‘Mum Shaming’ – it’s not all about you, unless you want it to be

Mama,

I accept that you are tired – I know how it feels to be delirious with exhaustion but still having to put one foot in front of the other because there is a little person who needs you.

I accept that you feel all touched out – I know that feeling of being groped and climbed on by little ones all day and night, that has you flinching as soon as your partner reaches for a hug.

I accept that you are learning on the job – that you are vulnerable and uncertain and you feel overwhelmed by information about what you ‘should’ be doing. Please don’t let anybody ‘should ‘ on you and stop ‘shoulding’ on yourself. None of us have a clue what we are doing most of the time. And we cry too.

I accept that you need to work out the right way for you amongst all the pressure and noise and choices and opinions and people who want to help you.

I accept you, mama, but this doesn’t mean I can support all your choices. I am not trying to hurt you or make you ‘wrong’ by sharing information that makes you question what you are doing right now. I am not trying to make you feel guilty or shaming you because I share some research that suggests a different choice might be safer or better.

I have 18 years between my youngest child and my eldest. I cried and sometimes I yelled. I apologized. I learned more with each child and I made changes as I climbed the learning curve of being a mama. I would be in a blithering heap if I felt guilty about every not so perfect choice I have made. I would be an angry, bitter woman if I felt shamed by every person who did things differently from me.

If I share some information about breastfeeding, for instance, I am doing just that, sharing information. I am not shaming you for feeding your baby formula. I don’t know your story. You are probably hurting deeply, you may be feeling angry that you didn’t get the help you needed or you may be grieving because you have a medical condition that made things too hard for you. Or you may have made a different choice for your own reasons. I know you would do anything to protect your baby. Your love for your child is the most powerful thing you have ever felt and you want the best, just like every other mother.

I can accept you and I can support you, however you feed your baby, but I can’t agree with ‘fed is best’.   This has nothing to do with the food you are feeding your baby.

I can’t support ‘fed is best’

‘Fed is best’ is derogatory to every mother because no mother would willingly starve her child. The fear that we may be inadvertently starving our baby with low weight gain, for instance, hits at the core of every mother’s heart (I know, I have been there).

“Fed is best” is the line that women are given when they want to breastfeed but doubt their supply or have problems that make breastfeeding difficult. It’s the line women struggling to breastfeed are given when the helpers don’t know how to help. It’s a lame way for helpers to get themselves off the hook. It isn’t helpful to women who are trying their best to breastfeed and are seeking help. So please don’t ask me to support “fed is best.”

If you happen to wander across an article I have written with information that will help mothers breastfeed, please don’t tell me to mind my own business or that I am making you feel guilty (yes this happens). This isn’t about you, unless you want it to be. I am simply sharing information so other women can avoid the ‘booby taps’ that you may have encountered. If something you read triggers uncomfortable feelings, ask yourself, is this really guilt I am feeling or something else? Grief, perhaps? Sadness? Or regret that you didn’t have this information in time to make a difference for you? If you are feeling this loss, please find somebody who will listen and help you grieve without offering meaningless platitudes like, ‘fed is best.’

 

I can’t support ‘cry it out’ baby sleep training

If I share information about infant sleep, I am not just sharing the evidence about what is optimum for babies, I am advocating for babies’ needs and supporting a mother’s biological urge to respond to her baby. If this makes you feel uneasy because you choose to leave your baby to cry, please question why you feel uncomfortable. If you feel angry about what I am saying, where is this anger coming from? If you feel guilty ask yourself , what can I change?

I get that you are exhausted. I completely understand that some days you will be at the end of your tether and it is safer to step back, perhaps pop your baby down for a few minutes while you regroup. Or your baby may be crying in the car and it’s safer to keep driving than pull over, or you may be peeling the last potato and you know if you stop now, things will quickly go to hell in a hand basket and your other kids will be off their faces because they are hungry. I get it. I have five kids and my husband often travelled for work. I didn’t have extended family nearby (where was that grandmother who could bring a meal and hold a baby while I slept?). Babies cry. Sometimes they cry a lot. This isn’t a reflection on your care or a rejection of you by your baby.

I can’t support leaving babies to cry in order to train them to sleep. I show my hand on this authentically and honestly. I share the research. I share gentle strategies because there are other ways. If you do it differently and what I say rattles your cage, please walk away and find support elsewhere – there is plenty of support for people who want ‘cry it out ‘techniques, you won’t be lost in the wilderness.

 

I don’t support shaming or hurting kids.

