolise the conversation and wears a low-cut top when her daughter brings a boyfriend home.

Pity the kids, and run for your life.


  1. This post has got some really mixed reactions! Some people have instantly recognised the types mentioned and laughed their heads off, and others have taken deep offence to me generalising. Please note that it IS meant to be somewhat hyperbolic, and is designed as a tension-buster for those poor mums who have just been demoralised at the school gate or on the internet by someone insensitive.

  2. Haha! Wise words! I had a giggle on this post. I saw some terribly toxic mothers all laying into each other on Facebook recently. There was a post about control crying. They all went feral! Parenting is hard enough! Can't we as mothers just support each other and be a little tolerant of each other? We are all giving it our best shot! Love your wisdom!

  3. I do actually recognise the types you mention.

    I must say though, the use of such offensive terms as "retarded" and "Nazi" coming from a self professed carer and educator quite disturbing.

    Any potential respect lost right there...

  4. As I fellow teacher, researcher and as a person who now works in policy in early childhood I find your views refreshing. This is why I was never able to feel comfortable in the Mother's Groups I attended. Other friends loved Mum's and Bubs groups, but this gave me a laugh as a recalled each of those, "personality's". You are quite a witty, intelligent writer. Keep it coming...I love reading your material.

  5. Rubbrxtc- point taken, I've edited out the use of one of the words you found offensive- that was probably too harsh. Got carried away with the hyperbole, and on reflection I understand your reaction.

    I've left the other word in, because I think sometimes these women (and of course men too in other situations) can use the politically correct language to hide very offensive remarks- and seriously, when you listen to some of the water-cooler conversations when people lay their guard down, words like 'retarded' do still get bandied about. Working in childcare I hear some amazingly offensive words used even by the workers, yet face-to-face they'll be entirely politically correct.

    No, this isn't how it should be- this is how it IS. It seems impossible to change these people's attitudes (though I'll admit to having a gentle attempt at educating a worker who called a transsexual parent 'it'), so the best I can do is to give other women a chance to laugh it off.

  6. haha I think I know the forum you are talking about!

  7. I enjoyed reading this and yes, I have met these mums. After having my own child my previously 'judgmental' views of other mothers ceased and my attitude to differences became: 'whatever works for you..are you happy? is your child happy? then it must be working' I am wary of those who wont hear out another persons opinion and railroad others to agreeing with them. Thanks for this post, many of us need to know WE are not the strange ones because we listen to others and accept their experiences.

  8. Thanks Fiona. Sadly some people need to reinforce their own egos by crushing ours. I won't play, and neither should you!


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