The Mum Edit With Helen Whitaker: Judgement Days

Writer, interviewer and editor Helen Whitaker knows the real struggle of being a parent – in fact, she has written a book about it. In her exclusive column for SheerLuxe, she reflects on other people’s opinions of her parenting.

Parenting means judgement, whether real or imagined. Everyone has an opinion and, they believe, a right – nay a duty – to pass on that opinion. The opinion might be about how you choose to feed. It might just be the other parents in the local Facebook group, who always seem to end up in arguments. Or it might come from the well-meaning stranger in the Post Office, who tells you your newborn is hungry as it wails in the queue (yes, that happened). Can you imagine a Post Office queue in which someone gave you their unsolicited opinion about your outfit, career or relationship?

We’ve also all felt the laser glare of a stranger as we try to parent our way through a hellish situation (the classic supermarket meltdown, for example). When we flew to Vienna recently, the people on the row behind us said, “We didn’t even know he was there,” about my three-year-old when we landed. It was meant as a compliment because he’d been quiet for the whole journey, so ostensibly it was a win. Negative judgement from our fellow passengers had been averted. 

Everyone has an opinion and, they believe, a right – nay a duty – to pass on that opinion.

However, that peace and quiet had come at the price of letting him watch the iPad for the duration of the journey. This made me feel like a bad parent in the eyes of the biggest critic of all: me. Worse than any snippy outsider’s comment are the internal criticisms, the things you are constantly battling, often without really knowing why. 

For us, the first of those battles was over the dummy. I never had any opinion or judgement about people giving babies dummies – until it came to my own child. As a newborn, when Isaac wasn’t feeding or sleeping, he was often crying (I refer you back to the Post Office queue). “Maybe we should try a dummy,” we said. But we didn’t. Even after we looked up whether or not they were bad for babies (they aren’t and some research suggests they can reduce the risk of sudden infant death syndrome), we had ‘a thing’ about them. It was only at six weeks old, when we visited my parents and my mum suggested a dummy might make him, well, stop wailing so much, that I gave myself permission to try one. It helped. I love dummies. I can’t believe we let ourselves suffer for no reason. 

Now, the battle is screen time. I’m not against it absolutely, but we have decided that watching the iPad is much worse than other screens. “It’s time to turn the iPad off now and put on the telly,” we can be heard trilling, as though this somehow isn’t ludicrous. My friend Claire is the same. “My kids watch plenty of telly but I’m against them watching the iPhone in restaurants – even though I have been known to fold when I want to eat in peace. I somehow consider it ‘cheating’,” she says.

Then there are the guns that come with Playmobil’s police sets. They bring out all of my angst, while the swords in the pirate set don’t give me anywhere near the same visceral reaction. “I don’t like superheroes,” says my friend Natasha, “They feel wrong, even though my five-year-old loves Spiderman and Batman. Superman I find acceptable, maybe because he seems more wholesome. But it is ridiculous because they’re all fictional.”

Bring up this topic and your fellow mums will immediately start sharing all the ‘weird’ things they are against. This might not change your mind about your own aversions, but it does at least make you feel as though you’re not the only one. And that I am definitely in favour of.

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