When I saw Liz Szabo’s tweet about her recent article on USA Today titled “Why do mothers judge one another and their parenting,” I knew I had to write a blog post about my thoughts on just how easy it is for others around the first-time mom to hurt her feelings, especially if she has postpartum depression (PPD). This applies to the comments they make and the advice they give—some of which can appear to be critical, condescending, competitive and/or judgmental to the new mom. Subsequent to this post, I stumbled across this article over at Dailymail over in the UK titled: “School gate battle of the competitive mums as two third admit to out do each other.” Here are excerpts from the article:
Two-thirds admit to boasting about some aspect of their child’s precocious development, from classroom achievements to the more basic skills of walking and talking…..The study of 3,000 mothers revealed the main area of contention is child development, with nearly half admitting they are obsessed with having the first baby to crawl, walk and talk. Thirty-nine per cent say they can’t help recounting their children’s individual achievements, and a third make a special effort to clean their house if other mothers are expected to visit. Losing weight after giving birth is another area of rivalry, with 27 per cent of mothers admitting to post-natal crash diets and exercise regimes, while a fifth try to be better dressed than their daily ‘competitors’. Four in ten admit they are jealous when others appear to be coping with motherhood better than them, with the same number avoiding particularly successful mothersto prevent feelings of inadequacy.
A spokesman for market research site http://www.MumPoll.com, which carried out the study, said: ‘Mums put an awful lot of pressure on themselves to be the best at everything. ‘But it is impossible to have a perfect house, an attentive husband and make the greatest sponge cakes the town has ever seen all the time. And yet, ridiculously, mums everywhere are trying to do just that. Mums need to remember that as long as the child feels loved and well cared for, they’ve done a fantastic job.’
TOP 20 AREAS OF COMPETITION
1. Being the first to crawl, walk, talk
2. Child’s achievements
3. A clean and tidy house
4. Losing weight after giving birth
5. Being organised
6. Potty training
7. Helpful husband
8. Being the best dressed
9. Having the best baby clothes
10. Throwing fantastic birthday parties
11. Romantic trips away
12. Lack of sleep
14. Ability to breastfeed
15. Being unflappable when other mothers come to visit
16. Deciding to be a ‘hands on’ stay at home mum
17. Still having a great social life
18. Buying great presents for other people’s kids
19. Owning the best baby toys
20. Still enjoying great sex
What may or may not explain the behavior of some—but definitely not all—mothers is this quote from Susan Maushart (pg 25) in her book The Mask of Motherhood: How Becoming a Mother Changes Our Lives and Why We Never Talk About It : “[A] woman’s sense of personal worth as a successful mother is often enhanced by the perceived failures of others.” Compounding the problem is that, for some reason that has a lot to do with human nature, women seem to feel compelled to brag about their children (and indirectly their mothering capabilities) and play what I call the “one-up game.” The “one-up game” is where one mother—it may be a friend or merely an acquaintance from, say, a mommy and me class—will try to one-up you with respect to some kind of milestone from smiling to sleeping through the night, rolling over, sitting up, crawling, first words, standing up, walking, or potty training. If you say your daughter just took her first steps on her own, the other woman will say, “My son did that when he was only 6 months old.” In my opinion, these mothers do that because deep down they are insecure and by hearing these words spoken out loud and knowing they’ve successfully one-upped someone else they’re able to temporarily boost their self-esteem. These women seem to believe that there is a correlation between these milestones and their child’s intelligence. Why can’t mothers be supportive of each other rather than treat each other as rivals?
Moms with PPD tend to be more sensitive, their feelings will hurt more readily, and they will be more prone to feeling unimportant. She will tend to lack self confidence especially with respect to her new mothering responsibilities.
Here are some ways moms can be more supportive, rather than judgmental, with each other:
- Try to be as sensitive as possible, as she may mistake your advice for criticism in her first attempts at taking care of the baby. The first-time mom has the tendency to be sensitive to remarks people make about her mothering capabilities. The mom with PPD will tend to be even more sensitive than the mom who isn’t depressed. The first-time mom who also has PPD in most cases lacks self confidence when it comes to taking care of the baby and needs guidance and reassurance that she’s doing a good job. This reassurance will be especially important if she decides to take medication and feels bad that she will need to stop breastfeeding (remind her that her health is very important to you). It’s important to keep in mind that words have the power to heal or hurt; the power of words will never be more evident than during the postpartum period.
- Only offer advice when it’s asked for. Unsolicited advice can aggravate the situation for a mother who is already feeling insecure about her mothering capabilities.
- Don’t try to force any advice on her in terms of how to care for the baby you may think you’re trying to help her because you happen to have experience while this is her very first crack at being a mom. However, a PPD mom—especially a first-time mom—will tend to be highly sensitive and low in self confidence with respect to her mothering abilities. Correcting her or telling her she should do it this way, not that way, will make her feel more unsure of herself.
- Last but not least, don’t pass judgment on anyone, and that includes a mother you may or may not know well who seems not to be doing so well in the weeks following childbirth. Unless you’re that other mother, you do not know what she’s going through. Unless you’ve had a baby with reflux, colic, eczema, cradle cap and/or food allergies, you should refrain from any criticisms about how the mother of a child with one or more of those health challenges are coping. I dare not dream for everyone to adapt the attitude of being helpful rather than judgmental. It’s like longing for world peace. We dream of that but know in reality it is unlikely to happen. Whether a mom decides to bottle feed versus breastfeed, co-sleep or not co-sleep, stay home versus return to work and put their child in daycare is her business.