The next time you think about asking a new mother if they are breastfeeding or using formula, think about this. While it might not be your intention, you maybe contributing to the 71 per cent of Australian mums and dads that admit parent-shaming is worse than ever and on the rise.
A new Huggies survey of 1035 parents living at home with children aged 0-12 in Australia also revealed almost half (45 per cent) felt directly shamed for their parenting approach causing anxiety, mental health issues and damaging relationships.
The research also revealed:
- First time parents who experience shame suffer more frequently with half saying they feel it at least once a month (57 per cent).
- More than half of parents (52 per cent) felt like they were shamed by someone questioning or criticising decisions they've made.
- The reasons for parent-shaming were varied with almost one in two believing it was their approach to discipline (44 per cent ) and their child's behaviour (43 per cent) and over a third (34 per cent) felt like they are being criticised for allowing their children to spend too much time in front of a screen. Almost a third (29 per cent) admitted they've felt shame about being a working parent.
Horsley Park residents Tanya and Anthony Froio are parents to two kids under-two, Luca (16 months) and Kayla (4 months). Tanya was unable to breastfeed either of her children and experienced parent-shaming.
"It's the first question people ask: Are you breastfeeding? I tried to breastfeed with both my children, but breastfeeding is very hard. Any mum that has tried breastfeeding will know it's not easy. It's not a walk in the park. And I got a lot of people, saying why are you not breastfeeding," she said.
"I'm already dealing with disappointment in myself; I'm struggling that I can't do it and people kept asking. People say breastmilk is the best; I know it's the best but I couldn't do it. I just couldn't."
Tanya is part of the new Huggies 'Be Comfortable in Your Skin' campaign focusing on the everyday struggles of Australian families. The film highlights the impact parent-shaming has on parents and the impact small remarks, judgements and behaviours can have on parents.
Tanya's experience with parent-shaming started from day No.1 of being a mother. Her first child Luca had an infection when born and she had to repel numerous questions from people who thought it was her fault. When it came to her second child Kayla, she spent most of her pregnancy feeling judged; instead of messages of "congratulations" family, friends and strangers believed it was "crazy" for her to have her kids so close in age.
There was also a large amount of criticism when her son wasn't hitting his milestones, which left her feeling that she'd made parenting mistakes.
"I felt pressured and judged in many different ways," she said.
"Baby and toddlers don't follow the book. My son only started walking at 18-months and everyone was concerned about that. People were saying he should be walking by now, he should be talking by now and as a parent and a mum wanting the best for my son, that was hard for me to hear. And I was blaming myself myself, even though I couldn't force him to walk.
"The Huggies campaign is great to tell parents that they're not alone. You know, that it is a struggle for everyone. It's not easy raising a child, but also to society to be supportive and instead of asking are you breastfeeding to say you're doing such a great job taking care of your baby."
Horningsea Park mother-of-four Linda Nguyen said parent-shaming has changed over the past decade with the presence of social media.
According to the research, 77 per cent of parents believe that online forums provide a platform for easy parent-shaming.
It's mostly mums that take the criticism of parent-shaming to heart with over a third (36 per cent) who have been shamed saying they have questioned their own abilities as a parent.
"When I look at social media and see how 'perfect' other families look it makes me feel like I'm not doing a good enough job," said Linda, who with Patrick are parents to four kids under the age of eight, Larissa (8), Penelope (6), Pheonix (4) and Logan (18-months).
"On social media you see everyone made up and looking nice and I'm guilty of that. I post pictures of my kids looking spick and span and nice and clean but what no one sees is the meltdown in the corner."
Linda, who said the more kids she had, the less parent-shaming she got because everyone assumed she knew what she was doing, revealed the extra pressure of coming from an Asian background and the expectation to be "perfect and having everything together."
"I grew up in a perfect clean household, lunches made every day, laundry was done. Everything was perfect. There was no chaos and so when I became a parent I thought that's how I should be as well," she said.
"The reality is toys do end up on the ground, five baskets of laundry can build up, every child has a tantrum and every household has a room where they shut the door and hope someone cleans it.
"Parents need to support each other, everyone is going through the same thing."
Linda said people often gave her "judging looks" that she was failing as a parent which made her doubt her parenting technique. Then there were the pieces of "advice".
"As a first-time mum, you get a lot of constructive criticism and helpful advice but it doesn't come through that way when you're anxious and nervous being a first-time mum," said Linda, who hoped her involvement in the Huggies campaign will not only raise awareness about parent shaming but get other parents to think about what they say to new parents.
"People are saying 'It might be a good idea to this' or 'It might be a good idea to do that'. They may have good intentions but as a first-time mum, when you're doubting yourself and not sure if you're doing the right thing, it doesn't come across as helpful advice, it makes you feel like you're doing the wrong thing."
Linda also experienced parent-shaming around breast feeding.
"The impression is that you can breastfeed. I don't know if it was just me but as soon as I fell pregnant I had all theses pamphlets thrown at me about how breastfeeding is the best for your baby and in my head I said 'Yes I will breastfeed' but when I had my daughter it was the hardest thing ever to get the hang of," she said.
"She wouldn't latch on in the hospital. No one told me not everyone can breastfeed or it will be this hard or painful. No one told me that. I felt guilty giving her a bottle to top her up. If I was to make a bottle in public I would get looks from other mums; that look of 'Why aren't you breastfeeding her?'".
Linda said being part of the Huggies campaign gave her an opportunity for the first-time to talk about the "hardships of being a parent" and juggling parenting with household chores.
As part of the campaign, Huggies aims to make a stand on parent-shaming by faming not shaming. The Froio and Nguyen families featured in the film giving the mums a "10/10 and 12/10" for their parenting skills.
Huggies head of Marketing Lauren Crawley said: "In a bid to get people talking about and ultimately ending parent-shaming, Huggies wants to celebrate all parents and empower them to feel comfortable in their parenting abilities and choices. We want to encourage parents to support each other, and above all give parents the credit they deserve. Because ultimately, if your baby is happy and healthy, you're doing a great job as a parent."