FTM here. My LO has been EBF since birth. Now she’s eight months. My MIL thinks she should be on purees, but I want to try BLW.”
“I don’t understand any of this. What do all these acronyms mean?” my newly pregnant friend asked in horror.
I couldn’t blame her for feeling intimidated. I used to find these acronyms daunting too.
“FTM means first-time mum, like you!” I explained. “LO means little one, EBF means exclusively breastfed, MIL means mother-in-law and BLW means baby-led weaning.”
She still looked bewildered. “Baby-led weaning?” she repeated slowly.
“It’s okay. You don’t have to worry about that until your baby is ready for solids,” I said encouragingly. “And since you’re still pregnant, that’s a long way away.”
In case you’re wondering, I’m no parenting expert. I don’t even have children of my own. But I am one of the admins of the Mums At The Table (MATT) Facebook group, an online community of more than 8000 women across Australia and New Zealand. And although I’m no Pinky McKay or Justin Coulson (they’re the parenting experts people usually turn to), I’ve picked up a few tips here and there.
Apparently, there’s a lot of information that women aren’t told before they get pregnant. Many of the group members are convinced this is some type of conspiracy.
“If women knew all there was to know about giving birth and being a mum, they would never do it,” one member told me.
While there are a lot of lessons that I’ve learned since our group began (for instance, did you know that babies can emit waste in the womb?), I think the majority of them are better left for women to discuss and discover on their individual journeys to motherhood. However, there are some lessons that I think are valid for all of us. And they could make a difference, not just in the way that we treat mums, but in how we treat others in our everyday lives.
#1. Watch your language
People who aren’t mums probably don’t go about their day talking about FTMs and BLW. But, as a multicultural country, we should consider whether we’re using jargon in our everyday conversation that makes life a bit more difficult for non-native English speakers. A friend from a non-English speaking background recently told me about an experience she had when she first came to Australia.
“In my country, we call toilets the ‘WC’,” she explained. “One day, I was in a public place with lots of tourists and was desperately looking for a toilet. I couldn’t find one anywhere. Instead I kept seeing signs that said ‘restroom’, but they didn’t have the symbol that I was looking for. I remember thinking, ‘What kind of country is this? They have rooms set aside for people to sleep but they don’t seem to have any toilets!’”
#2. People should feel safe about asking questions
guiWhether or not you’re familiar with the biblical adage “Judge not, lest ye be judged” (from Matthew 7:1), it’s a sentiment worth remembering. During the early days of the MATT Facebook group, I soon realised that a lot of the members were initially afraid to ask questions in case they appeared silly or would be judged for doing so. In reality, none of their questions are stupid or should be viewed as such. Women aren’t born innately knowing how to be mothers and it makes sense that they should be able to ask questions of those with more experience.
Let’s talk about your workplace. Would you consider it a safe place to ask questions? Would interns and new employees feel comfortable with asking for advice? Or is it the type of place where people are made to feel inferior when they ask others for help?
#3. Every child is different
“When will my child start walking?” “When can I toilet train my child?” “When is it normal for kids to start speaking properly?” We’ve received variations of all of these questions in the MATT Facebook group and they usually get variations of the same answer—“Every child is different and will do XYZ when they are ready.”
Maybe your sister’s child started walking at eight months, but it’s okay if yours takes their first steps at 15 months. And you don’t need to be unnecessarily alarmed if your child isn’t speaking properly by their second birthday—chances are they’ll be chattering away and won’t shut up by their third.
Every child is an individual and will develop at different stages. This doesn’t make them any less talented or able than others. And, when there are genuine developmental delays, it’s good to know help is available.
There’s a meme on Facebook that sums it up well: “Popcorn is prepared in the same pot, in the same heat and in the same oil, and yet the kernels don’t pop at the same time. Don’t compare your child to other children. Their turn to pop is coming.”
In the same manner, it’s worth remembering that every adult is also different, and their individual journeys will look different too. Maybe your nephew was able to quit smoking and go cold turkey straight away, but you shouldn’t be discouraged if it takes you longer.
Be kind to yourself and to others. Unrealistic expectations don’t help anyone. And remember, your turn to pop is coming.
#4. Nobody is perfect. Let go of your guilt
According to Griffith University sociologist Judy Rose, “Any mother breathing has felt mother guilt. It’s a phenomenon that can’t just be dismissed.”
These days, it’s not just mums with jobs outside the home who feel the pressure of being a perfect mum. Thanks to platforms such as Pinterest and Instagram, mums have 24/7 access to other mums making inventive birthday cakes, throwing elaborate parties and setting up perfect photoshoots. Our Facebook group is flooded with mums who feel like they’re not doing enough for their children and are desperate for a community that understands how they feel. Social media has a tendency to make everyone—not just mums—feel a bit inferior. Scroll through Instagram and you’ll find yourself looking at that friend who’s been baking up a storm during lockdown, the relative who is flaunting her engagement ring and loved-up status, the acquaintance who looks glamorous in every photo #nofilterneeded.
If you’ve been feeling envious of other people on social media, remember that nobody is perfect, and you certainly don’t need to be.
#5. Every mum needs a village
It’s no secret that mums today don’t have the village that mothers once did. Instead of receiving wisdom from their elders, they are often isolated. The majority of mums in our Facebook group are there because they seek community and fellowship.
But it’s not just mums who are feeling lonely. A report conducted in 2018 by the Australian Psychological Society shows that one in four Australian adults are lonely and that one in two Australians feel lonely for at least one day in the week, while one in four feel lonely for three or more days. Meanwhile, 2020 research conducted by the Loneliness New Zealand Charitable Trust found that prolonged loneliness has increased from 3.5 per cent of the New Zealand adult population before lockdown to about 10.6 per cent during lockdown. It’s particularly concerning that the incidence of prolonged loneliness for New Zealand youth increased from 5.8 percent to 20.8 per cent during lockdown, before falling slightly to a still-high 17 per cent after lockdown.
According to a study by health insurer Cigna, loneliness has the same impact on mortality as smoking a whopping 15 cigarettes per day.
Anyone might be feeling lonely—teenagers searching for connection, elderly people who have been neglected, families looking for advice and assistance.
Think about how you can create community and friendship for those around you. Every person needs a village.
Vania Chew is based in Sydney and coordinates social media for Mums At The Table. Find out more at MumsAtTheTable.com.