Thoughts on hysterical moms

I work with many different types of people in my practice and in all honesty I have to admit that I have worked with mothers whom I myself have secretly labelled as “completely hysterical”.  You also hear it from other people around them: many a father has sat on my couch and referred to the mother of his children as “overly dramatic”, or such-and-such. Especially if the couple have divorced – oh boy, do they love to tell the world how “crazy” their ex-wife is.  A teacher might phone to refer a child to my practice and will then start the conversation with:  “Frankly I’m a little concerned about the mother, she tends to take things way too seriously …”

But what I’ve learnt from my interactions with these same women is that when a hysterical mom feels that she is being HEARD, when you really LISTEN to what she is trying to convey – all that hysteria diminishes, and sometimes even disappears entirely.  It is when mothers feel that they are NOT being heard that they begin to use behaviours we would typically associate with being hysterical – raising their voice, speaking in a higher pitch, flapping their arms around, becoming inflexible.  All of these are further attempts to bring our attention to what the mother is trying to tell us.  And ninety nine percent of the time, what lies at the very heart of these mothers’ “hysterical behaviours” is the purest desire to do whatever it may take to get what’s best for their child.

History also abounds with stories of mothers who were told that they were being “overly dramatic”; “too sensitive”; overreacting”; “hysterical” –  but who kept following their gut despite all of this.  Of mothers who kept insisting that something wasn’t quite right with their child and through nothing other than persistence and determination finally stumbled upon the truth and saved their child from some rare, dangerous illness or situation.

Helicopter parenting is a very real problem and I’m not for a moment trying to say that we shouldn’t all keep striving to get that perfect balance between nurturing and letting go. But I have recently started thinking that actually, being a “hysterical mom” probably isn’t the worst thing you can be.  Being an uninvolved mother is.  Being a neglectful mother is.  Being cold and cruel is.  And so the next time someone refers to you as a “hysterical mom”, take it as a compliment and remind yourself that you are trying your utmost to give your children what they need.   And might you find yourself on the other side of the coin – looking at a woman and thinking: “that mom’s hysterical” instead of it being a criticism, step in and figure out how you can help!

Anel Annandale is a prominent Educational Psychologist with a passion for early childhood development and a special interest in neuropsychology.

She is experienced in the field and has established herself as an expert, often appearing on television shows such as Exspresso. She is also available as a guest speaker at relevant events and functions.

For any queries call her on  021 423 0739 or email her at  anel@childpsych.co.za

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