Not judging each other as mothers isn’t enough—here’s what else we need to do
The anti-mom-judgment movement is well underway; people are acknowledging how judgmental we are with other mothers, and taking a stance against it.
It’s great, but it’s not enough.
If it were enough, 85% of moms would not feel that society isn’t supporting them.
If it were enough, mothers would not have to balance the pressure of trying to breastfeed with living in a society in which 61% of people do not think women should breastfeed in restaurants.
If it were enough, policies would exist that protect the 25% of women that have to go back to work two weeks after they give birth.
If it were enough, mothers would not face the relentless burnout that comes from having to defend their parenting choices, over and over and over again.
Anti-mom-judgment is good, but it’s time to take that one step further—we need to not only stop judging others, we need to empathize with them. Because if we truly empathized with one another, motherhood would be a whole lot better.
Empathy is when we put ourselves in someone else’s shoes. When we understand, to the extent that we are able, what someone else is feeling. When we sympathize, we feel bad for someone. When we empathize, we feel with someone.
If we feel with someone, it will be much harder to judge them.
So here at Motherly, we are committing to empathy.
Empathy for the woman that had an unplanned pregnancy.
Empathy for the woman that has had losses and fertility struggles.
Empathy for the woman that does not want to be a mother.
Empathy for the woman whose relationships looks very different from yours.
Empathy for the woman that had a very different birth experience from yours.
Empathy for the woman that feeds her baby differently than you did.
Empathy for the woman that feels differently about careers and motherhood than you do.
Empathy for the woman that makes different medical decisions than you do.
Empathy for the woman that votes for someone you don’t like.
Empathy for the woman that has a very different day-to-day existence based on the color of her skin.
We are committing to listening.
We are committing to engaging in the conversation.
We are committing to feeling with you.
There is a lot that is broken for mothers in our society right now.
Enormous racial disparities.
And so much more.
These issues did not develop overnight, and they will certainly not be solved easily or quickly—but we must do something now.
And it starts with empathy.
That’s why Motherly shares stories and ideas from a diverse group of experts, parents, and women.
That’s why Motherly will challenge guidelines that do not allow for comprehensive education on all the ways women choose to feed their babies.
It’s why we have created a Safe Space for women to share and learn about controversial issues, such as abortion.
Our country is fraught with divisiveness. So many people are saying that they are just going to “disengage from it all” because no one is listening, no one is trying… no one is being empathetic.
If we keep shouting from our soapboxes without listening to what others have to say from theirs.
If we continue to isolate ourselves from the people who feel differently than we do.
If we forget as humans that every person on this planet has their own story, that is complex and beautiful and hard.
How are we going to make it?
In the 2019 State of Motherhood Survey, you told us that the value that was more important to instill in our children is kindness. Guess where it starts, mama. We must be kinder, and we must be more empathetic.
Even though some people may be naturally more empathetic, empathy is a quality that we are all born with. For example, studies have found that when babies and very young children see someone they love experiencing pain, they get upset.
But over time, we lose our empathetic abilities.
In fact, research has found that by the time children reach college, their empathy levels have decreased by 40%—a number that is getting worse as time passes, not better.
Some of this is inevitable. As we grow and become more consumed with our own lives, it becomes harder to find the bandwidth to deeply feel for everyone around us. There is likely an evolutionarily protective factor going on here as well—if our primate ancestors responded empathetically every time they saw one of their peers getting attacked by a predator, and ran in to save them as if they were saving themselves, our lineages wouldn’t have made it too far. Being self-focused has its place in evolution.
Empathy is also uncomfortable, and the fatigue is real. To take on the pain of someone else is to introduce more pain into your own life. And given how burnt out moms are already, it is understandable to adding additional stressors is not at the top of the priority list.
Lastly, full empathy is not entirely possible. As much as I listen, read, and learn, I am never going to really understand what it is like to be a black woman facing the disparities of maternal mortality in this country. As long as I have the privilege of tucking my children into their beds at night, I am never going to embody the angst of a mother at the border who is still separated from her child. Ramsey McNabb writes that “to presume to know how another person feels is to strip that person of his or her separateness and uniqueness. It is especially offensive to people who have been victims of one form or another of oppression when members of the privileged group claim to know how they feel.”
But that doesn’t mean we don’t try to understand more than we do.
And try we must, because it is the only thing that is going to make motherhood better for all of us.
In the thousands of ways that we are different—in the thousands of ways we can misunderstand and judge and hate—those are the opportunities for empathy.
You have forever been our biggest source of inspiration, so we want to hear from you. Use hashtag #empathyinmotherhood and share your experiences with empathy—the times you have felt it, and the times you needed more.
Join #teammotherly in our quest for empathy in motherhood. It’s the only way this is going to get better.