I Was Terrified I'd Be Seen As A Hysterical Mom

In hopes of avoiding the hysterical mom stereotype, one mom took drastic measures

The “hysterical mom” is a stereotype we’re all familiar with. Whether it’s the mom who calls the doctor every time a dot appears on her child’s skin, or the mom who is overly safety conscious, we’ve heard it before.

There are the moms depicted as being over the top about what foods their kids eat and the ones hovering over their big kids on the playground. As women, we learn long before we have children that we don’t want to be the hysterical mom. We learn that the hysterical mom is a comedic character and that no one takes her seriously. I’ll readily admit that I have rolled my eyes (at least mentally) at more than one mom who I perceived as “too much.” But I also internalized the importance of not being that mom if I want to be respected.

When my daughter was an infant, I was surprised by how many of my adult friends had no experience at all with babies. I’m not really a “kid person” at all, but I’d had younger brothers and cousins, I’d babysat for years and I wasn’t the first of my friends to have a baby. To me, the basics of caring for a baby—things like supporting her head, for example—were inherent. Yet more than once a friend would panic about breaking the baby or the complexities of folding and snapping a onesie.

Then, there were the people on the other end of the spectrum: friends who likewise had no experience with babies, but who had seen enough TV to know how to recite things like, “kids fall” and “kids cry” and “she’ll be fine,” all synonyms for “no big deal.” This, unlike the former—which just confused me—frustrated me.

Newsflash: a newborn crying is crying for a reason.

My grandmother told me to stop holding my baby so much when she was a month old. She told me I was spoiling her. Already, I was being accused of being too much. Was I a hysterical mom? (Spoiler: no.)

Meanwhile, I knew other new moms who seemed to be at the pediatrician when their baby had a patch of dry skin or more eye crust in one eye than the other. Was I a total slacker? How could I be both overbearing and not paying enough attention?

Early on in my time as a mom, it became important to me to pay attention but not too much attention. First you’re reading sunscreen ingredients, next you’re feeding your toddler kimchi water in a room of fair trade wooden toys, I told myself. So my baby would get sick and I’d brush it off. Babies get sick, I’d tell myself. It’s probably just a virus. My baby will probably just get sicker sitting in a waiting room full of coughing patients. I made a point of not getting things checked out unless they were decidedly big deals or had been going on for a while.

You can all exhale: fortunately for everyone, this story is not leading to a discovery that my kid was actually sick and I was being a delinquent for vanity reasons. But very early on, when we would wind up at our doctor’s office, I’d make a point of noting how I wasn’t really worried, “no big deal” implied. My doctor was kind but firm when she told me that infants have tiny bodies and tiny immune systems and that any kind of sickness or infection could go from a little deal to a big deal quickly. Nine out of ten times, it’ll be a virus, but you have to come in, she told me. It could be an ear infection, or something else and some things need medical attention to be treated.

I heard this, I registered and respected it. I noted that the scope between slacker and hysterical might be wider than I was accounting for.

But I still had concerns over being overbearing.

A couple of months ago, just after the holidays, my daughter—now five—had an unexplained fever. After a day of this, I had a friend bring over children’s Tylenol and figured my daughter was sleeping it off. She’s school-aged, it was winter and viruses are everywhere. She seemed fine, just hot and sleepy. After a few days, it wasn’t getting any more unpleasant, but it also wasn’t going away.

What struck me as odd was that there were no other symptoms, really: she’d complain of a sore throat or that her head hurt on occasion, but she was having no stomach trouble and didn’t even have cold symptoms. I brought her to the doctor.

The first person we saw was a medical student who asked many questions before checking her out. It was probably a virus, he assured us. Next the doctor came in, confirmed that yes, it was probably a virus. She took a urine sample and a throat swab just in case.

The clinic we were at does rapid tests, and to everyone’s surprise the samples tested positive for both a bladder infection and strep throat.

Another lesson is sometimes you have to risk seeming like you’re overreacting. (This isn’t the best example: because, somewhat redeeming to me, the cultures both came back from the lab negative later in the week…)

Regardless of the confusing medical test results (as noted: my daughter is just fine), it did stick with me that this isn’t about me. I know myself and can trust myself. I know that I’m not pushing unreasonable expectations on my kid—her clothes are unnaturally dyed, her toys are plastic, she happens to eat kale but I swear she likes it. Maybe it’s time to stop putting unreasonable expectations on myself, though. 

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