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Thursday, 27 October 2016

Judging other mothers

While flicking through the Huffington Post parents section today, I came across a post entitled "Why Was I Shamed For Having A Girlie Mini-Break Without My Kids?". Why indeed? I thought, that sounds very unreasonable. I read on. The author - a mother of two - had spent three days away with her friends in the sun, leaving her 10 week old baby and 6 year old behind with their Dad. She then documented her holiday on Facebook, and received considerable scorn in response.  At the start of the article, I had been ready to be huffy on her behalf, but when I read "10 weeks old" I tutted. I actually tutted. Then I tutted more loudly at myself. Evidently I was no better than the trolls who had criticised her for being "selfish" enough to have a break from her children. I read on, admonishing myself. But the conflict remained.

On the one hand, I totally applauded her decision. She left her children with their fathers, where she knew they'd be safe and happy (her 6 year old daughter often spent weekends with her Dad, so she wouldn't have known any different anyway), and put her own wellbeing centre stage. Far too few Mums ever do that (myself included) and then we bitch and moan about how knackered we are, and how we never have time for ourselves. Well more fool us. She doesn't breastfeed (she freely declares herself NOT an earth mother) and her children self settle so there were no concerns about milk supply or sleep issues while away. Her kids, I'm sure, were totally fine with the arrangement, so why on earth judge her? Just because society (and the Daily Mail, who got hold of the story) tells us mothers must slavishly and selflessly devote themselves to their children, doesn't mean society is right. As she points out, her husband doesn't "let her" go away or "babysit" her younger child. He takes on responsibility for caring for THEIR kid because that's right and fair. GREAT.

And yet. My knee jerk reaction was still to negatively judge and furrow my brow. Why?

I think there were several reasons. First, I am undoubtedly subconsciously influenced by social norms around a mother's inescapable responsibility, however consciously I try to reject them. Second, I projected my own experience onto hers - I breastfed my son, and he was a colossal pain in the arse proper high needs baby (he still is a bit). At 10 weeks, there was no way in hell I could have left him for 3 hours in his father's sole care, let alone 3 days. Unlike this mother's daughter, he WOULD most certainly have noticed, and would have made his displeasure known, exceedingly vocally and repeatedly. Third, because I know that separation from a parent can have long term psychological consequences. There is substantial scientific evidence to demonstrate this, and a member of my own family still bears the scars of being separated from his mother when he was very young, an experience that left him resentful and unable to properly trust her for the rest of his life. Being with trusted, caring fathers, it is very unlikely this woman's children would have suffered the same fate. But when you know what separation can do, the merest suggestion of it can make you feel uncomfortable. Fourth because the article was accompanied by a selection of pouty, bikini-clad selfies of the author and her friend. Fine, but I personally find selfies a bit narcissistic. Probably because I'm old and flabby. Fifth, because there was some judgement coming from the author too. One of her trolls "did look like a troll" (touché, but still...). If you haven't married a man willing to pull his weight in the childcare stakes, it's kind of your own fault (well, yes, unless you didn't actually discover that until you had the baby...). NCT Mums are the worst breed of female she's ever come across... (I am a despicable person, it's true.) Six, I am maybe a little jealous of her, and her ability to say "Fuck it all, I'm off to lie on a beach for 72 hours!"

I didn't want to judge her, and yet I did. Because we ALL judge. It's how we make sense of the world, work out what we like and dislike, what's right and wrong, and distinguish our own preferences, styles and philosophies from those of others. It's not necessarily inherently wrong to judge. It is wrong to voice those judgements publically and unbidden (even via the tempting anonymity of social media) as though your opinion and experience is the definitive truth, all considerations of nuance or sensitivity be damned. So while I recognise I have just publically aired my own thoughts on this particular matter, I would underline they are just thoughts - and are in no way meant to shame the mother concerned. Her life is her business, and as long as her kids are happy and safe (and they almost certain are), then she should be left to live it without uninvited criticism. Preferably on a lounger with a cocktail in her hand, because who wouldn't want to be there?

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