J is for judgement. W is for women.

You may remember Jacinta Tynan from the controversy her article Motherhood is Easy caused a few weeks back here. THIS IS NOT ANOTHER POST ABOUT THAT. Or it is but only a little bit. This is a post about judgement. The judgement we give and receive about parenting – even if you don’t have children.

Journalist, author and broadcaster Jacinta writes……

It started within hours of giving birth. A woman suggested – almost as an accusation – that I may not be able to breastfeed because I’d had a caesarean. “But … but … I went through 48 hours of labour and only had a caesar because the doctor said I had no choice!” I wanted to protest. I felt a primal need to defend myself, even though I have absolute reverence for any which way of giving birth and see none as superior to the other.

It was my first taste of the mummy judgment calls, so far removed from the mummy sorority I was also welcomed into with casseroles and cots delivered to the door and wisdom in spades. Because beneath the camaraderie lurks an undercurrent of censure most vocal from within our own camp. We mothers are, too often, our own worst enemies.

It’s as if there exists a right way to do things, only no one knows what that is. To breastfeed or not? And for exactly how long? Co-sleeping or baby down the hall with a monitor? Controlled crying or jumping every time he stirs? Dummy? Immunisation? Work or stay at home? Nanny or childcare? We might assume these are options, but the decision has already been made by a band of Other Mothers who think they know best and are not afraid to say so.

I know. I have been there. My own mummy judgment reached fever pitch when I wrote a story for Sunday Life (August 1 issue), about how joyful I find motherhood, suggesting we focus on the privilege of it, even when it gets tough. “At last” was the resounding response. But to my regret it was interpreted by some – a vocal and vitriolic minority – as a betrayal of the motherhood code.

I inadvertently unleashed the ugly side of motherhood. The side – which we’re all partly guilty of – where we vilify those who don’t think like us.

You can’t possibly know what you’re talking about – as is helpfully pointed out by Other Mothers – unless your baby is one, two, has started school, reached puberty or left home. Or unless you have at least two babies or, even better, three. Don’t even think about chiming in unless you’re a stay-at-home mum, according to some. Or work and juggle childcare, according to others. Which leaves a very narrow window for those deemed to have a legitimate opinion on motherhood.

There wouldn’t be such a chorus of dissent if we had to show our faces. But when a set of initials will do, it gives rise to all manner of uncensored opinions. The rapid rise of mummy blogs – born of such good intent – has made it open slather. Advice from other mums is a vital connection that has literally kept us going for centuries, and the web is the wider-reaching, modern-day version of that, the virtual chat over the back fence without even getting out of your PJs. But it’s not always the supportive community you might crave. Anonymity has the potential to whip up a cliquey spite-fest bringing down anyone who doesn’t toe the line. But what is that line?

Dedicated full-time-mother websites credit themselves with “bringing up the next generation”, firing salvos at working mums for “neglecting” their babies by farming them off to “childcare factories”. Stay-at-home mums are accused of neglecting themselves. Offline, judgment masquerades as helpful hints. “Don’t pick him up when he cries,” other mothers berate. “You’re not still breastfeeding, are you?” when it was revealed I was “still” feeding at nine months. Any longer and I would have raised the ire of the anti-extreme-breastfeeding brigade. Any less and I’d risk the wrath of Gisele Bündchen.

We wouldn’t be at each other’s throats if we thought we were good at it. But we are a generation where mothering has morphed from instinct to another potential achievement – or failure – fuelling our insecurities and defensiveness as we protect our patch. It is Other Mothers – who might be doing it “better” – who have become our nemeses.

Especially those looking on the bright side. As one mum wrote to me: “Good on you for saying what I, and many other mums, couldn’t say.”

But you can also get into trouble crying out for help. I doubt I would have elicited much sympathy – especially with one healthy baby – had I lamented my lot. My fellow newsreader Juanita Phillips did just that and was pilloried for it. Her upbeat book, A Pressure Cooker Saved My Life, about juggling work and family, was classified by one critic as a “misery mumoir”. Another article – titled Mother Inferior – dubbed her infamous on-air breakdown “fashionable” and ordered her to “stay home and look after your children” and “let” – yes, “let” – her husband return to work. Would she then be allowed to speak up?

We should make a pact to stop right here. To accept we’re all doing the best we can and be there for each other when it’s challenging. And when it’s not.

My mum has the right idea. With six children and eight grandchildren she must be champing at the bit to say her piece, but she never does.

Judgment is never helpful. Advice, though, is a different matter – and something every one of us is qualified to give.

*this article originally appeared in Sunday Life magazine. You can find Jacinta’s piece about feeling guilty when she fell pregnant here.

Ever since becoming a mother, I’ve thought that people without children know far more about parenting than actual parents. Lord knows I was a much more knowledgable parent before I became a mother. I knew EVERYTHING then. Especially how other people should be raising their children. Now? Not so much.

What do you reckon? Do you find yourself judging other women? Do you find yourself being judged? What for?

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