Before my eldest, Lily, was born a few friends warned me that some mom groups can become a hub of shaming rather than support. So I didn’t join any. I couldn’t understand that moms who understood the struggles of parenting and how difficult and lonely it can become would resort to mom shaming. Until I became a mom-shamer.
It was unintentional but since, I've learned that the best of intentions do not really matter – the result is that you’ve hurt someone regardless of your intentions. The damage has been done.
The first time was with a complete stranger – because even though I hadn’t even met her or knew anything about her life, her style of parenting (any style that works for your kids is good by the way!) or her family, I felt it my place to “help”. I had just finished reading an article online of a little boy choking on a grape and how his mother Heimliched it from his throat. As I closed it I saw that a mom had posted a pic of her child’s lunch with …dun dun dun… whole grapes. It hadn’t occurred to me that since grapes aren’t hollow as say, macaroni, that it could get lodged in a kid’s throat so I responded with: “Hey, I didn’t know this but apparently nowadays kids can choke on grapes so I hear it’s best to cut them lengthways.” Fuck. Cringe. The worst part was that I didn’t realise what an arsehole I was being until she responded: “I know; but he is 6 though so he can eat grapes.” I was so embarrassed and felt awful that I had inflicted on someone what I had tried to avoid for years. I’m ashamed that I didn’t even apologise because I was too embarrassed.
The second and final time was with a dear friend because apparently I didn’t learn my lesson so my jack-assery continued. She Whatsapped me that she was going to stop breastfeeding. I, too, was breastfeeding my baby at the time and really struggling. Ila, my second, breastfed well, but I had blinding migraines every day due to lack of sleep and because she wanted me to make eye contact with her for the full 25 minutes so my neck was starting to spasm. She also had a few growth spurts so she was on my breast constantly. I was freelancing at the time and became worried about finding a permanent job and had other ‘newborn baby worries’ so my milk supply was slowly diminishing. I was drinking 2-3 litres of jungle juice, took Fenugreek, and that antipsychotic drug prescribed by my doctor to increase milk supply (it starts with an E – I forget). I was also massaging my breasts, taking hot showers etc. So when she mentioned that she wanted to stop, here’s what I heard: “Help! I’m struggling to breastfeed too!” I responded with: “Have you tried jungle juice, massaging, Fenugreek, this antipsychotic drug? Every mum struggles.” Her silence made me realise that again I had f*cked up, royally. This time with a friend. <covering eyes emoji>
It’s easy to fall into the mom-shaming trap so here’s what I’ve learned:
KNOW THAT MOMS WANT THE ABSOLUTE BEST FOR THEIR KIDS
Whether it comes to feeding them, clothing them, caring for them, teaching them, loving them, protecting them, every fellow mom wants exactly what you do – the best for their little ones. By the time she voices her struggles, she has already exhausted all avenues – every preggy shake, supplement, home remedy, herbal remedy, and antipsychotic drug. I believe that if taking Flakka meant your baby would be comfortable, fed and happy, we would try it! Don’t make her feel guilty for not trying this new solution you read about in Kale Weekly.
So many times we want to pass on our "mom knowledge" to prevent other moms from making the same mistakes we did. But more often than not, we do more harm than good. Frankly, their parenting style is none of our business. As an example, when Chrissy Teigen took Luna down the slide with her on her lap, immediately, she was inundated with mom-shaming disguised as “advice” – “advice” like “I did that and my kid broke her legs when we got stuck”. And while I understand the need to warn other moms, no-one goes to the park thinking, “Hey, today I want to break my kid’s legs. How about a park trip?” She responded with a humourous: “The day we all broke our legs. Every kid. Even John broke his legs.”
We need ro realise WHY we're offering advice - to really help or make someone feel worse than we do? We don’t need rescuing. We have to let families find their own rhythms and learn from their own experiences. Reminding them of every little thing that could go wrong only increases that existing anxiety of raising kids - and that isn’t helping at all. The first time I gave Ila strawberries I was 'legit' sitting in the car just in case she was allergic and I needed to rush off. It's no way to live.
LISTEN TO LISTEN, NOT RESPOND
Some days mamas need advice and tips. Other days we just want to vent and know that someone else understands and is going through the same challenges we are. Listen. Did she actually ask for advice? Did she ask for help? Did she use the words, “ Do you have any tips for…?” If not, simply listen to her, offer support, encouragement and a shoulder to cry on if necessary. Say things like: “I’m here for you. I hear you. Let me know IF I can help. I know it’s hard at times but I can see that you’re doing an amazing job!”
STOP MOM-SHAMING YOURSELF
I think the person I mom-shame most is myself – especially when I arrive at Lily’s school at 6:01pm with screeching tyres and smoke filling the driveway. We live in an Instagram world where we’re consistently bombarded with the ‘perfect’ side of life. But save perfection for surgeons. It’s the only time it matters. Kids don’t care about that; all they care about is that they have a parent who’s there and who loves them. I am so happy that more and more mom bloggers and photographers are showing the unabridged, raw and sometimes brutal side of parenting – here is baby Luke sleeping peacefully in his cosy bassinet; here he is 30 seconds earlier screeching like a banshee. Here is my birth story. Here’s the pain it caused. If any groups, or simply people you follow. on Instagram make you feel like a failure, unfollow for your own peace of mind.
When it comes to mommy advice, I find the best thing to do is something we learned at school: if you can’t say something nice, then don’t say anything at all.