I am part of many mum groups on Facebook and you often come across lots of questions and fears from parents – first time mums, experienced mums, and dads as well. I was reading one thread a few weeks ago about how someone felt extremely pressured by her health visitor to continue breastfeeding even though she was in agony, she didn’t enjoy it and baby wasn’t happy. Now, you may know I am a huge advocate of breastfeeding, and will always encourage and support mums who WANT to do it. But I don’t believe in pressuring people to do it if they don’t want to, or if it isn’t working. Breastfeeding is hard and sometimes people have problems. Sometimes you can work through them, and sometimes you can’t. I felt really sad reading this lady’s post as she was obviously upset at the thought of giving up breastfeeding, but she had tried really hard and it just wasn’t working, but she felt too guilty to stop. So this made me think about the pressures of parenting.
Where does the pressure come from? Is it from other people, like medical professionals, friends and family? Is it from social media, and places like these parents groups? Or is it from the media, and newspapers or things you see on social media?
Before becoming a parent, I had an idea of how I would parent. Since becoming a parent, what I do and what I thought I’d do are completely different. I parent the way I want to, and try not to bow down to the pressures of how other people think I should parent. I breastfed because I wanted to, despite being pressured to give formula when Alfie was just a few hours old because I was struggling to get to grips with breastfeeding as I recovered from an awfully long labour. Instead of receiving support, I received pressure. I used cloth nappies because I like them, they were cute, and after the initial cost, they were cheaper than disposables. I felt pressure pretty much every day to just use disposables. I used a sling and baby carrier from when Alfie was a few weeks old to now he is two years old (although not as often as I’d like). I felt pressure from when he was about 6 months to just use a buggy.
We co-slept, I felt pressure to put him in his own bed.
We use a rear-facing car seat, I still feel immense pressure to turn him forward facing.
We had little to no routine, I felt pressure to be more rigid and set boundaries.
We did baby-led weaning at 6 months, I felt pressure to start purees at 4 months.
All this pressure comes from society in general, but I think the key thing I have learnt is to be consistent in your beliefs. Follow them through. Do you YOU want to do. I may have initially felt pressure in ALL aspects of my parenting, but now I really don’t care what other people think. The only person who can question my parenting is my husband. Ultimately we are bringing up our own children and we deserve to be able to parent the way we want to.
Most of my friends now have children, and we all parent differently. I have few friends that breastfeed, some that have tried babywearing, most have baby in their own room, and most of them wean the traditional way. Lots of my friends babies slept through the night from early on, mine didn’t consistently sleep through until he was 18 months old. Is that wrong? No, not at all. There is no “better” when it comes to parenting, just doing the best you can do.
What I think what we need to do now is stop putting pressure on ourselves. There will ALWAYS be pressure from the outside – from our friends and family, from midwives and health visitors, from the media. What we need to learn to do is stop listening to that pressure, trust our instincts and do what is right for your family.
We also need to differentiate between pressure and support. I sometimes feel like health professionals can’t win. For example, they try to encourage breastfeeding from the start, but those who want to formula feed feel like it’s pressure when they are getting support, and those who are struggling feel like they are getting no support. It’s a fine line to tread sometimes. You only have to read some of these threads on parenting pages to see the word “judging” thrown around like there’s no tomorrow. Take for example, a thread I read about car seats. Someone asked for advice on what car seat to use, and she was given examples of rear facing car seats that were suitable for her child’s age, and facts about why rear facing was safer. She was also told the new laws that had come in that meant turning her baby forward facing was actually illegal. There were then comments from other mums who said these mums were judging her and pressuring her to do something that she didn’t want to. This is where advice and judging can often get mixed up, and I think it’s because people themselves feel pressure about doing something when they’re not sure what is right!
Parenting is a tough job. It’s easy to say that we should all support each other, but it’s hard when there are so many different ways to parent. I often wonder when I talk about breastfeeding, do I make my formula feeding friends feel guilty about it? Or when I talk about rear-facing, do they feel like I am judging them for forward facing? Because I am absolutely not, I just enjoy talking about my own personal experience and am happy to pass on what I have learnt to people who want to know more! I think sometimes we also feel like we need to be given permission from “professionals” to do something, and thus put more pressure on ourselves until they give us that permission. If you want to stop breastfeeding – stop. If you want to keep giving a dummy – keep doing it! You are the parent after all, but I know especially first time parents can feel like they just don’t know what they’re doing. But if you’re happy, and your baby is happy, then you’re definitely doing something right.
I asked some fellow bloggers about how they feel about the pressures of parenting. Do they feel pressured, and if so, who by? What is it that makes them feel pressure – because they think they are doing something wrong, or because they feel they are being judged? Here’s what they thought:
“I felt enormous pressure in the newborn days, firstly from health care professions, then from myself. Pressure from the health visitor to not co-sleep, to not breastfeed to sleep, to not keep picking my baby up. Pressure from the doctor to give up breastfeeding when I struggled with post-natal anxiety. But the worst was the pressure I put on myself by hanging around with the wrong kind of mums. Mums that all parented completely differently to me. From comparing myself to them I felt pressure to bottle feed, to put my tiny baby in a cot in their own room, to start puréed food at 4 months, to use lots of calpol and strong teething medicine etc. Luckily I also found some of the right mamas and stuck by how I wanted to parent, but not before it contributed hugely to my post-natal anxiety. I think if your heart doesn’t fit in with mainstream parenting there is an awful lot of indirect pressure out there.” Mama Cat + Baby Bee
“We had massive pressure from midwives. We wanted to go with breastfeeding as it was drummed into us that breast was best. However, it was really painful for my wife and my daughter seemed constantly hungry. We knew something wasn’t right, but when we said about bottle feeding, the midwives told us to persevere with breast feeding. After 2 months, a midwife was quite shocked that my daughter was still under her birth weight and she was looking thin. This midwife thankfully said that we should top-up using a bottle. My daughter put on weight and we finally got some decent sleep. I think there really is some unnecessary pressure on mums to breastfeed.” Household Money Saving
“I think a lot of pressure comes from the media and society. I think I feel very under pressure because I had my children relatively young for the area I live in and definitely get stared at a lot and have had some negative comments. It makes me feel like I have to prove a point and do everything well, from daily sensory play to creating a very lucrative career. I definitely feel that pressure more than my mum friends who are in their late 30’s and 40’s. The problem is, by trying to do everything well all the time, it doesn’t leave a lot of time to relax and the inevitable is burnout. I wrote a post about it recently” Our Fairytale Adventure
“I was pressured by the HV at a visit to take my son’s dummy away. She made me feel dreadful for giving him one yet it was the only thing that would settle him as a newborn, other than the boob, and it helped him through teething and illnesses. I understood that there are issues associated with it but out of everything he could do and achieve in the booklet she didn’t praise us once for any of that, instead she made me feel like the worst mother in the world and insisted I took it away that night. I agreed just to get out of there! I didn’t do that to him because it wouldn’t have been fair. I took it away when the time was ready for him.” Emma Reed
“I didn’t have children until my mid-thirties but many of my oldest friends had them in their early twenties. I felt pressure from them to do things a certain way because they had ‘been there and done that’. My parenting style was and is different but I felt my viewpoint was dismissed at times.” Yorkshire Wonders
How do you feel about the pressures of parenting? Let me know in the comments below!