Mum and baby groups can be a great support network for new mothers. But sometimes they can have the reverse effect and knock your confidence. Here’s how to deal with a difficult mum who might be ruining your group…
You’ve had a new baby. You’re tired, emotional, in love with your little one but questioning your ability as a new mum.
So you head to a local mum and baby group to meet like-minded friends.
But although many mums find friendship and support in these groups, some say they actually make them feel worse.
Dr Rachel Andrew is a clinical psychologist and co-author of The Supermum Myth, a book that aims to help mums become happier through overcoming anxiety and accepting imperfection.
Dr Andrew says: ‘Mum and baby groups can be an essential support, especially for new and young mothers. Having a baby is a life-changing event. Immediately after childbirth, we are at our most vulnerable.
‘At their best, these groups can provide a supportive, nurturing environment where mums can share their thoughts and feelings about motherhood.’
But in the same breath, Dr Andrew acknowledges that mum and baby groups can become a battleground overseen by an ‘alpha mum’.
Dr Andrew believes the key to coping with an ‘alpha mum’ who makes negative comments on other mums’ choices, and tries to elevate herself above others in the group, is to try to understand that she may be coming from a vulnerable place.
‘We all mentally compare ourselves to others and are judgmental of others at times,’ she says.
‘However, some women will make comments due to their own thoughts about not being good enough — they may see other mothers as threatening and need to reassure themselves by putting others down.’
Unkind remarks can cause great damage to a new mother, and Dr Andrew says it’s important that all members of a group understand this.
‘Flippant or critical comments made to a mum who is already vulnerable or has underlying anxiety and depression can be devastating,’ Dr Andrew says.
She adds: ‘Anxiety and depression can make it difficult for women to socialise or even leave the house — never mind with a baby in tow. A critical remark can make a vulnerable mum feel more anxious and low, and doubt her ability to parent even more.’
But Dr Andrew says that if your mum and baby group is being ruined by one ‘alpha mum’, it’s worth bearing in mind that this mum might not even realise what she’s doing.
‘Some genuinely think they’re being helpful,’ Dr Andrew says, ‘because they lack insight into
the effect of their behaviour on others. Some might know what they are doing and not care, or may lack the skills to change the way they’re interacting.’
Dr Andrew argues that parenting itself can be divisive, in that we all have ideas about what are the right and wrong ways to parent.
She explains: ‘It is easy to see things in all-or-nothing terms and to think about what we all should be doing. Our ideas about motherhood come from our own childhoods, our experiences of being parented, our school days and friendships and major life events.
‘No wonder we have different opinions on parenting. By spending time thinking about where our own ideas come from, this can allow us to be tolerant of everyone else.’
Dr Andrew reminds mothers to focus on the health of their child and to try to sidestep competitiveness by being open about their feelings rather than trying to outdo other mums.
She says: ‘The majority of parents want the same for their children — for them to be happy and healthy. It is just the ways we go about parenting that are likely to be different.’
Edited by Julie Cook
The Supermum Myth by Dr Rachel Andrew and Anya Hayes (White Ladder Press, £12.99).
‘An alpha mum pushed me out’
When my first son Leon was born I was only 18. I was shocked enough at being a young mum but then doctors dropped a bombshell.
He had a rare condition that meant part of his brain had not developed.
When he was a few weeks old I took him to a mother and baby group. But his condition meant he didn’t do things as other babies did — he didn’t smile as early and didn’t sit or roll.
I went to the groups hoping for support, but instead one mum there said: ‘He’s not doing much, is he?’
I explained about his condition but she merely said: ‘How do you know he’s not just lazy?’
I felt very upset.
Over the following weeks, I made friends there but this one mum kept making nasty comments — about how her babies hit every milestone, or only ate organic food.
It made me question my own mothering abilities.
In time, I stopped going to the group.
Three years later I had a daughter, Lyra-Rose, now 19 months.
I’ve learnt my lesson from cliquey mum groups and I’ve never taken her along to one.
I am glad for mums who find support from other parents. But for me the critical comments and bad advice put me off.
Mums should be supportive of each other. It’s a shame I never got that from my group.
From Jade Crowe, 24, of Blackpool, Lancs