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Smug Alert - Are you a Smug Mum?

By Sally Collings - 2nd December 2011

Smug, smug, smug – it’s one of those words that the more you say it, the stranger it sounds.

What is it about human nature that means we feel better about ourselves when we hear about someone else getting it wrong? It’s why gossip magazines sell in the millions, pushing sales with pictures of celebrities getting into endless varieties of trouble. It’s why we read about mothers who drive and breastfeed at the same time and think, ‘I might not be the best parent on the block, but at least I wouldn’t do that.

Smug is a two-step process. To non-parents, new parents can seem pretty pleased with themselves because they gave birth. Go figure – they get brownie points because an egg met a sperm and got it on. After that, there are parents who are smug because they are so damn good at it. Making their own baby food from home-grown vegetables, and they are sporting a fresh pedicure.

Happily, smug tends to wear off the more children you have and the older they get.

Is it just because we’re hanging by our fingernails off the edge of this thing called parenting, and any indication we get that we’re doing okay, we shout it to the world?

Humans tend to be very competitive creatures. It’s a seductive trap, though: once you start comparing what you’ve got on your plate to what the person next to you has, the most likely outcomes are envy or smugness. The more I look at what the other mums are doing, or how the flowers are growing in their garden, the more I feel inadequate, unsure, ill-equipped. Or I start banging on about the fantastic way I’ve found to prepare meals/get my kids to do their homework/avoid ironing/whatever.

Before you know it, a little harmless comparison turns into smugness. And when you’re caught up in the Smug Game, you’re no longer free: your responses are determined by what someone else owns, is or does.

How do we stop, though? Trying to cut through smugness becomes one of those never-ending mind games: the more you tell yourself not to, the more you find your mind drawn to what someone else is doing. Detachment – in the Buddhist sense – can help. Practice being a watcher. Observe yourself, and when you find yourself feeling superior to someone else, think to yourself, ‘There I go again, making comparisons.’ Or, ‘Oh look, there’s some smugness there.’

What do you think brings out the ‘smug’ in parents? Have you found some good ways to deal with it – in other people and in yourself?

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