Judge­ment day for mum shamers

Dubbo Photo News - - Dubbo Weekender - By NATALIE HOLMES

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.

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