Mother and Academic: Reflections on Self-Criticism

Submitted by Ya-Chien Huang on Fri, 04/01/2022 - 12:47

Motherhood is an interesting thing. It is not a position one can step down after a few years. Once it begins, it does not end. So far, I am 9 years into it.


In the past 9 years, I admit there have been fleeting moments when all the stars aligned and I felt like a wonder woman. But most of the time, I felt reactive and like I was just getting by. I felt I should have made time to attended regular parents’ coffee sessions. I told myself I should have arranged more playdates or fun activities during holidays, should have read emails and newsletters from school properly, should have gotten her a pet, baked birthday cakes, prepared healthier food, helped more with the homework. This list could go on for another four pages, and I never felt that I could catch up. Two incidents happened recently that changed my perspective, and I want to thank the people around me for making that happen.


The first incident happened on a Saturday morning. I woke up to piles of laundry, a messy house and a daughter in pyjamas addicted to games on an iPad before breakfast. Something must have come over me, and I erupted with words about feeling trapped in this perpetuate cycle of cleaning, washing, cooking, shopping, working and policing her iPad use. My hysterical venting eventually finished with a guilt-laden statement: ‘(Sigh) I must be the worst mum ever’.


By that point I was expecting a rebuttal or some form of challenge from my daughter. But to my surprise, she gave me a hug and said: ‘You are not bad at all. You are the Best Mum Ever!’ Really? I am the best mum ever, even after I just completely lost it? My anxiety suddenly dissipated. It dawned on me that my own standard of motherhood was weighing me down and making me angry, but the only standard I should care about is the one from my daughter- after all, she is the only ‘customer’ in this relationship.


The second incident happened when I was in a discussion with my colleagues about doing a book stack to showcase our recent reading. ‘Alas!’ I thought. There is definitely nothing intellectual on my bookshelves these days. Nowadays I either research ‘books for kids’ on Amazon or manage just a few pages of those self-help books written by not very academic authors! Surely it would be a joke to showcase a stack of children’s literature, and to so clearly expose my insecurity!


Thanks to my super-duper non-judgmental colleagues, I came around to see the fun side of the idea. Instead of staging a perfect stack that resembles a reading list from a teaching module, we talked about the idea of a book stack that represents ourselves at this particular moment in time. With that thought, my ‘stack of shame’ suddenly did not seem so shameful anymore and I felt comfortable to display my little childish stack, knowing that it wasn’t hopeless after all!


As an academic study skills tutor, I have encountered many students who are also mums. You might be booking an 1-1 session between breast-feeding schedules. You might be 15 minutes late to our appointment because you are stuck in traffic after the school run. You might have to plan your study around school half-terms and holidays. You might need to change an appointment suddenly because someone else needs your urgent attention in the family. I have tremendous respect for you, and being able to support you on the study journey adds extra meaning to my days.


Sometimes we are our own worst critics, and a value-laden notion of motherhood can easily make this impulse worse (as I have certainly experienced it myself). Although I believe there are still issues to be addressed in the wider context in which we operate as women and mothers, I also believe if I can unsee the patterns I used to see, shift the standard I used to follow, and appreciate individual differences between mums and non-mums, I shall be able to experience more of those wonder-women moments. I am the best mum ever (my daughter, 2022) and I hope we all embrace our little stack—whatever it may contain.

Reflective Writing