THE SHAME GAME

As ap­palling as it sounds, be­lit­tling a mother for her par­ent­ing choices has be­come nor­malised in the age of so­cial me­dia. JASSMIN PETER-BERNTZEN finds out what trig­gers it and how what you can do about it.

Young Parents (Singapore) - - Contents -

Be­lit­tling a mother for her par­ent­ing choices has be­come com­mon­place in the age of so­cial me­dia. Find out what you can do if it hap­pens to you.

Jenny Lee re­mem­bers the time she posted a pic­ture of her tod­dler with an iPad in an aero­plane.

“In­stead of wish­ing us a bon voy­age, so many of our Face­book friends were busy point­ing out that we gave our son an iPad – it was shock­ing,” re­calls the 45-year-old, who works in hos­pi­tal­ity.

“I don’t see how it’s any of their busi­ness.”

Wel­come to mod­ern day moth­er­hood, where women are not just ex­pected to be grate­ful for be­ing able to have ba­bies, but to also en­joy ev­ery minute of it – and not com­plain.

They are also ex­pected to ex­clu­sively breast­feed for as long as they can (but not too long!), eat well, snap back to their pre-preg­nancy weight overnight, make time for their hus­bands and take care of the house­hold – all while hold­ing down a suc­cess­ful full-time job.

Slip up, and you’ll be crit­i­cised for be­ing a bad mother, not only by fam­ily and friends but com­plete strangers.

“I of­ten ob­serve moth­ers be­ing crit­i­cised on so­cial me­dia, on­line plat­forms, play­dates and mummy mee­tups,” says coun­sel­lor Sil­via Wetherell, who spe­cialises in ma­ter­nal men­tal health.

“The sham­ing of­ten in­cludes harsh crit­i­cism over par­ent­ing choices whether it’s writ­ten in an open way or pas­sive-ag­gres­sive man­ner.”

Ad­vice vs sham­ing

How do you tell the dif­fer­ence be­tween sham­ing and some “friendly” un­so­licited ad­vice?

“Ad­vice is of­ten ‘this is not okay, you should do this’, but sham­ing sounds more like, ‘you are not okay as a mother’,” Sil­via ex­plains.

While fa­thers aren’t spared from be­ing shamed – re­mem­ber how the In­ter­net tore Face­book’s Mark Zucker­berg apart when he posted a pic­ture of his baby daugh­ter at her first vac­ci­na­tion ap­point­ment – mums get the brunt of it be­cause so­ci­ety has put them on an im­pos­si­ble pedestal when it comes to ex­pec­ta­tions, Sil­via notes.

The de­mo­graphic most at risk: Vul­ner­a­ble, new mums, es­pe­cially those ex­pe­ri­enc­ing post­na­tal de­pres­sion and are al­ready feel­ing low or numb to be­gin with.

Their big­gest crit­ics? Other mums. Con­tro­ver­sial top­ics that spark th­ese heated de­bates in­clude whether to breast­feed or not; sleep train­ing; dis­ci­pline meth­ods, vac­ci­na­tions, and over­all par­ent­ing philoso­phies.

Some take it hard

Not every­one gets af­fected by mum sham­ing. Some han­dle it poorly than oth­ers be­cause for crit­i­cism to have an im­pact, it needs a “hook” on the shamed mother, Sil­via says.

“The shame needs to be in­ter­nalised for it to re­ally im­pact some­one emo­tion­ally, so it mostly im­pacts moth­ers who are feel­ing de­pressed, anx­ious or lack­ing con­fi­dence. Other­wise, it will be an aw­ful event, but the mother can bounce back from it more or less un­scathed,” Sil­via adds.

“I don’t think a lot of peo­ple mean to ‘mum shame’ but they aren’t per­cep­tive of how the mum is re­ceiv­ing the ad­vice,” says Tif­fany John­son. She re­mem­bers clearly the back­lash she got from fam­ily, and even strangers, when she de­cided to switch her baby boy to for­mula at six months.

“While you shouldn’t have to de­fend your de­ci­sion to do some­thing with your own child, I typ­i­cally would go into a long-winded story about how my sup­ply had de­creased and his ap­petite in­creased the older he got, and I switched to for­mula as he clearly needed more milk than what I was able to pro­duce.”

Su­mathi Rat­nam, 36, a se­nior cor­re­spon­dent, also felt the need to ex­plain her choices when she left her baby in the care of a do­mes­tic helper upon re­turn­ing to work.

“Every­one kept telling me how ir­re­spon­si­ble it is to let a helper take care of my baby and that I was putting my job be­fore my child,” Su­mathi re­calls.

“I felt re­ally bad be­cause I wasn’t con­fi­dent of my de­ci­sion, ei­ther. But I also have to pay the bills.”

Why mums shame mums

“I do think there is truth in that the most in­se­cure par­ents are the ones most likely to at­tack oth­ers in a bid to re­as­sure them­selves that they are right and quickly get rid of any nig­gling doubts,” Sil­via notes.

In­se­cu­rity usu­ally stems from hav­ing deeplyen­trenched views of how cer­tain things should be done.

So, when they see a fel­low mum do­ing some­thing en­tirely dif­fer­ent, they feel threat­ened and cut her down to make them­selves bet­ter.

An­other trig­ger – the power strug­gle be­tween fam­ily mem­bers, quite of­ten with the in-laws or some­times even with the hus­band.

“This tends to be the harsh­est and most painful form of mum-sham­ing as we turn to those clos­est to us for love, sup­port and un­der­stand­ing dur­ing that vul­ner­a­ble first year or two of a child’s life,” Sil­via points out.

Nu­rul Ah­mad, mum to one-year-old Adam, is all too fa­mil­iar with this. The 35-yearold teacher ad­mits to be­ing shamed by her fa­ther-in-law for par­ent­ing dif­fer­ently than him.

“I’m very par­tic­u­lar about what I feed Adam, but my fa­ther-in-law isn’t and has al­ways been re­laxed with his kids.

“In­stead of wish­ing us a bon voy­age, so many of our Face­book friends were busy point­ing out that we gave our son an iPad – it was shock­ing. I don’t see how it’s any of their busi­ness.”

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