Ah, the world of parenting.
A minefield of contradictory advice, opinions and unsolicited judgements (oh and sometimes, downright insults)
Client during my pregnancy: “Wow you’ve gained so much weight!”
Me: “Uh. Thanks?”
For me, parenting is the most judgy space I’ve ever operated in, both personally as a mum of 2, and now professionally as a writer and mum podcaster - I created the New Leaf Podcast for working mums.
This world of whatsapp mum groups, mummybloggers, instaparent accounts, well-meaning in-laws, pushy algorithms and even ‘funny’ reels can feel exhausting, frustrating and unsupportive, at a time where we need this support the most. But it doesn’t have to be this way. So then just why is it so judgmental?
For me, the beautiful moment I made my pregnancy announcement and shared the joy with my family and friends was the exact moment the judgment began.
Suddenly my body and my choices were considered a free-for-all. I had judgy comments from family members, distant acquaintances, people in the street, and friends of friends on pretty much everything I did; I had a total stranger cross the street to tell me I “shouldn’t be walking so quickly”. Eurgh. These incidents came thick and fast.
The simple act of being pregnant made it apparently fine to comment on a) the size of my bump, b) how much weight I ‘should’ have gained / shouldn’t, c) exactly what I should be eating and drinking, and d) what I should be doing with my career.
Oh, and all of this ‘advice’ received frequently contradicted itself. My personal favourite was being told by a family member at a dinner that I “should be drinking less” - and then another family member (right after) telling me that I “should actually be drinking more”. I’d had one sip of red wine. The judgement was, and continues to be, absolutely nuts.
When it comes to parenting: our science, research, social norms and opinions are constantly evolving. What we do now is not the same as 30 years ago. But spoiler: it won’t be the same in 30 years time, either.
This is fine, in principle. It’s natural and healthy to challenge the way we parent and raise our kids. It’s called progress. However, it sometimes takes society a while to catch up with new advice, and old attitudes die hard, remaining with the older generation to whom we are often looking for guidance.
30 years ago, The World Health Organisation advocated weaning from 4 months onwards. Now, the advice is 6 months. When we wean our babies in 2022, we are often asking the older generation for advice. They’ve seen and done it all before, right? They confidently and clearly say 4 months. Your doctor said 6 months. Your mum / mum-in-law feels like you’re not taking her advice. And then judges you for it.
Apply this same dynamic to pretty much everything, and you’ve got a recipe for a lot of judgement: “I told Letty that he is just hungry, that’s why he’s not sleeping… A little bit of baby rice isn’t going to do any harm? She was raised just fine on baby rice”. It feels horrible, like you are pleasing no one, and getting it constantly wrong. Or at least, that’s how I felt.
Rinse, and repeat.
Motherhood is BIG BUSINESS, wherever you are in the world. Globally, the babycare market is $88.7 billion. Just for contrast, Starbucks’s entire global revenue was $24.6 billion in 2021.
That gives an awful lot of leverage in the form of paid resources whose only job is to make you … buy stuff.
There is a whole world of baby ‘experts’ who all have an extremely vested interest in making you buy that ‘essential’ baby heart monitor that prevents SIDS, or that crib that makes constant white noise, rocks your baby and changes their nappy for you (ok this doesn’t exist, but I sort of wish it did).
The consequence of this is that there are a lot of very ‘sure’ ‘scientists’ and ‘experts’, who are all telling you what the best thing for your baby is. To make you buy their product. But it’s also combined with genuinely evolving advice.
This cacophony of noise makes it hard to make simple choices, when the amount of information is so overwhelming that you are always guaranteed to find an opinion that is the total opposite of what you are doing. It is a perfect storm.
This then makes us unsure that we’ve EVER made the right choice, and then insecure that someone else has done it differently. And attack is the best form of defense.
So, someone weans their kid differently? A harmless conversation can suddenly feel personal, and I’m sure you’ve seen examples like the below yourself.
You: “I weaned with purees, because I read somewhere that finger food will make my baby choke - and it scared me!”
Your friend: “Why would I ever do something that I thought would harm my baby?? The research says they won’t choke…”
You feel judged, they feel judged, and hey ho we are in a big uncomfortable space of feeling sad and uncertain.
They say the first step to recovery is recognizing we have a problem. And I think we all recognize the scale of the problem. My view is that there are 3 things we can do to break this cycle.
We live in an insanely intrusive environment of this indirect judgment, from, you guessed it, social media.
That mum you follow with the perfect hair, perfect house, wrinkle-free face and smiling children (or worse still, the disturbing trend of so-called ‘keeping it real’ mums whose ‘real’ photos and videos are sadly still very staged) can make us feel incredibly judged by society.
Instagram is a huge culprit for this, as a platform that is designed as a selection of snapshots, allowing for a great deal of staging, misinterpretation, and massive context-omission that makes us feel insecure and like we are getting it all wrong.
Why don’t I look like her? Why can’t I achieve what she is clearly achieving when I can’t even get out the front door? Why can’t I make time to blow-dry my hair / put makeup on / shower every morning? Why am I so bad at this?
This is all wasted energy that you could have been spending taking care of yourself.
Every mum, every context, every journey and every set of resources is different. (Note: @influencersinthewild is a great instagram account showing what lengths influencers actually go to, to create these ‘perfect’ shots. I guarantee you’ll feel better after looking at some of those…)
- If someone doesn’t make you feel good, unfollow them.
- If instagram isn’t making you feel good right now, delete it.
Social media is a choice. So choose wisely.
Don’t want to feel judged anymore? Stop judging your friends/other women. This is arguably the most efficient way to break this cycle.
Whenever you notice that someone is doing something differently and it provokes a feeling, practice a bit of mindfulness. Why is what she is doing annoying me? How am I feeling today? Am I overtired/sleep deprived/in need of some me-time? Am I being open-minded right now? You may surprise yourself in quite how often our irritation with others actually stems from ourselves.
Kindness breeds kindness.
We all need to be a lot, lot kinder to ourselves. Women are absolutely expert at loading ourselves with a tonne of guilt, shame and the rest, from an incredibly young age. This is for a tonne of reasons that wouldn’t be out of place on a feminism degree (that sadly we don’t have time to go into right now). But for whatever reason we do it, being aware of this is crucial.
It is your motherhood journey. Therefore how you do things is your choice.
If there are a thousand ways to do something, it shows that there is no ‘right’ way to do anything. Therefore you have every reason in the world to be confident that the choice you are making right now is the right one for you right now, and therefore is the right one for your baby, too.
Fake it til you make it. I promise you that one day, you’ll stop caring about what ‘she’ does.
I appreciate this is going to take time and we have a lot of hurdles to overcome. But the less we subscribe to social media perfection, the less we respond to intrusive advertising that plays on our insecurities, and the less we lash out at our friends and social circles because of our own doubts, the more likely this all is to change. It starts with us.
Motherhood should be a safe, kind, energising and supportive space - so let’s start together.
You’re not getting it wrong, because there is no right!
It takes a village!
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