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Being a mother can feel like constantly being taken to trial for every thing under the sun. And it starts even before the child is born! If a mother chooses to get a planned cesarean, she is lazy and weak. If she chooses to go for natural birthing techniques or a doula, she is irresponsible for risking the life of the child. If she decides to formula feed the child, she is considered to be flouting age-old wisdom. If she chooses to breastfeed for long, she is considered backward and uninformed. If the child asks for mother’s milk again and again, the mother is blamed for producing less milk. If the child is not asking for feed again and again, she is blamed for his/her poor appetite. If she decides to join work after her maternity leave, she is declared selfish and uncaring. If she decides to take a sabbatical from work, she is considered poor at managing multiple things. If she decides to leave the child with a house-help, she is taunted for leaving the young one under a stranger’s care. If she opts to leave the child at day-care, she is made to feel guilty of the child falling sick often. If she leaves the child with grandparents, she is considered as taking undue advantage of the senior generation. If she carries the child along with her to work, she is considered unprofessional. If she goes easy on her child, the mother is not giving them the right direction. If she yells at them, she is a maniac. If she allows the child only certain kinds of food, she is considered finicky. If she allows the child to eat everything, she is guilty of his/her poor health. If the child is boisterous, the mother is held responsible for not disciplining them. If the child is too shy, the mother gets glares of disapproval for not making the kid sociable. And the list goes on.
If you are thinking that I am a cynic and making these up, let me share a few recent research results. This year, New York magazine published a report of study of 2000 parents in which almost all admitted they feel judged, with 48% mothers admitting to being judged by total strangers, as compared to 24% dads. In 2015, Edison Research also published a report where 64% of the 540 mothers that were surveyed shared the feeling of being judged. Out of these, the new moms had it the worst. 72% of the new first time moms admitted to being judged by other new moms and extended family. In another survey of 2014, 64% new moms admitted to being judged by others when their child cries in public. Social media takes the judging to new heights of bullying, cyber abuse and trolling, since it’s so much easier to be nasty online than to a person’s face.
Some moms ignore the comments, others react. But there are many of those who are able to do neither, and end up feeling cornered, incapable and unhappy. The recent news of 32 year old Allison Goldstein who took her own life due to post-partum depression is a glaring example of how blind and insensitive we are becoming to other people’s suffering. No one will ever know what really drove her to end her life or whether it was just internal exhaustion, or that, exacerbated by external situations, but a precious life is lost. Who knows how many women around the world suffer from post-partum depression since there is such a stigma associated with depression of any kind. Motherhood is challenging, exhausting and demanding even on its own, on a physical, mental and emotional level and mothers already tend to be hard on themselves while evaluating their parenting abilities. So, then does it serve any purpose to question and condemn their every action? Who knows if your comments are destroying an already pained soul and if they can take it for long?
Any way I look at it, there is really no winning for the mothers in this case. The mothers are questioned at the drop of a hat, typecast in a second and pronounced guilty in the blink of an eye. The state always has an upper hand, as its only job is to criticise and judge and not be a part of the solution. Can we all do something to change it? As a society, can we all step up and be a part of the solution and encourage, motivate and support mothers to excel in their own unique parenting style, instead of always comparing and critiquing their actions? Can we trust mothers to have their children’s interest high on their mind? Can we all offer just a little more help and a little less advice? Can we all stop narrowing our gaze to nitpick on every small mistake and rather widen our perspective to accept views that are different and divergent from ours? Can we acknowledge that while parents (and especially mothers) have a lot of influence on the children, ultimately every child has his/her own personality and develops at his/her own pace? Lastly, can we all (as a humanity) decide to gossip less and do more in every way, and try to step down from our positions as the self-appointed judges of the world, pull our long noses out of other people’s business and for once, believe in the potential of others? While all the attention is on the child, can we pause and ask the mother how she is doing? Can we hold our tongues before we utter “We have done it too, hence we know better” and rather put ourselves in her shoes. Maybe then we will realise that we would have done the same thing in her situation. Maybe then, we will begin to accept her choices and think before pronouncing her guilty!
I will close with a quote for new moms by parenting psychologist Alison Knights that I read somewhere- "No one feels 100 per cent prepared for the arrival of a baby. It’s a learning curve and "good enough parenting" is what helps babies thrive, so new mums should not be hard on themselves for not always getting it right."
Let us not be hard on ourselves and on others. It is called being human.
References – http://nymag.com/thecut/2016/06/mothers-feel-more-judged-than-fathers.html
Image courtesy www.wisegeek.com