Moms Being Supportive Rather Than Judgmental With Each Other

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

13. Earnings

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.  
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16 thoughts on “Moms Being Supportive Rather Than Judgmental With Each Other

  1. Hi! Thanks for stopping by my blog, and yes, I forgive you. The constant competition between mothers is something that has baffled me since I was a teen and I watched as my friends’ mothers competed over which of them was the better tumbler or cheerleader. My mom and I sat back in shock (and I think she secretly beamed with pride that while they were the better athletes, I was the better student…)

    It’s just insanity, the constant comparison and one-upping!

    Anyway, thanks for writing!

    • Hi Miranda (hey looky, I got it right this time! :),
      Thanks for stopping by my blog and leaving a comment! It must’ve been the fact that I was really tired, even though I didn’t feel like I was, that had my brain doing some weird things. The other blog post that I’d written previously to address the fact that moms with PPD need support not hurtful comments. https://ivysppdblog.wordpress.com/2010/03/24/women-with-ppd-need-support-not-hurtful-comments/.
      Look forward to continuing our correspondence! I am going to follow your blog and add you to my PPD blogroll.
      Thanks,
      Ivy

  2. Thank you, Ivy! So, so true. When I first began therapy and was discussing my issues with colic, the therapist told me that if I had only put some special bacteria in my son’s bottle I woud have seen dramatic improvement. Needless to say, she was fired from that point on. We all do our best as we try to figure this out and often times even that gets lost on new moms. Our minds start thinking maybe I should be holding them more, playing, stimulating, etc., etc. If only I did this…leads a person to feeling inadequate. You are so right that due to PPD I find myself so much more sensitive. Thank you for putting that out there and not making me feel like it’s some personal failure that these sort of remarks cut deep. My feelings are real and are experienced by others. As the PPD mantra goes – you are not alone!

    • Hi Joan,
      Yes, we all do our best as moms and we all have difference circumstances that demand different approaches to things. No one way is the right way. If only everyone could be sensitive to the fact that PPD moms (and even 1st time moms) need NON-JUDGMENTAL support, we would be much better off!
      – Ivy
      P.S. – Just curious, did your therapist recommend putting L. Reuteri Probiotics into your son’s bottle?

      • At the time were discussing it, we had actually moved long past the colic phase so it sort of seemed like a moot point to me. Almost as if I could go back in time and take away the three months of screaming that we could not help him with. It just seemed more like an unvalidating comment – I’m sure she was trying to be helpful, but I already felt like such a failure at that point that I guess I was looking for reassrance that I had done my best instead. I think it goes right back to the being extremely sensitive thing…

        • Hi Joan,
          Ah, I see…..definitely a moot point and something the therapist shouldn’t have brought up at all! Water under the bridge…..and you’re right, unvalidating at that point. Of all healthcare professionals, you’d think that therapists would be required to take sensitivity training. In fact, I think everyone pursuing a career in healthcare (medical/mental) should take/pass sensitivity training. Being non-judgmental, reassuring, empathetic and supportive should be a requirement!
          – Ivy

          • Amen to that! You are exactly right! I learned through this process (PPD/PPA) that no one will advocate for me, but ME, something I never did in my pre-baby life. I would have let it be and probably internalized and thought, well, she’s the professional, not me. No more! I have finally lined up the right team after much trial and error and one day I’m going to be just like you and all of the other strong mamas who totally made it through this. Thanks for all you do!

            • Joan,
              We learn from our experiences. I survived PPD and came out a stronger person from my experience. Looks like you have too! I’m glad to be of help to any mama who stumbles across my blog! Have a good weekend! – Ivy

  3. Thank you so much for this post, Ivy!! I really needed to “hear” something like this. I still struggle daily not to compare me or my child to other mother’s and their babies. It’s so hard. Especially when you have a baby that has any sort of problem. Like Easton and his feeding issues. It hurts me so bad when other mom’s tell me how much he should be eating, or how much their baby is eating..or how their baby is sleeping 10 hours at night. They just don’t get how deep that cuts. Thank you so much…

    • Hi Julie,
      I’m so glad you found this post so helpful to you! Pls share this with other moms! Hey, maybe you and other bloggers can post something similar. The more moms that pass on this kind of info, the more eyes that will hopefully open.
      Best,
      Ivy

  4. Wow! This really hit home for me. Over 40 years ago I had my first child, and he had a serious medical condition that required surgery and complicated caring for him; also, his physical development was slightly delayed. The worst part of the whole experience, I have always said, was the criticism and insensitivity of other people–a lot of mothers, but everyone else as well. Even now…I have always felt, don’t say one word unless you’ve walked a mile in my shoes. I’m glad to see mothers starting to talk about these issues, at last!

    • Marcy S,
      Thanks for visiting my blog and commenting! Yes, it’s great moms are talking about these issues more & more! Wish everyone could see, with eyes wide open, what impact their words have on others. We need more empathy & understanding, that’s for sure! There would be less issues out there, in general, if society could teach empathy at an early age and parents would model empathy for their children. Empathy is teachable! Hmmm, food for thought on a future post!
      – Ivy

  5. Great. GREAT post Ivy. This is extremely true. When my BF’s son was born I compared EVERYTHING to her and her experience and I felt like a failure. It seemed as though everything that I had wanted and expected of my experience as a new mom, was happening to her and I was jealous and so angry about it. I would complain to her about my struggles with feeds and she would boast about how easy everything was for her. I really don’t think that she intended to hurt me though…
    I have learned to stop comparing myself to others but it has taken me a while to do so. When other mom’s complain about motherhood, I allow them to. As I have realized that we are all different and we all experience things differently. Who am I to say that a slightly gassy baby is not as bad as a colicky one? It’s a totally subjective experience. I choose to validate their feelings rather than belittle their experience.
    Same goes for choices…who am I to judge what is the right or wrong way to feed/daycare/work…etc all the choices that we as mom’s make. We are ALL different and we should respect that.
    This is a very important topic Ivy. Thanks for writing about it and offering up some great advice. You rock!

    • Hi Kim!
      Yes, I’m sure your friend and many other moms out there don’t realize the impact of some of their comments/advice. Which is why I felt the need to post this. Many like you and me learn from our experiences and become very empathetic when we see other moms traveling down the road we’ve traveled. We know what can hurt and what can help. I’m glad you think my advice is helpful. Now, if only I can get more moms to read this! 🙂
      Take care,
      Ivy

  6. …because every woman parents differenly. We should build each other up rather than knock each other down beacuse we are all on the same team. Great post!

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