parent opinion

'My friends in mother's group were talking about their partners. What they said shocked me.'

For many mothers, the opportunity to connect with other mums online feels like a lifeline.

Virtual "mothers" groups, often found on Facebook, bring together parents who live close by ("North Shore Mums"), have kids of a similar age ("September 2022 Mums"), work in similar professions ("Nurse Mums"), share interests or listen to the same podcasts. Daily posts in these groups span everything from requests for pram recommendations and toilet training suggestions to recipe ideas and tips on unblocking runny little noses. Like an in-person mothers' group, they're generally perceived as safe spaces: places where mothers can go to seek non-judgmental advice or reassurance.

The rise of in popularity of Facebook groups connecting mothers is so rapid it's even been studied. In a 2022 report, researchers found that participation by mothers in Facebook support groups "allowed women to engage and share at a level much deeper than what they would in 'real life'."

Watch: Mothers in the Mamamia office reveal what they get up to after they've put the kids to bed. Post continues after video.

Video via Mamamia.

That probably goes some way to explain why these groups are becoming more than just a place where mums can ask whether it's time to size up in nappies. Increasingly, they're also a sounding board for some of the most serious issues relationships face in the early years of child-rearing.


And, time and time again, requests for validation are prefaced with the same question:

"Am I overreacting?"

Ladies, my husband didn't get me a Mothers' Day gift even though I explicitly asked for one. He left me to do housework and look after the kids while he golfed all day. Am I overreacting? 

I've just had my third child and my partner is annoyed I'm not interested in sex. He says I "used him" for another baby and now I've lost interest. Is it wrong to be upset with him?

My husband keeps walking away while my baby is in the bath. I've told him that isn't safe, and he's ignored me. Is it wrong to be angry about this?

I'm sick, but my partner still expects me to wake up in the middle of the night with our toddler. I want to shout at him, but am I just being irrational?

My mother-in-law constantly calls to shout at me about the way I'm raising my kids. I've asked my husband to intervene, but he says I should just be polite and ignore her. It's getting to the point where I'm afraid to answer my phone because the abuse is so frequent. Am I crazy to think he should be stepping in?

My partner constantly belittles me, from critiquing my clothing choices to the fact that I've gained weight since I’ve had our babies. He says he can't be attracted to me until I "pull myself together". Is this normal?

The above aren't direct quotes, but they're all real scenarios drawn from actual posts (mostly anonymous, although occasionally attributed to the author). They crop up in every group, regardless of the thread which ostensibly connects the members. They're just as frequent in career-based groups as in geography-based groups as in common-interest based groups.


The same issues come up with alarming regularity: partners who don't take on their share of the mental load, who don't respect the work of the women raising their children, who don't pull their weight with housework, who act like taking care of their own children is a favour to their wife. Who say things like "Valentine's Day is a made-up holiday" or "Why would I get you a Mother's Day present, you aren't my mother!" 

Fathers who put the safety of their children at risk, who are verbally abusive, who insist that they want to be fathers, then ridicule or harass the women who bear their children for the consequences of that choice: exhaustion, weight gain, lack of interest in sex, being "touched out".

Listen to This Glorious Mess where we talk about the mental load of doing unpaid labour and how a parents' group might help. Post continues below.

The comments that women receive in response to these posts are almost unilaterally supportive – "if this was me I would be furious! I can't believe you're putting up with that!" From a mental health perspective, it's clearly important that these women have somewhere to turn when struggling. On the face of it, there's no harm in running a scenario past a group of like-minded women to see if they share your view. 

But while it's useful, and probably healthy, to seek reassurance from your village (virtual or otherwise) when it comes to the best approach for starting solids, a sense-check to validate your own emotions shouldn't be necessary when your partner behaves in a way that is objectively hurtful, belittling or abusive. 

It seems that, despite all the parenting advice in the world telling new mothers to "trust their instincts", that advice goes out the window when it comes to dealing with partners. Because the relevant question is actually not whether a group of other mums on the Internet think that a woman's partner is treating her badly. The question is whether she thinks her partner is treating her badly. The only person whose perspective on the situation matters is her own. 


If she's tempted to ask whether her first reaction is an "overreaction" or "irrational", it's more than likely she's been conditioned to think that way on purpose, by a partner who it suits to have his own behaviour characterised as a "rational" baseline, so that any dissenting view is automatically "irrational".  

In most circumstances, it would seem that these women's reactions – to cross-check their emotions with a group of strangers online, just in case they risk coming across as "hysterical" or "overemotional" to the person they’re supposed to trust most – isn’t actually an overreaction at all, but an under-reaction of epic proportions. 

There's no easy answer or quick fix to the inequality that plagues Australian households, and certainly not in the early years of parenting. 

But there is a simple answer to the question so many mothers are asking. 

No, you aren't overreacting. 

And if it's a problem for you, it's a problem.

Did you know we have a whole family focussed community you can join on Facebook for more discussions like this? Join the Mamamia Family Facebook group and follow Mamamia Family on Instagram and tell us what #parentinglookslike for you!

Feature Image: Supplied.

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