Are you the best mom of all? Stop the judging and comparing
Everyone has their own style of parenting that works for them. So why do women feel they have to compete with each other and judge each other about those choices, asks Lori Cohen
YOU’VE READ ALL the baby books, gone to childcare classes and (admit it!) done a lot of Googling, so when you become a mother you think, “I’ve got this.” What you’re not prepared for is a world of judgment for your parenting choices coming down on you from an unexpected source – other moms.
Aren’t these supposed to be your “sisters”? Suddenly you have women tut-tutting that you opted for an elective C-section because they feel that a vaginal birth is better for the baby. Or you get “that look” from moms in your baby group when you tell them you’ve moved on to formula. Where did all the mean girl stuff come from?
Andalene Salvesen, a parenting coach at Munchkins, says she frequently encounters mothers who are floundering with the unsolicited advice given by other moms – and it causes them to question their own choices. “With the constant barrage of information we have access to, we are starting to lose our trust in our own instinctive choices. Plus we see other mothers around us looking like they are coping so well, so we assume what they are doing must be better than what we are doing. However, the truth is, we are all struggling – I experience what is really going on behind the facade when I have home visits as a coach.”
HOW TO FIND YOUR PARENTING PHILOSOPHY You will gain confidence in your choices, and therefore not get the wobbles when faced with negativity from other moms, by doing the following, says Andalene: “Ask questions, listen, go home, and do your own research. When you feel comfortable with your choices, let go of the feeling that you are disappointing somebody just because they will not agree with you,” she suggests. “Then try it, and if it doesn’t work, be open-minded to try something else.” Each child is different and what worked with your first baby or child may not be right for your next one.
Being flexible, open and confident in your choices will
enable you to make the best decisions to cope with each situation. “Developing healthy boundaries is essential,” says Andalene. “When you put a boundary down, that is actually a wall, then you keep out the negatives, but also possibly the positives. You may miss out on valuable advice. Ensure you have a gate that opens to let in positive advice or influence, but closed to hurtful things or negatives in your life too,” she says.
Being challenged about your beliefs needn’t be negative. “It’s healthy to question them, but it’s the attitude behind the questioning that frustrates me. When the attitude is, ‘I want to discuss this because I want to change your mind’, then boundaries are being overstepped and that’s not productive.”
UNDERSTANDING THE SOURCE So, you have, for instance, decided that co-sleeping is what works for you and your baby. Why then do some other moms feel like they can slag off your choice so vocally? Most of the so-called “mommy wars” are fuelled by insecurity, says Andalene. “We may latch on to something we believe in because it makes us feel more secure to have made a committed choice. If you keep this in mind when you are confronted with an opinion on your parenting choice, you can recognise where it comes from and handle it differently. You don’t need to see it as an attack that you feel compelled to defend; you can have compassion for the person. You deal with it in the same way you would deal with any bully.”
A desire for a sense of belonging also encourages mothers to make choices that they then feel others should follow and promote. “Motherhood, as with politics and religion, has us naturally surrounding ourselves with people who agree with and endorse what we believe, because we all want to belong to something. Women coming into a time of change in their lives in the form of motherhood very quickly latch on to belief systems – or parenting choices – that make them feel connected to other women,” says Andalene. When others make different choices to them, defensiveness or judgment are natural side effects.
MEASURING THE MALICE Smile and nod if someone confronts you with an opinion that makes you feel uncomfortable, says Andalene. “Everyone is allowed to have an opinion, but it’s not okay to comment with judgment,” she says. “You can thank people for their input, but also be clear that you feel you’ve made the best choice for your family.”
Perhaps you’ve found yourself doing the same to other moms? Before you open your mouth, consider your motives for commenting. Do you think that offering a baby a dummy at birth is wrong? Has the mother asked for advice? Then go ahead. Offering our opinion should come from a place of compassion. “Asking yourself if what the mom is doing will harm the child’s health or well-being is a good yardstick for deciding whether to say something or not,” says Andalene. If a mom is doing something that could endanger the child’s life – such as not putting a seatbelt on them – then you have an obligation to say something, even if it comes across as critical. If not, keep it to yourself unless asked.
MOMS VS MOMS Where are the dads in all of this conflict and frustration? You don’t hear women calling out men when they do something with their kids that we disagree with. “Women tend to measure each other by how well they communicate and feel connected in a group. Men have been encouraged to hide their emotions and you won’t as often hear them talking about their decision as a couple to breastfeed or co-sleep. Women share and care about how their mothering skills are perceived by others and we set ourselves up as rivals rather than having our own measures of good parenting in place,” explains Andalene.
With this sharing, it’s inevitable that a large amount of comparing will happen. It can be bewildering to hear other mothers gloat that their baby is sleeping through the night or meeting development milestones like a champ. How do you cope if you’re the mom with a baby that’s still not walking at 15 months or hasn’t said “mama” yet?
Take a step back and consider what you are using as your yardstick, recommends Andalene. While your doctor will help you establish if your child’s development should be a real concern and needs intervention, you should focus on the bigger picture. Consider focusing on how your child is developing in character, emotional intelligence, and other aspects beyond the obvious and physical milestones, says Andalene. Are you getting caught up in comparing their progress to others when it’s more productive to focus on whether or not you are teaching them patience, tolerance, and so on.” In short, your goal should not be to win at a mommy war, or to keep everyone happy, but rather your focus should be on building a healthy family unit and a confident child with character who can one day make wise choices. YB
SMILE AND NOD IF SOMEONE CONFRONTS YOU WITH AN OPINION THAT MAKES YOU FEEL UNCOMFORTABLE