I follow a woman on Instagram who does Mummy Wednesdays, which means she asks her followers which topics they want to share their opinions and beliefs on. One woman suggested the question: "How can we tell other mothers that what they're doing is wrong", to which she got the very loaded answer that why would you tell someone they're doing it wrong and not just show sisterly (or rather motherly) support, and that she (the influencer), for sure, wouldn't choose that as a topic.
This exchange hasn't let go of me. While I do appreciate the fact that it's not nice nor helpful to give unasked advice to mothers (recently an old woman said, "oh isn't it time for gloves" when she saw Lily in the stroller, and I could barely bite back the response, "well, isn't it time you fell into a grave".), I still feel we have reached a point where everything anyone does or says needs to be supported and embraced. Criticising someone has become the anti-Christ move of our society - and I wonder whether that is partly because we're such an enabled and coddled generation.
Another social media example. Recently a few lifestyle/mummy influencers shared their views on media consumption with their kids. One woman strongly stated that her son sometimes watches TV all day and that's OK, because there are just such days. Inwardly, I cringed, because I simply don't think that's OK. Which doesn't mean I necessarily think she's a bad mother, or that the circumstances didn't allow for veering off the usual road; however, I do have a problem with having to say that this is OK.
There is a difference between judging an individual mother for her choices and having a strong general opinion on a matter, which doesn't have to sway just because a friend of you is doing it. It may be acceptable for your children to just eat junk food and sit in front of the telly all day, probably perhaps you are ill and no one can help you out, or you're going through a depression, or, or or - however, just because the circumstances are "right" to make bad choices for your kids, doesn't make the choices OK. As the adult you are allowed to fail and have bad days like anyone else, but essentially it is your job to organise life that even amidst hiccups, you can mostly avert unhealthy habits for your children. When it happens, you don't have to beat yourself up, but in my eyes it's not good to also demand to be supported in these choices because we "have to have each other's backs".
It is interesting, in my eyes, that we have reached a culture where we have to applaud every decision a mother (or anyone, for that matter), takes. But why? Elective C-sections, bottle-feeding, sleep training, sugary meals, TV before the age of three, making your child walk before it can, and whatnot else - these are all topics of controversy in many mum circles and women seem to hesitate to issue any criticism out of fear of being seen as cruel or unsupportive. But shouldn't we be allowed to be critical? Isn't this the big human difference to animals - that we have to capacities to critically think and the ability to utter our thoughts. There is data indicating that the tactile stimulation of C-section babies tends to be lower than for vaginally born babies because the latter are being pushed through the birth canal; we know that breastmilk has infinite higher benefits for babies than formula, we know sleep training raises cortisol levels, we know watching TV actively prevents the brain from developing as well as with tactile involvement, we know sugar is bad for teeth and the entire body, we know babies need body closeness and parental bonding to develop trust in the world and self-esteem. Does that mean you're a bad mother is you have a C-section, bottle-feed, let your child watch TV more than others, or give the occasional cake - of course not! Being a good mother isn't tied to one factor of how you gave birth, fed your baby, or which routines you have. But that doesn't mean the facts aren't less true.
You may be angry with me by now because I so blatantly stated the statements above, but this is the point. The reason why you don't need to be offended by ME as a person is because I don't know YOU as a person - and this is exactly my point. I don't know what triggered the decisions you made, which is why I am always hesitant to judge the mother standing right in front of me, maybe strung out, deep eye circles, who confesses her children watched telly all morning, so she could get some rest. As a complex human being I can sympathise with her and support HER (the individual) as a mother; however, that doesn't change the fact that letting your kids watch telly in the morning is not an ideal start in the day in my eyes.
So, should I tell her that? I've just stated I think we can stand by our principles regardless if someone feels offended by them. They're all grown-ups and need to regulate their own emotions. Remember, if someone feels offended by what you say, you a) most likely hit a sore spot, and b) THEY chose to be offended by you, so that's not really your problem (provided you shared your thoughts in a decent, humane and constructive manner).
So why wouldn't I share my thoughts with the hypothetical mother from the example above? Well, because there is also the factor of helpfulness. I feel the most annoying thing about people giving you unasked advice is that they are usually completely unhelpful. They just annoy you, bring you down and, possibly, intimidate you. I have a new rule when I feel I need to say something "out of principle" to someone: I ask myself, Is this in any way helpful to the person in this moment? If the answer is yes, I can proceed; if it is no (which it usually is), I can just shut the fuck up.
Let me give an example to illustrate what I mean. Imagine you had a friend dying from lung cancer. He is a smoker. You visit him in the hospital ward and list off all the reasons why smoking increases the risk of dying of lung cancer significantly. While you'd be right in saying so, it isn't helpful to this person in this moment at all. You can be right about things, but are you also being helpful?
Now, some of you readers may say, "Hold on, what do you mean by "right", how can you say that you are "right" and I am "wrong"?
And you'd have a point saying so. And I may not be right (but concerning many child-related topics, I honestly doubt it), but this is the point I'm making. Apart from studies and data, there is, in my opinion, the innate motherly feeling that tells you that it's not great if your child spends its day whiling away in front of the TV instead of climbing trees - or eats McDonald's every day. So, yes, I think I am right in saying some things, and you can contradict me like the adult you are without taking it personal and getting offended. Just don't expect other mothers to blindly support your decisions because otherwise you perceive them as cruel and mean. That's the whole point: you can have your opinion and share it, and I feel as a generation we have to re-learn that not everyone thinks it's OK what we're doing - and that is, in fact, OK.
Supporting mothers in a circle of motherhood is something I strongly advocate. Also because I believe that the topics which unite us outweigh by far the ones that divide us - but don't be scared to have an opinion - especially not if you have read widely and deeply into the subject. And remember, we can be empathetic and kind while maintaining our own opinions and values. If someone is offended by the mere fact that you have a different opinion than they have, there is nothing you can do about it, and it's a person best steered clear of, for their maturity levels are simply not up to standard. Let's allow ourselves as the mothers and adults that we are to hold strong and critical opinions - always with the option to change them over time, of course. When brought up, you are allowed to say you don't it's OK what someone is doing with their children and why. And maybe you can also learn something from the criticism you get from others.
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