The Most Disempowering Thing You Can Say To Another Mom

When Denise Stirk’s essay “The Most Powerful Thing You Can Say To Another Mom” went viral recently, as a new mom, my first instinct was to join almost a million other people to like and share it. After all, the article’s about how mothers can share each other’s pain and struggles simply because of the role we play. “You are a mom, you know.” It is heartwarming and moving, like a P&G commercial. What’s there not to like, right?

Well, I didn’t share the article. I didn’t appreciate how Stirk, in an effort to bond mothers, excluded everyone else in the equation. Sure, the article doesn’t say that directly, but by only emphasizing on the solidarity among mothers, it effectively sends out another underlying message: If you are not a mom, you don’t know.

That, to me, is the problem. Too often have I heard complaints about how this woman had changed after she had a kid, or how obsessed about parenting another friend had become (the same is often not said about fathers when they take on the paternal role with fervor—in fact, most of them would be praised for stepping up to their duty— which only goes to highlight the gender inequality). As offensive as these statements are, such sentiments are fueled when a mother writes an essay about the ability to understand the death of a child, the difficulty in finding a babysitter, the stress of traveling with an infant, just because she is a mom. I have friends and relatives who, despite being mothers, are insensitive, rude and unkind. One told me I was fat six months postpartum. She was a mother of three. She should know the difficulties of weight loss after pregnancy. Another told me I was lazy because I didn’t have time to make barley water for my baby. Women are not magically transformed into sensitive souls just because they bore a couple of kids. Likewise, friends who are childless both by choice and otherwise have demonstrated much love and kindness toward my baby and me when I was struggling through the initial stages of breastfeeding—something they obviously have no experience themselves.

So yes, revel in the joys of motherhood. No one is stopping you from doing that. But let us also not forget those who are not parents, because motherhood is hard. And without the support of not just mothers, but fathers who help with night feeds, grandparents who offer to babysit, friends who forgive your tardiness because your baby had a diaper explosion just before leaving the house, your neighbor who understands the late cries at three in the morning, and the gentleman who gives up his seat to your kid on the train, being a mom can be almost impossible. And most importantly, let us remember that being a mom does not automatically mean you can understand the struggles of another. Being kind, compassionate, sensitive, sympathetic and empathetic does that. And you don’t need to be a mother for that to happen. You just need to have a heart.

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