81% of mums feel they are judged for how they parent

‘Whenever we are pointing the finger outwards, it tends to be because we are trying to avoid looking inwards’ (Picture: Getty)

It’s never been easier to compare yourself to others.

With most people sharing elements of their lives (good bits only, of course) on social media, everyone is inundated with visions of other people’s day-to-day lives and opinions.

That seems to have resulted in a significant level of paranoia in mums, as a study by baby brand Kendamil found that 80% of mums compares themselves to other parents and 81% fear they’re being judged by others.

It seems to come from all sides – 37% feel it’s from their mothers-in-law, 31% their own mother, 22% from school and nursery parents, and 39% even their friends (regardless of whether they have a child).

New mums in particular are likely to feel this, especially when raising babies isolated in lockdown.

Dr Audrey Tang, chartered psychologist and author, tells that judgement itself ‘is not really “bad” or “good”, but almost an instinctive part of living in a community’ and usually comes from a place of insecurity.

‘Whenever we are pointing the finger outwards, it tends to be because we are trying to avoid looking inwards. By making it clear there is someone else (a “weaker prey” perhaps) to focus on, we can remain “safe”.

‘Competition is one of those wellness bandits that speaks to our insecurities, but other people’s behaviour is a reflection of them, not you and you don’t need to respond.’

Florence Grace, a 25-year-old mum from Buckinghamshire, believes influencer culture has exacerbated her experiences of comparison.

She tells us: ‘I saw someone give their baby a “half birthday” party. They had done tons of extravagant decorations and had purchased more presents than I could even count.

‘I thought about how I hadn’t done that for my son, worrying “Does that make me a bad parent?” 

‘I believe people can do whatever they want for their children, but it’s important to remember that everyone’s situation is different.

‘At the end of the day, we’re all in the same boat; our priority is trying to be the best version of ourselves for our children.’

Florence has let judgement affect how she parents in the past (Picture: Florence Grace)

Back in the summer of 2020, when her baby son Jett was newly born, she was living in a house that retained heat well and with lockdown they were home – without a balcony or garden – most of the time.

After checking with a doctor if it was safe to dress her son in just a vest most of the time to keep him cool, she got the all clear and shared an image of her vest-clad son.

She then received a message ‘from someone I considered to be a friend’ reading: ‘Put some f*****g clothes on me Mum’.

She says: ‘I felt really awful, because as a first-time mum during a lockdown, I had no idea what to do and no idea what was right.

‘I had been told he was fine in a vest, so that’s what I’d put him in. But that message was eating away at me and so, the next day, I dressed him in a “proper” outfit.

‘We went out for a walk and Jett was unsettled and crying. When we got home and I took him out of the pram, he was dripping in sweat, red and distressed, and I just knew he was too hot.

‘I was absolutely heartbroken that I’d allowed someone to make me doubt my parenting abilities and, as a result, had made me cause distress to my child. Since then, I have always followed my gut instinct when it comes to my child – after all, no one knows him better than I do.’

What parents most fear being judged for:

  • Public temper tantrums (40%)
  • What food they’re feeding their child (39%)
  • How many activities they do with their child (37%)
  • How they discipline their child (34%)
  • What their child is wearing (30%)
  • Catering to fussy eaters (30%)
  • Using baby milk (29%)
  • Child having a dummy (27%)
  • Child having too much screen time (26%)
  • Breastfeeding in public (26%)

Dr Tang says that a fear of judgement often comes from ‘living our life according to a series of “shoulds”‘, which are rules we set for ourselves similar to standards.

‘A lot of our beliefs are imposed unconsciously through the stories we watch in the media, in our culture, in our families and in our overall experience, and sometimes we don’t always appreciate that some of our beliefs about what we “should/shouldn’t” do, are not necessarily healthy,’ she says.

When the fear of judgement rises, Dr Tang suggests asking yourself: How would I feel if I didn’t have that thought? Then behave accordingly.

The reality is, different parents will have different ideas about what is best, but the important thing is to remember the context on your child, which isn’t necessarily context everyone else knows.

Often a fear of comparison and judgement comes from ‘looking to others to validate our sense of self worth’, Dr Tang explains.

But it also goes the other way – sometimes we are the one judging.

She advises when people catch themselves doing this to consider what about this person makes you feel insecure, be it their accomplishments or differences.

‘Ask them how they did the thing you’re envious of – often when we approach someone with love and curiosity (rather than dismissal or disdain) they actually want to help us,’ she says.

Whichever side of the coin you’re on, it’s clear that mums feel immense pressure to always ‘get it right’, which, isn’t always possible.

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