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

Your Baby & Toddler - - Contents -

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

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