Four in five (80%) mums compare themselves to other parents – a condition known as ‘comparenting’. Of these, almost a third (31%) comparent ‘all the time’ – with new mums looking after lockdown babies hardest hit by this crippling parenting paranoia (42%), according to new research.
The study of 1,005 UK mums with children aged 5 or below, by baby brand Kendamil also revealed that a staggering 81% of mums fear they’re being judged by other parents over how they raise their child. The stereotype surrounding mother-in-laws is alive-and-well, as over a third (37%) worry their mum-in-law judges them over how they raise their child. This insecurity evidently worsens over time, as mums with five-year-olds are most conscious of Grandma’s glare (40%).
Parents compare themselves to:
- Friends who are parents (60%)
- Their own vision of the ‘perfect parent’ they dreamed of being (43%)
- School or nursery parents (43%)
- Parents online (28%)
- Work colleagues who are parents (25%)
Feeding is a prevalent fear. Interestingly, 29% worry others judge them for choosing baby milk. Nearly three-quarters (72%) feel there’s an unfair stigma attached to feeding babies formula milk. Beyond their personal networks, a third (33%) of parents feel external pressure to breastfeed from healthcare professionals and 23% were even made to feel like an ‘inadequate parent’ for formula feeding.
Friends are unwittingly fueling parenting insecurities. Not only do parents compare themselves to mum chums, but 39% fear their friends with children are their biggest critics. Their paranoia is so high that nearly a quarter (23%) fret over how even their childless friends perceive their parenting skills.
Alarmingly, nearly a third (31%) of parents fear judgement from their own mum, especially those with toddlers in the ‘terrible twos’ (37%). Deep down, the majority (81%) of mums feel they’re judged far more than their parents ever were. New mums raising the ‘Coronnial’ generation – babies born during the coronavirus pandemic – through lockdown feel most aggrieved; 83% reckon their parents had it easier. Overall, 42% of mums feel the pandemic has negatively impacted their parenting experience.
‘Playground paranoia’ is also rife; 22% of parents fear judgement from school or nursery parents; especially those with children aged 5 (31%).
Parents say they 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%)
Anjula Matanda, a family Psychologist at Kendamil, commented: ‘Raising a child is no mean feat but parenting in a pandemic is a totally different ballgame and one unknown to previous generations. It’s human nature to doubt whether you’re doing a good job, particularly in stressful times. You may reach out to others for validation, to compare notes or for guidance. Remember, every seemingly well put-together parent knows the same struggle; even if a filtered photo on Instagram tells a very different picture-perfect story.
‘The fact that parents are feeling judged by those closest to them is incredibly concerning. When a parent senses disapproval, it knocks their confidence in their ability to parent and the choices they might make, therefore getting in the way of savouring their parenting journey.
‘Unfortunately, ‘comparenting’ is serious enough to affect mental wellbeing. It’s amplified by modern challenges like social media and, of course, the hugely impactful effects of the coronavirus pandemic; a potent pairing that can leave parents feeling insecure and isolated. Until lockdown lifts, interactions with friends, family members or even at the school gates are fragmented; however, in those fleeting moments, mums evidently pay close attention to how other parents are getting on; and equally fear how they come across. When the world re-opens, socialising could ignite new insecurities and anxieties and these emotional pressures could have physical ramifications too, like exhaustion and trouble sleeping.
Anjula reassures parents that: ‘If you are preoccupied with negative thoughts that are: knocking your confidence, preventing you from enjoying the joys of parenting or tackling the inevitable challenges positively, or notice tension in your friendships, it’s important to be kind to yourself. You are enough.
‘Don’t suffer in silence. It is one of the realities of parenting to find coping with a new baby challenging at times and it can sometimes feel difficult to work out exactly how you are feeling if you are overwhelmed. Confide in your partner, a trusted friend or close family member about what you have been experiencing. Oftentimes just having another person to talk to can make a positive difference and give you the headspace to reset your thinking.
‘Embrace the many positives of parenting. For example, your child’s “firsts” (a silver lining to lockdown is that you can enjoy many of those) and seeing their lovable personality traits begin to blossom. Self-care is vital, so treat yourself where you can. Run a lovely bath once the little one is in bed, get a FaceTime call in with your bestie or order a take-away, for example. Book post-lockdown plans to look forward to.
‘If you’re still struggling or have noticed ongoing feelings of worry and being overwhelmed, please don’t feel embarrassed. Speak to your GP for support and a clear diagnosis if you’re experiencing symptoms of postnatal depression or postnatal anxiety. Your GP can also refer you to a therapist. Cognitive behavioural therapy (CBT) could give you the tools to change the thinking and behaviour patterns that lead to anxiety, helping you to conquer negative thought-patterns. If you`re worried about getting to therapy sessions because you may not have childcare in place, the good news is that many therapists now offer teletherapy, so you could do this from home
Ross McMahon, CEO at Kendamil, commented: ‘We’re alarmed to see parents living with insecurities and extend our full support. We hope our research raises awareness of ‘comparenting’ as a prevalent issue, so our nation’s brilliant mums and dads realise they’re not alone. We believe no parent should feel judged for the decisions they make about raising their child; anyone who makes a parent feel inferior is encouraging them to worry about the wrong thing and deflecting them from enjoying all the good things that come with being a mum or dad.’