Sorry, but not sorry. You may have a fabulous relationship with your kids and shaming them may be something you haven’t even considered, it’s something that may have been done to you as a child by family members or teachers. Try and remember how it felt – be still and for a moment think of yourself as that little five year old and how she would feel if you said this to her.

I can accept that we all feel frustrated and frazzled at times by the job that is mothering. It’s beyond hard some days and we will yell and we will say stuff we shouldn’t. But surely, instead of being proud of bullying our kids, can we pause, calm down, set an example to them and apologize when we say things that hurt.

If you feel offended by an article I share about hitting children (I believe assault is assault, whatever your relationship or the age of that person), I don’t care. I don’t support you or your feelings. If you feel guilty or upset about this perhaps you could skill up and increase your parenting toolbox so you don’t feel that punishment is your only option. If you are happy with yourself, pull up your big girl panties and carry on. I am not the mummy police. Nor am I a perfect mummy but I don’t give ‘high fives’ for ‘team mum’ whatever your game play.

 

It’s not all about you

Let’s stop thinking everything is about us. It isn’t, unless we want it to be. If we feel uncomfortable, we can question why.   If we feel confused about information wherever it comes from we can ask, ‘is it safe? Is it respectful? And, does it feel right?’

It isn’t helpful to get defensive and close off to information that may challenge what we know so far. We can explore and find new ways of being with our babies and children and we can make changes if we think these will work for us in our unique family situation. And if we are making the best choices for our family right now or if some choices are beyond our control, we have no reason to feel guilty or ashamed. Guilt is only legitimate if we have let somebody down.

Yes, I accept you mama,

I accept that you and I are on different paths.

I accept neither of us is perfect.

I accept that we are all doing the best we can with what we have.

I accept that we won’t always agree and that’s OK. We can agree to disagree and we can speak our own truths. For me, this means that while I can accept you, I might not support your choices. So please stop calling ‘Mummy Wars’ , ‘Mummy Shaming’, ‘Mummy Guilt’ if I seem to be calling you out . It’s not about you, unless you want it to be.

 

Pinky McKay is an IBCLC lactation consultant and best selling author of Sleeping Like a Baby, Parenting by Heart  100 Ways to Calm the Crying and Toddler Tactics (Penguin Random House, Australia). Check out her books here – they are available in print and worldwide on audible.com 

8 Comments

  1. Kathryn Says Reply

    Perfect.

    I’m so thankful I’m not the only one uneasy with the “fed is best” mantra. It’s so often regarded as all inclusive statement, when in my experience it’s used to shame breastfeeding women who are struggling, with the implication they are starving their child by persevering. Not ok.

  2. Jessica Savoie Says Reply

    So much yes.
    I wish smacking were illegal. That doesn’t mean I want to gaol every person that let their ‘mother tongue’ come out and smacked their child once. Sh** happens. We lose our cool. That doesn’t mean we have to accept sh** as a lifestyle choice. Because it’s sh**.
    Why does being kind to kids have to be such a contentious issue?

  3. Lauren - Gold Coast Mum Says Reply

    Spot on Pinky! Absolutely spot on! 👌
    I’m with you on every single word of this! I’ve been told that simply responding to a question about whether I breastfed or bottle fed was ‘showing off’ – because my answer was that I successfully breastfed twins. I can’t help other people’s feelings of guilt or inadequacy.
    There is so much support available yet people get offended or block their ears when people are genuinely trying to help.

  4. Katherine Says Reply

    Well said!! Thank you for this article.

  5. Anna Says Reply

    Wow Pinky! – Thanks for writing an intelligent, honest article – you nailed it! I am always heartened and comforted by your words of wisdom and look forward to each and every newsletter I receive in my inbox (for the last 9 years). Keep up your terrific work and know that you are making an enormous difference to the lives of many women, children and husbands who choose to read your articles. We are so lucky that we have you to supply us with this kind of information and research. With gratitude x

  6. Sherry-An Says Reply

    thank you Pinky. in days when i am down or inundated with well meaning comments on ‘you should put him on a schedule’, you should let him cry , should etc…i am comforted there is another way of doing this. that you have done it and there are results to show. that there is no one way only. That we are all individuals and accepting that our babies are too, so they respond to different tactics.
    thank you Pinky.
    -from Malaysia with love-

  7. Penny Says Reply

    Oh Pinky you utterly rock!

    This is such a perfect expression of supporting the mother on her own personal journey of motherhood, judging nothing, offering empathy but still holding fast to the truth that there are gentle, respectful, loving ways to nurture our children’s physical, emotional and cognitive development and that we know have the studies to prove that our children really do benefit from these choices.

    Am sharing this everywhere – thank you x

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