When’s the last time someone picked apart your parenting skills?
A new report says that two thirds of mothers of under-fives have been criticised for their parenting, and nearly half of those admitted it made them feel unsure about their choices.
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Judgement of the decisions women make in pregnancy and motherhood is nothing new, but now the pressure isn’t just confined to family, friends and that stranger on the bus who tells you why your baby’s crying.
The opportunity for people to hide behind random usernames combined with the pressure to prove that you’re #blessed on Instagram means that one negative comment can send you into a spiral of doom.
The internet can be a place of comfort, especially when you need to Google: ‘Why does my baby’s poo look like mustard?’ at 3am, but it can also be a place where people are bold enough to unleash opinions they wouldn’t say to your face.
Where once mothers had to wait until Baby Rhyme Time to be quizzed about why they’re bottle-feeding, they can now receive that criticism (complete with a sadface emoji) on a smartphone 24/7.
You don’t see anyone making men feel guilty about their style of fatherhood. But people love to pitch women against each other, and criticising mums takes it to another level. Breast vs bottle feeders. Stay-at-home mums vs working mums. Happy mums vs mums who dare to admit that it’s the hardest (and sometimes – whisper it – most boring) job in the world.
The moment you become a mother, it’s like everyone has permission to tell you, in the words of the great porcine prophet Peppa Pig: ‘You’re doing it all wrong’.
One little remark can haunt you for days. If you’re sleep-deprived, just out of hospital and can’t sit down without wincing, any advice feels like interference. You’re at your weakest point. Babies don’t come with a manual, so you need reassurance that you’re doing the right thing and the confidence to trust your instincts (says the woman who put the first nappy on back-to-front as the midwife sniggered.)
Telling mums (especially new ones) where they’re going wrong undoubtedly does damage, whether it comes from family or complete strangers.
Mothers-in-law are prime examples: they’ve been there, done that and are ‘only trying to help’. One friend describes a visit from her partner’s mum, who insisted she should ‘put the baby to bed at 7pm, let her cry and then get on with your evening.’ Ten minutes later, both mum and ten-day-old baby were a weeping mess, desperate for a cuddle.
Everyone has those moments when their parenting skills are tested in public. For one friend, it was when her toddler couldn’t wait for the toilet and just let that wee loose in the supermarket café. ‘Her boots were full of it,’ she recalls. ‘She threw a massive tantrum when I strapped her in the pram, so I did my best mum-ing, getting down to her level and calmly explaining that she couldn’t walk barefoot across the car park.’ Then along came a 70-something woman, who said: ‘You can’t let her out without shoes.’ Yes, the mum in question lost it.
Of course, interfering bystanders are nothing new. When we were children, our mothers were more likely to have a closer support network from family – and with it came advice.
Now, the pressure to look like you’ve got the parenting thing down to a tee comes from social media as well as real life.
Mum-based in-fighting broke out when a newspaper criticised bloggers such as Hurrah For Gin and The Unmumsy Mum for “moaning’ about how hard it is to raise children. Their dirty habits of occasionally enjoying a gin and tonic and feeding their kids fish fingers for tea were exposed.
Personally, I think when you’re knee-deep in snot and stray toys, gagging for that glass of sauvignon blanc that only comes when kids are asleep, there’s something comforting about the reassurance that you’re not the only one finding it hard.
‘I can do without reading a poem on Facebook reminding me to ‘cherish every moment’ when I’ve only had seven hours’ sleep in the last three days,’ says one friend. ‘Don’t get me wrong: I love my children more than I ever imagined I could, but it’s not all peaceful snuggles.’
All mums are trying to the best for their kids: it’s our job description. But still we’re bombarded with opinions and new studies about what’s best: from whether or not to send your child to nursery to banning screen time for your teenager.
When you see a snapshot of a mum’s life – whether it’s in the supermarket or on Facebook – you don’t know what she’s going through behind the scenes. Never criticise until you’ve walked a mile in her battered Converse.
From: Good Housekeeping UK
Image: Weekend Images Inc.