I recently had my first negative experience while breastfeeding. It happened in the most unlikely of places, a park full of parents and children. The person doing the shaming was another mum. I should have challenged her but I was so taken aback that I barely reacted. Afterwards I was angry at myself for not making it clear to this woman that what she said was completely unacceptable.
Sitting at the lake in my local park my three year old eating ice cream and watching the ducks we were having a rare tantrum free day and I had one of those moments when I realised it was all going too well. Thirty seconds later the baby started crying to be fed. We had just left the cafe where he had refused to feed (typical!) so I fed him while we sat on a bench in the sunshine. There weren’t many people around just a few mothers with kids feeding the ducks. Not that people being there would bother me anyway. If my baby needs to be fed I feed him. I’ve cracked the art of discreet feeding and as I’m a second time mum I’m pretty confident about feeding in public.
I felt the eyes of a little boy, not much older than my own son, looking at me so I made eye contact and smiled. He turned to his mum and said “what’s that baby doing?’. She explained to him that the baby was drinking milk so he asked “Did I drink milk when I was a baby? The mother loudly replied “not like THAT you didn’t. THAT is how animals drink milk”. My own son turned to me and asked what they were talking about as if he sensed the animosity. I dismissed it saying that they were talking nonsense. The woman and her son walked away and probably thought nothing more about it. I on the other hand was fuming.
The most shocking thing about this encounter was that the comment came from a woman, a mother, a pregnant mother. A mother dressed head to toe in mama merch. She literally had the t-shirt, the tote bag, the necklace and the travel mug, dressed as if motherhood was a brand and it had thrown up on her. Why would a woman so keen to define herself by her role as a mother be so quick to shame another mum for her parenting choices. I’m not even getting into the breastfeeding in public debate. Or the breast v’s formula debate. As far as i’m concerned there is no issue there. Fed is best however and wherever it happens.
What I found surprising was that this woman intentionally made a comment to make another mum feel uncomfortable. Why can’t women, mothers, just support each other? Parenting is hard enough and mothers are constantly made to feel guilty by society for working, not working, breastfeeding, not breastfeeding. We literally cannot win. Mums have enough guilt to wade through without us publicly shaming one another. So what if someone does things differently? I firmly believe that the only way to parent your children is to do whatever feels intuitive for you. I admit I’ve been guilty of silently judging other parents especially when I was a new mum and still full of ridiculous ideals. However, I would never outwardly show disapproval of the way someone else raises their kids. As my son gets older and we now have another baby in mix, some (many) of my ideals have gone out of the window. Parents have to make choices based on our thier circumstances not the ideal or even the preferred option. Yet it seems that many parents, mums in particular, feel it’s ok to criticise others. Nowhere is this more prevalent than on social media where the shaming can be done almost annonymously and the comments i’ve seen are cutting.
I’ve been running away from the mama merch trend for three years because I didn’t want to define myself as a ‘just a mum’. More recently I’ve come to appreciate that this is a valid way for many mums to feel solidarity and unity. The mama merch brands and bloggers are all part of a growing community of mums on social media celebrating their triumphs and laughing at their parenting fails. I get it. I’m on board with it. I’ve even ordered myself a Mere Soeur t-shirt. What I don’t understand is why if you buy into ‘team mama’ you still think it’s ok to hate on other mums. It’s definitely not ok. I’m so annoyed with myself for not confronting that mum. I should have told her it’s not ok on behalf of all the first time mums who might have been more affected by what she said.
If I’ve learnt anything from this experience though it isn’t so much about speaking up it’s about not speaking at all. When it comes to parenting, if were honest, most of us are stumbling about in the dark trying to do the best we can. Maybe mum bashing stems from insecurity, as if attacking someone else choices serves to justify ones own. Who knows, I certainly don’t have the answers or the solution but I do think it needs to be talked about more. We’re all doing what is right for our families and someone else’s ‘right’ is not necessarily ours. The old ‘If you don’t have anything nice to say…….’ adage applies.
All that said, while I want to encourage sisterhood and solidarity I must admit that if I ever see judgy mum in the park again I plan to swiftly whip out my boob, nipple and all, just because I can!
I’m keen to celebrate the positives so if you’ve had a bad experience feel free to share it here but it would be even better to hear examples of mums supporting each other despite differences in parenting choices. Feel free to leave me a comment and share this post with fellow mums.