It's no secret that mothers judge other mums, but according to a new study certain mothers are judged more harshly than others. The research, published in the Journal of Family Communication, looked at seven stereotypes identified in previous research and how other mums feel about them.
And to be honest, it's a bit damned if you do and damned if you don't: 'Ideal' and 'lazy' mums drew the most contempt.
"It's not unusual for mums to have low self-esteem or feel they're not living up to the standards of what it means to be a mum," said lead author Kelly Odenweller "If other mums treat them poorly, even when they're trying to do a good job, they may feel they can't turn to other people in their community for support. It can be very isolating and all that self-doubt can lead to anxiety and depression, which can negatively affect the entire family."
Dr Odenweller and her researchers surveyed more than 500 mothers to learn more about their attitudes, emotions and even harmful behaviours toward mothers who fit one of the seven stereotypes:
Overworked: Overworked mums want to do it all but are overextended - and it shows.
Home, Family Oriented: Mums in this group prioritise their children, their partner's needs and their responsibilities at home.
Ideal: Ideal mums are juggling various responsibilities, but get it done and don't appear stressed.
Hardworking, balanced: These mums might not be "ideal" but they're ambitious and dedicated.
Non-traditional: Modern, liberal progressive - Mums in this category make choices that are good for themselves and their family, whether at home or work
Traditional: These mums believes their main purpose is to raise children and maintain the household
Lazy: Applying only to stay-at-home mums, these women are described as "not nurturing, attentive or hardworking."
Ideal and lazy mothers drew the harshest criticism from both working and stay-at-home mums, while the overworked stay-at-home mums also drew contempt. In fact, those surveyed admitted they would treat a lazy or ideal mother poorly, by 'excluding her, arguing with or verbally attacking her'.
It's not all bad news, however. All mums felt "pity" (we prefer the word empathy), for overworked working mothers and were more willing to offer them help. And working mums expressed admiration for 'ideal mums' who appear to have it all together.
"Working mums juggle a lot and want more support for all mothers with careers. For them, it may be more of a social statement that women can be great at their careers and being mums," Ms Odenweller said.
Ms Odenweller noted that many of the above stereotypes have developed from societal ideals applied to mothers. "TV, movies and other types of media perpetuate these standards of what makes a good mum," she said. "This all adds to the pressures on mothers."
Given we can't exactly control how others judge us, what can we do? The researchers suggest that it's all about being allies and not competitors.
"Mothers should think of other mothers as an ally, not someone to compare themselves to," Ms Odenweller said. "Try to avoid coming across like the best mum. Talk about things you have in common, things you both enjoy as mothers and do not feel like it's necessary to be better than her."