I’ve been a parent for five years now, and during this time I’ve seen quite a bit of “mum shaming”, both in real life and online. If you’re unfamiliar with the term, it’s basically when a parent is criticised for their choices, and of course it happens to dads too. Although mums may experience it more, because (for example) a mum who is back at work is more likely to be questioned about her child care decisions, or indeed the decision to be at work at all, more than a man would. Mum shaming is damaging and it’s everywhere; here’s some examples I’ve seen first hand.
Mum shaming in the media
I once stumbled across a news article, sorry – not news – it was absolute drivel. But somehow I ended up seeing it (thank you algorithms) and it was about Mayim Bialik, who stars in The Big Bang Theory. The article was criticising Mayim because she’d been photographed walking her baby and she had a beanie hat on and her baby didn’t. The article asked; why isn’t Mayim dressing her baby appropriately for the weather? I couldn’t help but feel desperately sorry for celebrity parents in that moment. Despite the obvious perks of being famous, it must be so awful to see your parenting scrutinised to that level. It seemed to me like Mayim probably just thought the hat looked cute with her outfit or – god forbid – was having a bar hair day and popped it on to avoid being shamed for not taking better care of herself. It’s a common theme in mum shaming; you can’t win. It doesn’t matter what you do, there will always be someone who would disagree or do it differently. And for us non-famous parents, when we see stories like this attacking women for the smallest, most inane transgressions, it makes us all feel a bit anxious. In a time when being mindful of mental health is being promoted, stories like that one need to be challenged.
My very first day back at work after Francis was born a regular spotted me and asked, aghast, “you’re back! where’s your baby?!” He was probably around nine months old, maybe a bit younger, and in the safe hands of my mum. But even so this question made me a bit teary, with it being my first shift back and feeling understandably wobbly about leaving him. Looking back I realise it was her head that needed a wobble, and I now know I’m not alone in facing questions and criticism about our choices around working and childcare. Strangely, some parents have really strong opinions about whether a nursery or child minder is better, and some people may feel very strongly that mums shouldn’t work, or others may find it weird that mums chose to stay home. Amy Poehler wrote in her (fantastic) autobiography ‘Yes Please’ that women should repeat this motto over and over again; “good for her! Not for me.” This is everything isn’t it – want to stay home while your kids are small and put your career on hold? Brilliant – good for you. Want to progress your career and hand over your kids to the capable hands of child care professionals? Fantastic – you go get it. Breastfeeding, bottle fed, co-sleeping, sleep training, baby led – weaning, spoon fed, forest school, home school, faith school….this should be the response to every choice that differs from our own, in all aspects of life as well as choices we make as mums; good for her! Not for me.
Free time / Self care
Sometimes I leave my kids at nursery/school/with family for reasons other than work; to exercise, to have a haircut, maybe to read a book and drink a coffee in silence for a while. There’s a bit of guilt attached to this, possibly stemming from the idea that if you don’t have to have someone watch the kids than you shouldn’t. If it’s not for work than you should keep the little ones with you at all times. But here’s the thing – self care is important. It makes us better parents. Remember on planes when they say to put your oxygen mask on yourself first before helping others? Same thing – you’re no good to anyone if you’re constantly frazzled and desperately in need of a break. If you’re walking away from nursery drop off and heading somewhere that isn’t the office; don’t feel guilty. Enjoy your time and you’ll all be better off for it.
People have some strong opinions about child birth, don’t they? And women’s bodies in general. I didn’t want a c section but I ended up with one, and then chose an elective with my second birth. Anyone that thinks a c section is an easy option is mistaken, and anyone that thinks their birth plan or birth experience is superior to others needs to have a word with themselves. If your birth story involved swearing and lots of drugs, fair play. If your childbirthing experience was natural and wonderful than that is fantastic, but alas – there’s no prizes at the end for a drug-free delivery.
I once got called “pure evil” by a mum on facebook when I shared that we did some (very gentle) sleep training with the boys. Not to be confused with crate training puppies or the neglect witnessed in Romanian orphanages in the 90s, I was talking about leaving them in their lovely cots for A FEW MINUTES to see if they could settle themselves. Pure evil, right there. It remains to be seen if this experience will cause them to become psychopaths when they’re adults, as one facebook mum then claimed, but I’ll keep a close eye on them. Again this an area that stirs strong opinions and people like to claim the way they handled sleep regressions or night waking is the “right” way; but we all just have to take in the (often conflicting) advice and then make our own decisions based on what is best for our individual child and family. And I will say that if I’ve had a half decent night’s sleep I’m a much better parent and person, and much less like to exhibit psychopathic tendencies myself.
Breastfeeding was really hard at first for me and I nearly gave up. It can be so painful and challenging, so if a mum makes the choice to swap to formula they should never be shamed for this. On the other end of the spectrum, woman are criticised for breastfeeding too long, to the point where friends have shared that they don’t tell people that they are still breastfeeding their child, despite the World Health Organisation recommending breast milk for up to two years and beyond.
Do I mum shame?
Occasionally – yes, and it’s something I need to work on and be mindful of. I can be judgemental too, albiet usually silently to myself, when I should be supportive of other parents. Or at the very least accepting of their personal choices. Good for her! Not for me. Repeat ad infinitum.