Could we try empathising with mothers, instead of judging?

Two stories about mothering in the headlines this week. One on breastfeeding, or rather bottle feeding, based on the news that updated advice from the Royal College of Midwives stresses that new mothers should be given appropriate support if they make an informed decision to bottle feed. The other on ‘working mothers’ and how they’re total slackers in the workplace.

Tales as old as time: breast vs bottle , mams should stay at home where they belong. I have opinions on both of these things.

Breastfeeding : it’s not the end of the world if you don’t breastfeed your baby. If a mother is not happy or comfortable doing it for what might be any number of reasons, then of course she should be able to bottle feed her baby without any degree of judgment from a single solitary soul. Breastfeeding can be a lovely experience, and it has many benefits, but it can also be painful and add stress and isolation to the mothering experience. It can cause women to feel trapped – you can be stuck to the couch for hours in the evening as your baby cluster feeds through various growth spurts. It’s all very well saying this is a fine and normal part of babyhood, but what if you have another child to look after ? Or what if you just desperately need some space and time to yourself ? Mothers can often be reluctant to leave their baby for any extended periods of time if they are exclusively breastfeeding ; again, fine, if you are happy with this, but it’s also totally fine and NORMAL to want time away from your baby. Babies are intense.

Working mums are slackers: Sometimes mams who work outside the home might have to leave work early if their child is sick; they might have to negotiate flexible working hours to suit childcare or school hours. This is true. I have done both of these things. Firstly, you are criticising a mother for going to look after her sick child. Does that not strike you as a bit odd? Imagine the criticism for a mother who didn’t look after her sick child. Secondly, you are also implying that looking after a sick child – or doing the school run, or helping with homework, or making lunches – is not work in itself. It is. Kelly Brook, who kickstarted the whole ‘debate’ by complaining about mums who can’t meet a deadline because they have to feed their kids ( I know), also said, “Others have kids and you never even hear about the kids. I love that.” And there we have it. What are these mothers even doing in the workplace in the first place?? Please keep your tedious domestic lives to yourselves. Do not reveal your motherhood in any circumstance, for it is something of which to be ashamed.

But the key issue for me in both of these stories and the discussions around them is why are the actions of mothers worthy of so much public scrutiny? Some working mothers are slackers ? Maybe – but lots of other workers are slackers too. What are you doing to advocate for flexible working for parents and non parents alike ? What are you doing to advocate for accessible childcare ? Some mothers choose to feed their babies in a way that you don’t personally agree with? So what? What else are you doing to advocate for child health and welfare other than judging and shaming their mothers?

Guilt goes hand in hand with mothering. It needn’t, but it’s inevitable if we continue to have such judgemental discussions across the media on a regular basis. The vast majority of mothers are doing their absolute best for their families in a world which is set up to make things as difficult as possible for them. Maybe try empathy, instead of judgement.



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