We sat down for a chat after finishing dinner with my aunt who was visiting us after two years. “In our times, we had more kids and more responsibilities, yet we were able to manage it all. Nowadays, mothers get tired with just one kid,” she started the conversation while scraping the last bit of ice-cream from her dessert bowl. ‘In our times’ is usually a tested way to start a talk to shame someone younger. “I always ensured my kids finished their meal first and only then I would sit down to eat mine.”
As she went on to quote a few more ‘good’ parenting goals, I realised I just failed her good mother test (damn!) because I went on to finish my meal even while my four-year-old daughter wandered off after having a few slices of cucumber. According to her rulebook, it is a gross violation to eat before your children have eaten tummy full and have vehemently declined another bite of food, at least thrice.
Mothers, as much they are celebrated for their role as a nurturer and carer, they are exposed to serious mother-shaming all through. And, it begins even before they become mothers.
If she chooses to defer pregnancy for a few years after marriage, she either loves her ‘azaadi’ more or has fertility issues. Going for alternate conception methods like IVF etc doesn’t make her a ‘complete’ mother. If she chooses c-section for child-birth, she wasn’t brave enough to bear ‘natural’ labour pain or probably too conscious to have a big tear down below.
And once the baby comes to the world, parameters on which she can be judged increase drastically. It underplays (if not excludes) concern for the mother who might be putting up the hard-fight to give her best to the child.
Pregnancy and child-birth are deeply exhausting. A woman undergoes a flux of emotions (and hormones) along with mental and physical health challenges. While she tries to dabble into motherhood, getting used to the new schedule, pains, discomforts, responsibilities and addition of a new life to her life, she is very likely to be around someone who is rating her for how good or bad she is at this.
Study backs mommy shaming to be real and serious
According to national poll released in June 2017 in the United States of America, nearly two-thirds of mothers said they felt they had been criticised for their parenting decisions. The research done by C.S. Mott Children’s Hospital in Michigan also found that most criticism came from people close to home including their spouse, parents and in-laws.
I couldn’t find a similar study in India but given the patriarchal society and poor traction given to women’s post-partum mental and physical health, the number is likely to be very high.
How mothers face this?
The judging is so common that mothers accept it as one of many challenges that motherhood brings about. Most mothers try to put up an explanation for their parenting decision while some choose to simply ignore the unwanted nit-picking. Lesser number of women snap back with a counter. Whatever be their reaction, it does fill mothers with a feeling of self-doubt, guilt and frustration.
There are mothers who limit the times they want to go out because of discrediting glances of strangers when their toddlers throw a tantrum. There are mothers who hide it from their families when they go out for a dinner date with their husbands or hang-out with their friends. If a child falls ill often or is a picky eater, if he is a cry-baby or an unfriendly youngster, the finger of guilt generally points to moms.
[Discipline methods, diet and nutrients, bedtime and napping, breastfeeding choices, child safety and childcare decisions are the most common themes on which mothers are judged.]
Solution is simple: don’t judge!
Next time you see a mother who doesn’t fit your standards of perfection, know she is doing all she can. She is already judging herself, doubting her parenting decisions, learning, unlearning, googling and calling up friends for advices, doing all she can to give perfect childhood experience to her little one.
She may be a working mother or a mother who stays at home. She may have a nanny, or she does all baby-sitting on her own. She may use bottle feed or exclusive breastfeed or both, she may potty train early or uses nappies longer, she may cook baby meals herself or get ready-to-eat packs, she may put her baby to sleep in cribs or co-sleep, she may send her baby to play-group early or directly to formal schools. Her choices may differ, but her concern remains the same – well-being of her child.
So, if you don’t see a safety hazard or potential danger to the child, it’s a good idea to hold back on your advice book. Give mothers that space to be themselves. Children don’t come with a user-manual. Every mother deserves to exercise her parenting choices without guilt or shaming.