Written by Nikki Cox
Being a mother comes hand-in-hand with being or feeling judged these days, particularly with the prominence of social media. It’s much more common than you think it is, with 6 in 10 mums in a recent report declaring they have been criticised for their parenting skills. But shaming a mum doesn’t seem to be limited to her ability to be a parent, with targets also including the decisions she makes regarding her lifestyle, work life and social life.
Shaming, judgement and criticism are just some of the ways adults bully other adults. Instead of using physical aggression or name-calling, like you often see in cases of child bullying, mother bullying can include alienation from other mums, rude behavior, dirty looks, spreading rumours, and gossip.
Mums can face bullying quite substantially across their entire journey through motherhood and, sadly, it can come from strangers, other mums, friends, and even family members.
Becoming a mother can already be an incredibly lonely and isolating experience, and full of self-doubt. You instinctively try to reach out and connect with others, both offline and online, for normalisation, confidence and socialisation. It can, therefore, be quite overwhelming and stressful to face the amount of judgement other people, including other mothers, throw towards you in this new experience. Often this stems from a decision you’ve made that doesn’t align with someone else’s values and beliefs - anything from breast versus bottle, co-sleeping, baby-led weaning, using the ‘cry-it-out’ method, returning to work early versus being a stay-at-home mum… there are so many critics! As a result, this can put you off connecting with other mums altogether when you are already your own worst critic; constantly judging and second-guessing your choices as a parent.
Fortunately, there are ways to escape the judgement and bullying that comes with motherhood, outside of approaches that involve avoidance or confrontation.
You've probably heard the term 'mindfulness' floating around for a while now, but possibly never fully understood what it involves. It’s a concept that has existed for thousands of years, however, over the past decade, mindfulness has become quite popular in Western society thanks predominantly to Dr. Jon Kabat-Zinn, as well as developments in neuroscience and growing evidence supporting the benefits of mindfulness practice in today’s complex world.
Mindfulness is deliberately being present in the moment, with openness rather than criticism.
The non-judgemental component of mindfulness practice promotes self-acceptance, as well as the acceptance of others. Rather than simply avoiding people and situations that provoke bullying behaviours, you can find it easier to see another person’s point of view and develop empathy and compassion towards that person in the process.
Over time, with ongoing cultivation of mindfulness practice, we are able to see past the judgement from others and accept that this is sometimes part of being a mother in today’s society. We start to see the bigger picture more clearly; that is, people are out there making choices based on their own knowledge, instincts, experiences and values, and other mums, in particular, are making every decision out of pure love for their children - just as you do.
Mindfulness can be practiced in many ways and doesn’t take much time; you’re probably already doing it, to some extent. Some mindful activities may feel more natural than others, and some may take a little more time to get used to. With practice, becoming mindful of yourself and your surroundings will come with less effort.
Here are some effortless examples of mindful moments for you to try:
- Next time you go for a walk, focus on feeling your feet on the ground as you take each step
- Take a deep, full breath in between phone calls and meetings at work
- Instead of tuning into the radio, tune into the thoughts and feelings you are experiencing as you drive
- Visit the beach or walk through a local park without shoes and focus on feeling the sand/grass/dirt as it connects with your feet
- Agree to put your mobile phones away next time you are out for coffee or dinner with friends and family
- Pay attention to your partner's facial signals
- Step outside your office or house during the day and spend a few minutes observing the smells, sounds, temperature, colours and interactions occurring naturally around you. You could even do this whilst waiting in line for a coffee or the bus.
- Spend one meal a day savouring each bite of food; experiencing its taste, smell, texture and the way it feels as it enters and travels through your body
- Colour-in with your kids
Keep Creating New Connections
The greatest influence on your ability as a mum to create new relationships is to overcome the fear of being judged as a parent, especially after you have already endured bullying. Being a mum is a tough gig, but it’s vital for you to remember that there is a great deal that actually unites us in this journey through motherhood.
Take a look at some of the most popular mum-related videos and blog posts online. The vast majority of these highlight parenting ‘fails’ or imperfections. Mums love seeing or reading about other mum’s failing or struggling; not because we enjoy gloating about not failing, but because it reminds us that other mums struggle as much as we do - they are going through the same fears, worries, and joys as you.
We may all differ in some way; make different decisions, have different interests, have different daily routines, have different priorities… but reaching out to make new mum friends shouldn’t feel as scary as it does, despite the prevalence of bullying. It’s all about finding what connects you to someone else.
There are an endless number of ways that people, in general, meet new friends. Here are 7 key ways to find new, worthwhile friends as a mum:
- If you work, make a new connection with another mum by asking about their kids, sharing a story about your kids, or simply talking about the trials and tribulations of parenting
- If your kids are young, join a parents group or baby class and chat about age-related challenges, then arrange to meet up again for a coffee date
- Smile at every mum you meet; it may be the only smile she gets all day and could lead to a conversation
- Visit a local park or play centre and start a conversation with a mum there on her own about your children, then arrange for future playdates at the same location
- If your children are older, strike up a conversation with a mum on her own also attending an extra-curricular or sporting event, then swap phone numbers or connect on Facebook
- Sign up for the free Mush app (a bit like Tinder for mums!), create your profile and scroll through other profiles to connect with like-minded, local mums in your area
- Find a reason to leave the house and talk to people that you may have something in common with; a new class that interests you, or join a group of like-minded people
The key is to get out there and start talking to people without the intention to make new friends but to simply connect. Friendships will grow with those that you feel most comfortable with - the right people (i.e. ones that won’t be looking to bully you in any way) - from a continuous connection over time.
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