Judgement day for mum shamers
MENTION the term Mum shaming and many mothers will nod their head in understanding. Judgement on everything from feeding and toilet training to schooling and discipline can come from everyone – including close friends and people on the street.
Mum of one, Lucy, admits to sometimes silently judging people but would never dream of saying anything to them.
“When I find myself passing judgement on others for no good reason, I have to tell myself not to worry about other’s choices, just mine,” she says.
“It’s something I think many of us hate but do it ourselves without thinking, not verbally, just in my mind.”
Although people mean well, Lucy believes that it’s human nature to judge others.
“The amount of raised eyebrows I get from close friends and family that I am still breastfeeding my 16-month-old son shows this,” she points out.
A member of the North Shore Mums Facebook group recently felt the wrath of other mothers after innocently asking about sandwich fillings for her husband’s lunch box.
She was accused of being a ‘slave’ and a ‘1950s housewife’.
Although it wasn’t related to her children, the woman was openly criticised for doing something nice for her husband.
“I read it and wondered why people would react so negatively to her,” Lucy said.
Macquarie Health Collective psychologist, and mum, Karen Wallace (pictured), has a particular interest in perinatal mental health. She described mum shaming as mothers criticising each other for their parental choices.
“The big issues are things like breast or bottle feeding, co-sleeping and whether they’re doing controlled crying. Tantrums in public is another one. Take any parenting decision and there’s going to be someone with a different opinion.” Unfortunately, the issue has increased.
“The reason mum shaming is becoming more prevalent is that it’s so easy to have an opinion and comment on someone else’s parenting choices,” Karen said. She mentions another story that went public recently involving a stranger taking a photo of a mum who had left her twomonth-old daughter on the airport floor while she checked her phone. The image was publicly circulated but the mum in question responded by explaining that they had been in transit for more than 20 hours, her infant needed to stretch and she needed to communicate their situation with family.
Karen says the incident was typical of what can occur. “People with no knowledge of a situation can make a judgement. “It also shows the power of social media.”
In this regard, social media can be a huge part of the problem, opening up the opportunity for close scrutiny.
“There’s a lot of pressure to conduct a certain image and it’s very big on social media to have the official pregnancy announcement, a gender reveal announcement and a gorgeous photoshoot. “Everything is documented and put out there because it’s so acceptable. I think it really leaves you open to a whole realm of commentary. There’s a level of reassurance in saying ‘look at how perfect my life is’. It’s often not the reality and can create misconceptions that can have ongoing effects for women who believe that’s what they should be like. There’s an expectation that we should be able to cope.”
In the community, new mums especially can find themselves the target of well-meaning friends and strangers alike.
“From the old lady in the street and passers-by, there’s something about a cute young baby and people are attuned to them.”
But in saying that, people can offer too much advice and pouring criticism on someone is not conducive to fixing the issue, Karen says.
“In practice, I see the effects of it and women doubting their ability, doubting their choices, doubting their instinct.”
The most difficult time can be soon after giving birth, when women are often sleep-deprived and their emotions are amplified.
“The statistical rates of postnatal depression is one in seven women,” Karen explains. Signs that a woman isn’t doing well include a low mood which can lead to depression, changes in sleeping and eating habits and feeling like they’re not coping.
Being swamped by advice on how they should be feeling and what they should be doing is not as helpful as it seems.
“Parenting advice is changing, we have waves of recommendations. There’s so much information out there - parenting books, websites, home visits,” Karen said.
“They are bombarded with information. But what should be happening is that can only ever be a guideline.”
Karen believes in getting back to basics and trusting yourself as a parent.
“We’ve lost our ability to trust our own instincts and believe in ourselves. It’s very different to what child-raising used to be like. There’s lots of challenges that we haven’t really accounted for.
“We are more isolated and we are only posting perfect images. It makes it hard to ask for help.”
Mum shaming can have an impact on mental health because it undermines self-confidence.
“It does shake your confidence. But it’s about focusing on outcomes more than the processes. “Parenting is full of choices but we need to be confident that we are making the best choices for ourselves and our family.
“At the end of the day, we have to do what feels right to us. There’s no one size fits all, and it’s important for mums to feel justified for their choices.”
Karen also said it’s important for mums to have some time for themselves in life.
Macquarie Health Collective periodically hosts Mums and Bubs seminars. For more information call 6882 7113.