I once participated in a perception exercise with 19 coworkers as part of a team-building program. We were each given 19 small pieces of paper and asked to anonymously describe each fellow employee with a single adjective. The tiny papers were then collected and distributed face down to their rightful new owners.
Carefully situating each 3×3 paper into a perfect pile, I wondered what these folks — the people I saw more than my own friends — thought of me.
I anxiously flipped over the first perception: “Nice.”
Nice. I could live with nice. I was nice. I flipped over the second perception: Nice. The third: Nice. And the “nice” continued 13 more times, followed by one “sweet,” one “helpful,” and one “always friendly.”
I’ll admit I was proud of myself. I’d somehow managed to stay nice in a professional environment that was anything but. And I suppose if I had to describe myself in one word, I’d use the same. I may not have been the smartest or the boldest, the prettiest or the cleverest, but I was always, always nice.
That was, until I became a mom.
With a baby on my hip I wasn’t as nice as I used to be. I found myself easily irritated, resentful, selfish with my time, and if I’m being completely honest, maybe even a little bitter. Me, bitter.
Before I knew it, meany mom thoughts invaded my consciousness without cause or permission:
Please, you only have one kid.
At least you have a cleaning lady.
Just wait until you become a parent.
Why are you complaining? You have a nanny.
I wish I had your kind of time!
Was I really a nice girl turned judgey mom? I thought motherhood was supposed to make me kinder, gentler, and more understanding — not less of these things! I loved being a mom. I mean, yeah, parenting was really hard, but did it warrant the sudden chip on my mom shoulder? I didn’t know. Worst of all, I didn’t know who I was anymore.
I wondered, does motherhood make us meaner — at least for a while? Or does it make us nicer?
I reached out to readers for the answer:
“Meaner. We are less likely to put up with any crap!” — Cynthia
“Nicer and more empathetic.” — Mary
“I get irritated with moms who complain about staying home. I wish I could do that. They don’t know how lucky they are and they’re among the biggest whiners.” — Kristen
“I think motherhood has softened me a little and made me more aware of other people’s needs, leading me to be a nicer person.” — Melissa
“Motherhood generally makes us more judgmental, but also more sympathetic.” — Cheryl
“I’m much nicer to other women now. It’s like you can always find common ground in the ‘mom club.’” — Marcy
“I hate it when my friends without kids tell me how tired they always are. I have no patience for it. Stay home and go to bed if you need sleep that bad. You don’t have kids so you can do that. I haven’t slept in 8 years!” — Shannon
“I feel like moms complain worse than anybody. I am one so I can say that.” — Robbin
“I’m nicer to other mothers, ’cause I’ve been there. I’m meaner to childless women because their struggles are nothing compared to mothers.” — Jennifer
“The catty gossipy behavior seems to increase after becoming a mother. Women come up to you to tell you how they’d do it, tell you what you’re doing wrong, give you unwanted advice and judge you right to your face.” — Heather
With answers as individual as the moms who offered them, commenter Leeanne perhaps said it best, “It depends on what journey life has taken you.”
And such was the case with me. At a time when new mom anxiety, insecurity, exhaustion, and loneliness claimed the goodness in me, a group of moms reached out with more kindness than I likely deserved. They became my army, my example, and my guide back to my best self, reminding me that just because motherhood was hard, it didn’t have to harden my heart.
Has your heart been hardened or softened by motherhood?