What were we thinking! promote confidence and reduce distress in parents with a first baby

Politically correct parenting

By Michaela

Politically correct parenting

As a woman, as a friend, a sister, a wife and a daughter, the judgement of others is something I am aware of but usually don't allow to bring me down. Motherhood, on the other hand, welcomes an entirely new level of judgement that to be honest, I personalise on a daily basis.

A feature writer for most of my working career, I am not adverse to the condemnation of red crosses through my work or in some cases, hard copies scrunched into paper balls being piffed at me, but I’ve found nothing more confronting and deeply invalidating than the discriminating eyes of others since I’ve had a baby.

I hate the term quirky, so instead, I’ll say my style of humour is ‘fun’. Fortunately for me, I was lucky to find a complete equal in my husband and together, we’re known to pose in gawdy holiday sweaters for our annual homemade Christmas card or watch X Factor audition ‘fails’ on repeat until our tummies hurt considerably from laughter. A lot of the time we can be politically incorrect and I’ve found that this doesn’t translate well when parenting.

Given a sweet little woollen and feather headpiece upon his birth, I was inspired to buy a knitted hard hat, police vest, army fatigues, Cowboy lasso and handlebar moustache so I could take photos of our son in each of the Village People’s signature looks. I was, rightfully so, patting myself on the back at my creativity and ingenuity however after receiving the snazzy pictures via text, my phone was inundated with hurtful replies. From people I knew nonetheless.

“Why would you do that to your son?” one said.

“That’s utterly cruel and stupid,” said another.

If I had deprived him of a breastfeed, left him unattended on his change table or forgot to apply sunscreen on him in the middle of a heatwave I could have, and would have, welcomed the critique. However dressing him in costumes that caused him no pain whatsoever, short of embarrassment at his 21st birthday, didn’t necessitate such a nasty response.

And the parenting judgement doesn’t just come from friends and family with children. Unwarranted advice and comments come your way, as a new parent, from those with or without children, those of the same or opposite sex and those who do or don’t know you. Take the picture accompanying this blog, for example.

First of all, no. As if I would ever allow my child, a baby, to drink alcohol. Second of all, yes. Yes, I thought it was funny that he was reaching his tiny paws out towards the glass. And yes, I thought it was even funnier when he pursed his tiny little lips at every sip my husband took in the hopes his turn was next. Does allowing my son the freedom to choose the proximity of his hands to a supervised glass make me a bad parent? In my eyes, no. In the eyes of other onlookers, apparently yes.

My husband swiftly moved the glass to the floor, and our son from his lap into the confines of a high chair, when women sitting at a table nearby began to snicker and arch their eyebrows in utter disgust. The hubby shook it off a little easier than I did, as admittedly, a wave of shame hit me straight between the eyes much like a sucker punch to the face.

As well as my love of 70s disco bands, something else you mightn’t know about me is that I’m really sensitive. And despite writing this piece with the aim of appearing nonchalant, what people think of me – and the things people say to me – have an unlimited shelf life in my mind stepping forth for rumination as I try and drift off to sleep each night. Add to that the fact I am a completely over protective new mother and bam, you have a self-pity party that you wouldn’t want an invitation to!

What I’m learning as a mum is that, like most things in life, I need to choose my ‘battles’ so to speak. Not only do I need to decide what I automatically ‘do’ when confronted with unfounded parenting commentaries (I don’t condone getting physical ladies!), I need to decide which comments about my parenting I need to consider and which pieces of random wisdom I can throw figuratively into the bin.

The welfare of a child is paramount, and I am all for constructive criticism, however if you listen to everyone’s ‘two-cents-worth’ you’ll end up drowning in a sea of copper coins. And perhaps we got rid of two cent pieces in this country for a reason? Because I’m not the only mum that realises the parenting opinions of others should be kept to oneself!

Expert response from What Were We Thinking! expert, Susan Darling

Wow! Michaela what a well written depiction of what can happen to new parents. I love your 'fun' style, so never squash that unique and creative spirit.

You will be continually offered unsolicited advice and critiques as a parent, however the trick is being able to deal with what is coming your way. I’d like to draw your attention to the Speaking Up For Yourself content of the WWWT program that should hopefully help you with some ammunition.

I can understand how hurtful and unhelpful these comments are to you as you are really doing the very best you can for your baby. Learning to speak up for yourself is a skill worth acquiring not just for now but for your whole life. Learning to be assertive with just the right tone will soon help things along. Practice a few responses in advance and remember to be respectful and keep the message clear and simple.The WWWT app may also be useful to revisit, in particular Week 3 (Setting limits) and Week 9 (Being Firm).

Thank you Michaela for highlighting a very important issue for new parents and sharing your innermost feelings so honestly.

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