Cut the should and stop the shaming

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“The pervasive stereotype that a woman must sacrifice every waking moment of her life to her children is still so strong, and any other activity that she might be doing that deviates from primary caring is met with a side of shame and guilt,” writes “Mummy” columnist KATE MEIKLE. 

I’VE had enough of the shaming of mothers that seems to be ever prevalent and pervasive. 

I can’t tell you the number of times I have been shamed in public, usually by strangers, usually thinly veiled by a “well-meaning” tone. 

If the majority of primary caring fell to men, shaming would not exist. 

From people “letting me know” that my baby wasn’t clothed warmly enough (he had just pulled off his hat!), to critical overtures regarding childcare choices, breastfeeding, sleeping and crying on various forms of transport, the shaming of mums just doesn’t stop. 

The day my daughter was born, when I was transferred to the maternity ward from the birthing suite with my newborn baby, the midwife made a judgemental comment that my son had not yet been collected from daycare. It was along the lines of: “They’ll be turning out the lights at the daycare centre by now…” 

He was in fact, perfectly safe, the centre was open for at least another hour and my mum was just about to collect him after meeting her granddaughter. Just what a new mum needs, more stress and shame piled on her that she had neglected her son the day she had just given birth to his little sister. I should have received a medal for giving birth within daycare operating hours! 

I caught up with a friend last week who reflected on her choices as a new mum. 

“I decided I would be a terrible mother and go back to work,” she said. 

She told me that she realised after her son was born that a lot of her identity comes from her work, and that she missed working. She said that the level of shaming she received for going back to work after “only” four months was intense and the only way that she could cope with it was by accepting that she was a “bad” mum and owning that title.

It’s certainly not fair, nor is it healthy for a person to have to embrace a negative stereotype in order to be able to accept their own choices for their family. 

Turns out, my friend is nothing close to being a terrible mum and has figured out a way to be a great working mother. The pervasive stereotype that a woman must sacrifice every waking moment of her life to her children is still so strong, and any other activity that she might be doing that deviates from primary caring is met with a side of shame and guilt. 

And yet, we mums can never quite get it right, can we? So we never seem to avoid the tide of opinions that are thrown our way. Yes, I am thinking of you, Michael Leunig. 

That tide of opinion and shame can take a devastating toll on new mums, who are vulnerable, emotional (gasp!) and at times really struggling. 

I saw it first hand when my friend was admitted to hospital with severe postnatal depression. She tells me her psychologist taught her and other mothers during a group session that what was important for their recovery was to eliminate the word “should” from their life. For these women, the word should ruled their depression: 

“My baby should be sleeping through the night by now”

“I should be enjoying this experience more” 

“I should lose the baby weight” 

“I should be able to breastfeed” 

How many mothers can relate to one or more of these statements? “Should-ing” and “shaming” go hand in hand to create the impossible standards that means that mums can’t catch a break. 

The only thing we should be is kind. 

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Kate Meikle
Kate Meikle is a staff reporter for "CityNews"

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