Forget the media attention on the ‘mumpires’ (mums who drain you in real life or online). Find people who uplift you and you’ll breathe new life into your support network
A few weeks ago, I endured a fraught playdate. You know the kind. Your kids run riot, while hers sit quietly drawing (then carefully replace every lid on the felt-tips). Her children eat everything, while yours decorate the floor with spinach. So far, so normal. But things really started to nosedive when my daughter came tearing in to announce she’d done a poo. Nothing wrong with that. Except she hadn’t done it in the loo, but slap bang in the middle of their perfectly landscaped lawn.
What might have been a hilarious incident with other friends became about my inadequate potty training skills with this mum. By the time I left, it was less a case of #mumfail, more #lifefail. Until it occurred to me that’s how I feel every time I visit her house. She always leaves me exhausted. In short, she’s an energy vampire – or, in the parenting world, a ‘mumpire’.
Attack of the mumpire
Someone who boosts their energy by taking it from others, usually by belittlement or criticism, emotional vampires are common. Traits include taking but rarely giving, being demanding but unreliable, and having the uncanny knack of making you feel worse instead of better about yourself. And being a parent makes us extra vulnerable.
‘We’re all prone to feeling insecure and unsure as mothers – it’s a time when we’re building a new sense of identity,’ says clinical psychologist Mia Scotland. ‘Where you might have been more robust about criticism before kids, many of us are sensitive about our mothering skills, which makes it easy to undermine us.’
Throw in the fact that new mums often talk over problems online and make friendships quickly – because you need someone to have coffee with at 11am on a Tuesday – you could become close without really getting to know the other person.
‘If another mum lives nearby, has kids the same age as yours and visits the same playground as you, it’s hard not to be friends,’ says Sarah, 31, from London, who’s mum to Adam, 16 months. ‘And, once you’re friends, it’s difficult to extract yourself if you realise this person’s not making you feel great.’
Could you be one?
A quick straw poll among other mum friends confirms that we all know a mumpire and deploy various tactics to cope with her, from avoidance to standing up to her. Some of us have even accepted that mumpire tendencies are part and parcel of our friendships. And, worse still, we can all sometimes be guilty of getting our teeth stuck into a fellow mum.
‘Women don’t always realise the effect they are having on others,’ says Mia. ‘They want to connect, but often don’t know how. They think giving advice is the way to do it, not realising that it can leave others questioning their own approach.’
Alison, 33, from Cambridge, who’s mum to Eddy, four, and Betsy, two, was left questioning her parenting skills after her brush with a mumpire. ‘When she came over for a playdate, she removed half my daughters toys because they were “dangerous”,’ she says. ‘Every time I see her, it feels like she’s implying I don’t keep a close enough eye on my kids.
Once, on the school run, my daughter was playing on a small wall while I chatted to a friend. The mumpire tapped me on the shoulder to tell me my daughter had fallen off. In fact, she’d jumped off and her tear-stained face was the aftermath of a mega tantrum she’d thrown five minutes earlier.’ These days, Alison copes with this by keeping her distance.
Pass the garlic
What makes the mumpire so hard to avoid is the fact she comes in many guises. Some suck you in under the pretence of a problem shared, except it’s only you who does the sharing. Others profess to be sympathetic, while subtly chipping away at your confidence – ‘Still not sleeping through at 11 months? Poor you!’
We’ve all been there – feeling secretly relieved that other mums are going through the same thing. ‘But there are some women who thrive on your insecurity, and it’s often driven by their own sense of inadequacy,’ says psychologist Jo Hemmings. ‘These mums tend to have a combination of low self-esteem mixed with a higher level of outward confidence, making them need constant reassurance.’
Half the battle is being able to acknowledge that someone isn’t making positive contributions to your life, so you’d be better off extracting yourself. If she’s unavoidable – for example, another mum at your child’s nursery or a neighbour – the trick is to dilute her. ‘Have other mums in your life who are encouraging, so that you can put her influence into perspective,’ says Jo.
And, instead of worrying about the opinions of the mumpire or someone being critical in an online forum, pick up the phone and call your old friends. ‘This is a quick way of getting back your sense of self that may have been affected,’ says Jo.
As for me, that difficult playdate was the last straw for my relationship with that particular friend. I didn’t cut all ties, but I’m not making any effort to see her. Instead, I’ve found a group of like-minded mums who not only howl with laughter at my daughter’s love of pooing al fresco, but make me feel more confident as a parent – and less vulnerable to mumpire attack.
Do you know a mumpire? How did you deal with her? Let us know in the comments box below.
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