In my experience, the worst thing a mother can be is "selfish." Oh sure, there are all sorts of other insults that can be hurled her way (there is never a dearth of insults aimed at women), but "selfish" seems to hold particular power. After all, mothers are "supposed" to be the opposite of selfless, endlessly giving, and unfailingly nurturing. Saying a mother is "selfish" is basically saying, "She's not really a mother at all." So what are the signs you're a selfish mom? From what I can tell, it's basically anything that indicates that you have thoughts, ideas, and goals unrelated to your role as a mother. Like, if you still see yourself primarily as an individual instead of "Billy's mommy," you're probably selfish.
At least that's how I understand it from the people who tend to toss around the accusation. From what I've seen, women who are accused of being "selfish" mothers aren't so much guilty of anything inherently selfish or damaging to their children in any way, as they are guilty of making a different choice than the person calling them "selfish." It's an argument based not on research, data, or facts, but on smug indignation, myopia, and secret insecurity. It's awesome. (It's not awesome.)
So allow me to present some of the arguments I've heard from people who have accused their fellow mamas of the sin of selfishness. You can't fix what you don't realize is broken, right?
You Consumed Sushi, Soft Cheese, Cold Cuts, Wine, And/Or Coffee While Pregnant
How dare you, madam? How very dare you eat anything other than leafy greens and the occasional organic rice cracker for dessert for the nine months you're carrying that fetus (and the months leading up to conception, obviously, just in case)? This is for the good of your baby. Never mind that what is considered "safe" and "unsafe" to eat during pregnancy often boils down to cultural mores, or that even the reported risk is minimal. Why take that risk?!
(Ummm, because the risk usually runs the gamut from questionable to minimal and I'm OK with that.)
You Don't Love Being Pregnant
How could you not delight in the new life growing inside of you?! You don't feel an instant connection to your child?! I knew my child's favorite book when I was three weeks pregnant, before he even read the book or developed a brain stem. That's how amazing my motherly intuition is! Plus, I glowed! Girlfriend, I was like a damn Christmas tree, bringing beauty and joy to my entire home. You obviously weren't meant to be a mama if you don't enjoy growing another human being inside your body. Clearly you're too selfish. I feel terrible for your poor sweet baby!
(OK, so good for you if you loved being pregnant, but I didn't and I'm not going to be made to feel even a little bit bad about it. I was constantly nauseous and often in pain. It's not like I said I didn't say I didn't want to be pregnant anymore, I said I didn't really like it. This has nothing to do with being selfish or incapable of loving my baby and everything to do with me being a human with physical feelings.)
You're Not Wealthy
I just don't understand these people who have babies they can't afford. There should be some sort of legal requirement that you have to own a home and have money in the bank before you have a baby. People who do otherwise are just selfish!
(Wow. OK, so for one, suggesting there should be some sort of government-sanctioned bureau of reproduction is creepy as hell. Second, how are we measuring wealth, exactly? What's considered solvent in your mind? And at what point are we making that call? When you put in the application to get pregnant? When the baby is born? Do they check in every few months to make sure your bank account is doing OK? What happens if it's not? How do you define financial security? Do you have to own a home? Do you need to have money in a retirement fund? A college fund? You see where accusing people of being selfish for exercising a biological right gets really icky and complicated now, right?)
You Used IVF
How could you be so selfish when there are babies waiting to be adopted?!
(Yeah, OK. Yawn. Call me back when you start giving this spiel to all the people who choose have biological children without IVF, at which point I will refer you to my earlier point about it being creepy to dictate people's reproductive choices.)
You're A Single Mom
A baby needs a father! How could you be so selfish to have a baby on your own? This isn't about the baby, this is about you!
(Anyone who would accuse a single mother of selfishness is not someone I could possibly begin to reason with. Also, all parenting is about the parents to a large degree. Literally no baby chooses to be born. Instead, babies are born because parents want to have babies. So I fail to see how single mothers are any more selfish in this regard than anyone else. Plus, kids don't need some prescribed cis-heteronormative family unit. Families take all forms.)
You Had A C-Section
You just wanted to take the easy way out because you didn't want to ruin your vagina! How selfish can you get?! My eyes are literally and physically popping out of my head as I contemplate the vast stores of selfishness inside of you. If you can't deal with the pain of labor and delivery for your baby, then you are not fit to be a mother.
