It feels like you can’t do anything in motherhood without everyone else giving their opinion. Sometimes it’s well-meaning friends and family telling you how they did it, implying that you should do the same. Often it’s those friends who don’t have children yet, who think they understand (don’t judge them too harshly, we’ve all been there – we were all perfect parents until the babies arrived!) And sometimes it’s random people in the street who feel that it’s their place to tell you what you should be doing. Even when these people aren’t actually saying it out loud, or to your face, you can still feel the judgement.
It happens at every stage of parenting. When you’re pregnant you hear all about what you should and shouldn’t be eating, how you should be sleeping, how you should be preparing for your new arrival. When that tiny newborn baby is born, and you want to be left alone to trust your maternal instincts, you’re being offered advice about how often you should be feeding, how many nappies you should be changing, how your baby should sleep, the routine you should have. And it continues…
Of course, some of these ‘shoulds’ are important health guidelines for you and your baby, and we do need to hear them. But we don’t need them rammed down our throats by everyone we meet. The medical world changes their minds so often on what’s right anyway, can’t we all have a little freedom to look after our own children how we believe is best for them and us.
I’ve had my fair share of ‘shoulds’, and sometimes I’m feeling strong enough, or sure enough about the issue, that they just wash over me. But sometimes, when I’m struggling with the issue myself, or I’m sleep deprived and don’t really know if I’m coming or going, they leave me doubting the choices I’ve made for me and my son. And really, this gig is hard enough without the Mummy-guilt!
When my son was a couple of months old, he HATED his buggy. He would get so upset and the only thing that would soothe him was to feed – not always entirely practical when you’re out and about! So one day a good friend suggested trying a dummy. Pre-baby I’d always said I’d never use them, and I wasn’t convinced I wanted to give him one, but then I thought, if it helps him to settle when I can’t physically do it myself (breastfeeding and buggy pushing don’t really go hand in hand) then it’s worth a shot. That dummy hadn’t been in his mouth for more than 30 seconds when an old lady came over to let me know how she thought I ‘should’ be parenting. ‘Oh you’re not giving him a dummy are you..?’ she said with this big disappointed, judging look on her face. Luckily I’d been having such an internal dialogue in my head, that I spilled the whole thing out on her and she shut up fairly sharpish.
Currently, however, I am struggling to decide whether or not I should end my breastfeeding journey with my son. I always said I wanted to feed him for a year, and that marker came and went in the summer and we are still going strong. Part of me would quite happily wait until he naturally weans, but I feel really uncomfortable knowing (or at least believing) that so many people think that this is wrong and that he should be fully weaned by now. I suddenly feel this immense pressure from all around me telling me what I ‘should’ be doing. I’ve heard everything from ‘he shouldn’t need to breastfeed anymore’, ‘he should be able to go to sleep by himself now’, ‘he shouldn’t need to feed in the night anymore’. Should, should, should…! Can’t I be left to make this decision based on what is right for us? I think I’ve done pretty well raising him so far, so I think I’d rather trust my instincts than listen to other people’s ‘shoulds’. But in the same way that it’s so much easier to believe something negative that someone says about you, over a compliment, the same is true here. You have your own beliefs, but the ‘shoulds’ always stay there at the back of your mind, undermining your confidence.
So can we please all stop ‘should-ing’ all over new mums. Offer an opinion if they ask for it, but if they don’t can we instead tell them about something that they are doing well. Let’s build-up new mums, not knock them down. Just think of the confident children they will raise, when they are allowed to trust their own choices and do what’s right for their family.
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