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Wise words from a young mum of two, photographer and fashion stylist Danielle Symes opens up about the competitive and sometimes judgmental world of motherhood…

Danielle Symes
Danielle Symes and Children

I got a very rude shock when I became a mum, and it had nothing to do with my baby.

The journey of motherhood comes with its fair share of hard times. Sleep becomes a luxury, spare time is non-existent and dry shampoo becomes a shopping list staple. All of this stuff I have come to expect, even eye bags becoming a permanent part of my daily ensemble. The very thing that has stopped me in my tracks, however, is not the habits and behaviour of my precious bundle of joy – but that of other mums on the same tough, heart-expanding journey as I am.

The ‘mum world’ is the most judgmental circle I have ever run in and it starts from when you are pregnant. As the bump grows, the comments of “she is so skinny, that poor baby will be malnourished”, or “wow she really took the eating for two thing literally” are thrown at me.

We are judged on what we wear, what we eat and how we cope. I remember when I was to be induced with my first child, my husband took a picture of me at the front of the hospital at 7am in the morning. There I was with a big grin on my face with my bag packed all ready to meet this very overdue baby. A popular women’s Facebook group reposted the picture of me with a lovely caption and at the time I was pretty chuffed – that was until I read the comments. “I feel sorry for this girl that she puts so much effort into her appearance rather than caring about what really matters,” wrote some. I had blow-dried my hair for the occasion and I was wearing boots that had a little wedge heel, nothing too drastic in my mind, but I instantly felt insecure and wanted to take the picture down. If my husband had been in the picture in a top hat and tails the comments would have been very different. They would have read: “So cute that he is so excited to meet his baby that he dressed up for the occasion!” Yet a woman puts in a little bit of extra effort and her priorities are out of whack.

Once the baby is born the judgment is amplified. It starts with ‘breast is best’ and it has a roll-on effect from there. Anyone and everyone thinks that they have a right to weigh-in on how you should be parenting. My best friend, who I have known since we were six years old, had a baby at a similar time to me and we could not be more opposite mums. She co-sleeps while we taught our baby to self-settle. She breast-fed for two years where as managed it for two months. She made all her own baby food while my Harper lived on vegetable squeezy tubes. Our baby slept, hers didn’t. Her baby ate, ours didn’t. We were two best friends with everything in common until we had babies. I will admit that I wasn’t a fan of some of her techniques but instead of just accepting our differences I found myself judging her. We both knew that we did things differently but out of fear that each other would be judged, we didn’t discuss anything and instead of becoming closer, we grew apart. I had severe postnatal depression with my first baby and my best friend of 25 years didn’t even know.

We both have two kids now and we are back to being as close as ever. The reason why? We don’t care what anyone thinks of us anymore. She will now openly discuss with me how her one year old feeds from her when ever he wants during the night and I am no longer scared to let my baby cry it out for a bit in front of her. Our parenting style is completely different but this time around we can sit down and enjoy a cold cup of coffee together watching our first borns – who are now best friends – play together. These two kids, who toilet trained, dropped the dummy, walked and talked at completely different times, not to mention slept in different places, are now two of the sweetest and most loving children who will both grow up to be equally impressive adults.

So next time you think about voicing your opinion on someone’s Facebook photo, just stop for a second and remember that we are all just doing what we have to survive and if that means cornflakes for dinner two nights in a row then so be it!

Danielle Symes
Danielle Symes