(Do me a favor and have a c-section, then come back and tell me how easy it was. I was literally cut open for my child. That's, like, the opposite of selfish.)
You Had A Home Birth Or VBAC
How could you put your baby's life at risk for the sake of an "experience?" Your selfishness makes me want to throw up all over myself, and then put all my throw-up covered clothes in the mail and send them to you, and I'll address the package to "Selfish Monster, P.O. Box you're terrible!"
(Statistically speaking, most people can expect an incident-free home birth or VBAC. In fact, the medical establishment currently recommends VBACs for people who have been assessed as good candidates, which, again, is most people.)
You Admit You Sometimes Miss Kid-Free Life
What?! How could there have ever been glimmer of happiness in your life before your precious little one? Do you know what I did before I had my babies? I cried that I missed them and I wanted them with me. Literally, from my birth until the time they were born, I dwelt in a land of darkness, sobbing, dreaming of holding them in my arms. How could you be such a bad mother?
(For starters, because I miss sleeping until whenever the hell I want on weekends and not watching Curious George every day. I wouldn't not have kids, but I'm not even a little sorry admitting that there were fun moments before they were born.)
You Only Want One Child
If you do not give your child at least one sibling then there is no way they will ever learn how to interact with anyone. They will be a social outcast, wandering from lunch table to lunch table in school, like a leper, longing for friendship. But they can't have friendship because they don't know what it means to love because they don't have a brother or sister to teach them how to relate to peers! Why would you do that to your baby?! Are you that selfish?
(I'm pretty sure everyone I know has a friend outside of their sibling. Relax. They're going to be fine.)
You Work Outside Of The Home
How could anything be more important to you than raising your child? That's my career! It's the most important thing any woman can do! You should be honored to quit your job and spend all your time snuggling your little one. I just can't imagine being so selfish that I would leave my child so I could "have a career!"
(Yeah, but wouldn't you know it, I wound up with one of those babies that needs to eat, like, every day, so I need to earn money to buy food and shelter and stuff. It's the pits. Also, believe it or not it's completely possible to love both your child and your job, which is good for everyone since a well-rounded, fulfilled mom makes for a happy child.)
You Have Regular Nights Out
I just can't imagine choosing my friends over my children. Just terrible. Sure, you need to go out on a date with your partner every now and then (say, once or twice a year), but only to keep your relationship strong for the sake of the children. Not because you want to go. You shouldn't want to go. You should want to spend that time with your sweet babies. If you have to go on a date, why not a family date? Your children are only little once, you know. Treasure every moment, that's what I always say. You can't do that if you're not spending every possible moment together. I don't understand these selfish mothers who leave their child with a babysitter at every opportunity.
(Yeah, I will give my children an kiss on the forehead and go out for the evening completely unbothered by this insecure noise.)
You Expect Your Partner To Parent Just As Much As You
There are just some things mothers are built for that their partners aren't, and by "some things" I mean "literally everything." Why would you complain about that? Don't you want to be the one to take care of your babies? What are you doing that's so important that you would give someone else the responsibility and honor of parenting your treasures? It's just so selfish I could die, and then come back as a ghost and go around telling you what a selfish troll you are.
(Yeah, it's not like my partner had anything to do with my children, right? Oh, wait...)
You Don't Volunteer At Your Child's School
I'm sorry, but I just want my darling child to have the best possible school experience imaginable. Look, everyone is busy, but I make the time. It's called priorities, and my priority is my children. What are your priorities? Probably something selfish!
(OK. I work from 9 a.m. to 5 p.m., not including commute time. So if you want me to volunteer at school, I will be required to take time off work, which either comes out of my paid time off — which I'd prefer to use for, say, a family vacation — or will be uncompensated and, as I've said, my kids really love groceries. If you want me to volunteer after work hours that takes away from my limited time with my kids, and we've established how you feel about that. So, seriously, what do you want me to do here? I'm all ears.)
You Vacation Without Your Child
*Literally freezes and falls over like a felled tree, twitching on the ground*
(I'm not even a little sorry. I would contend that you can never really vacation with your children, because you can never vacation from parenting. If you can swing a vacation sans kids every now and then, that's not selfish, that's just seizing and important opportunity to restore your mental health.)
People Judge You
As the kids say, haters gonna hate.
You Can Be Easily Distinguished From A Martyred Saint
Because I'm pretty sure literal sainthood is the only thing that would shield a mother from accusations of selfishness.