PARENTS

I'm A Mother, Please Don't Judge Me

14/08/2014 16:58 | Updated 20 May 2015

Mums judge each other on the internet

Can I ask you something? Please don't read this and tell me off, or anyone else I quote. Have your opinion, of course, but don't jump on anything I say and condemn us.

Or in the world of social media, is that too much to ask?

Most mothers, especially new mothers, fear not being good enough. Being a 'bad mother' is the ultimate societal taboo. For those who suffer from postnatal depression, as I did, these insecurities can be all-consuming. And that's why any criticism of our mothering ability stings so much - especially when it comes from other mothers who claim to be doing the job much better than us.

Whenever a mother is in the news, for any reason, people criticise her for any number of failings. And on mums' forums online and Facebook we see the same thing every day - a mother posts asking for advice, and other mothers weigh in to tell her off.

A few weeks ago, a mother posted on a Facebook mums' group saying her baby had a rash - should she take her to a doctor? Dozens of others posted implying that she was crazy and irresponsible for not having done so already. Whether or not this is true, the mother in question felt so bullied that she could not respond, and the post had to be taken down.

A few days later, another mother posted suggesting this judgment of other mothers was unfair and wrong - and I was heartened that hundreds and hundreds of other mothers hit their 'like' buttons.

It seems that for every online poster who delights in judging other mothers, there are many more of us who are too scared even to post for fear of being attacked ourselves. Sometimes I can't even read these sites because there is always someone being attacked for doing or not doing something I do or don't do as a mother.

Eve found out what it's like to be bullied in this way when another mother asked on a Facebook mums' group for suggestions for meals, as her toddler was a fussy eater. If he didn't eat, she gave him crackers and pretzels. Trying to be supportive, Eve offered her suggestion - her own son was a difficult eater at the age of two, and they had been to see a paediatrician who had said the only way to get him to eat was by making him very hungry and giving no choice. This meant him going to bed with no dinner.

Eve says: "People were then judgemental of me as they couldn't 'starve their child', posting that they would never be so cruel as to put their babies to bed hungry. Obviously the next day my son was totally starving and ate things he wouldn't have normally considered.

"Whilst I was taken aback by the comments, I am a confident person and I know I did the right thing, not least because it worked - my son eats way better now - and it was on a paediatrician's advice. Even if it was cruel, it was in my opinion less cruel than health problems he could have on such a limited diet. But others might be more vulnerable and it's not right to judge in that way."

The most inflammatory subjects are always the same: how and what to feed your child (especially the breastfeeding vs. formula debate), controlled crying, how much childcare you have, and anything to do with keeping your child safe, especially when it comes to vaccinations.

Any confession that you're finding motherhood less than wonderful or that there might be any other priority in your life is a risky one - you might be lucky and find sympathy and empathy, or you might, like Cath Janes who blogs at The Kraken Wakes, find yourself at the mercy of a mummy mob.

She made the mistake of admitting on Mumsnet that she was struggling with the 3pm workday finish and says now: "I got such a kicking that I actually cried. I was told that I should never have had kids, that I was putting my career before my kid, that I was selfish and that my child should be taken off me and I even got called a c*** into the bargain. Nothing was done by the admin to stop it."

Sam has been there, too, when she posted on a site for mothers asking if she could cut a few minutes of waiting time when making up bottles of formula. Before long, comments started to flow in quoting World Health Organisation (WHO) guidelines and warning her that any sort of shortcut would make her baby ill.

Sam says: "For me it wasn't the first person saying I was wrong, it was when everyone kept repeating each other, as though repeating the message was going to change my mind. I had had enough, so I started quoting WHO guidelines that say women should breastfeed for two years, so if they were telling me about making up formula they aren't following the guidelines themselves.

"Thankfully I am quite resilient, and know that the WHO guidelines apply more to the women in Syria who can't get fresh water to make up formula than a girl from north west London. Plus I'm a second-time mum, so less worried this time round. I finished off the conversation by thanking everyone for their input and saying I was ordering a Chinese takeaway. I have a very healthy eight-month-old now who has never had a tummy bug due to the way I make up her bottles."

Please don't get me wrong - I am not suggesting that mothers are bitchy, as a rule. After all, I am one myself.

When we meet in person, although sometimes we can't help privately making judgements of one another, we tend to keep any eye-rolling to ourselves and are extremely friendly and supportive, as we would wish to be supported.

But something seems to happen online, especially when anonymity is allowed - our inner judgments are given free rein and real emotional damage can be done to vulnerable mothers, who are made to feel unworthy of the title.

For me, this was brought home when I dared to post on a mums' group about this very article, asking for people's experiences. Almost immediately another mother shot me down in flames for daring to suggest that this might be an issue. I felt so intimidated by her that it still bothers me a few weeks later.

I'm as judgmental as any other mother, but also as insecure and sensitive - and like most of us, I also feel that the main thing mothers need is encouragement, kindness and understanding. We are all trying to do our best, and we all make mistakes. Group hug?

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