Guest Blog: You Don’t Have to Explain Yourself to Anyone by Sarah Turner (Book Excerpt from THE UNMUMSY MUM)

Mums are defensive creatures.

We feel the need to explain why we do things. Why we feel things. Why we behave in certain ways. To explain that this isn’t usually what we’d do but we were short of time/it’s a treat/we are having a difficult day . . .

It’s definitely not just me. I hear other mums explaining themselves all the time. And I’ve come to the conclusion that this is completely unnecessary. There is just no need. The following are genuine justifications I’ve been offered during every day playgroup/ park conversations with other mums and the responses I wish I’d given (I think I probably just nodded):

‘I only got him a dummy because he whinges a lot and it helps him settle, I don’t really agree with them . . .’ Relax. A dummy is clearly working for you. I wish our two had taken a dummy but, alas, they did not.

‘She wouldn’t usually have a chocolate biscuit as her mid-morning snack, but we’re running low on fruit . . .’ Chill out. Honestly. So she’s having a biscuit. I can see she’s happy, healthy and I’m sure she has her fair share of healthy snacks, too. You promised her one if she used the loo at playgroup. Zero justification needed.

I have noticed that chats about breastfeeding also promote these defensive outpourings. And I do understand that: breastfeeding is a very emotive topic. I have experienced firsthand the temptation to tell the world/his wife/his dog about my decision to switch to bottle feeding when my baby was four months. One time, I started outlining Henry’s reflux issues and slow weight gain to the woman behind me in Boots. She neither needed nor wanted to hear Henry’s paediatric referral history, but she was gifted our entire feeding story, anyway. I think it was more for my benefit than for hers – I was feeling hormonal and delicate and just a little bit paranoid that I was being judged for having a tub of formula in my basket. I felt an impulse to make it known that I had tried.

But I know that when I ask a new mum in general conversation, ‘How’s the feeding going?’ and she is not breastfeeding, I’m genuinely not digging for an explanation. It is just a question that helps establish what to talk about; I’m not going to start ranting about leaky breast pads if she hasn’t ever breastfed and, by the same token, I’m not going to ask her if she’d recommend Aptamil Hungry Baby if she’s exclusively breastfeeding. I’m just asking how it’s going. There is no requirement for her to elaborate on all the problems the baby had latching on, on his low birth weight or the mastitis that prompted the decision to switch to formula. Of course, if she wants to chat about all of those things, I’m all ears. But she actually needs to say no more.

Perhaps we feel inclined to continue saying more because, as parents, we fear being judged. Maybe, sometimes, we hope our explanations will nip that judgement in the bud: ‘If I just explain why I’m doing it this way she won’t think badly of me . . .’

The truth is, she still might. Because here’s the thing: some people will judge you anyway.

I have met mums who definitely are judging you. And me. And every other parent. A small handful of mums who think they are doing everything right. In fact, they know they are doing it right because they’ve bought all the parenting manuals and read every report dating back to the first infant-travel system ever invented. These are the mums who come out with uninvited tips that start with ‘I have always found . . .’ or ‘I’d be careful doing that with her because I’ve read . . .’

When I first had Henry I would nod and smile at unsolicited advice from those mums and then head home to further wallow in my failings as a mother, feeling embarrassed at having been outed as an unprofessional parent. But, second time around, I developed the ability to ignore unwanted intervention.* And now, when well-meaning but immensely interfering mums offer nuggets of wisdom such as ‘You know, you really shouldn’t use the word “naughty” because it is so negative and might affect his behavioural development,’ (yes, really: actual quote right there), I shoot a small but firmly dismissive smile which I hope says, ‘When I need your advice, I’ll ask for it. Until such a time, you can piss off.’

So if you’re reading this and you have been on the receiving end of Mrs Judgey Knickers’s pearls of wisdom, I urge you to take no notice. You don’t need to justify your every parenting move, and, more to the point, doing so to prevent being judged by other mums is a fruitless exercise – there will always be a small handful who think they know best. Disregard the risk of being judged and hold your head up high. Because, actually, I think not justifying your every move comes across quite well. An ‘I do this because it suits me and my family’ attitude commands respect. It indicates a confidence in one’s own ability to decide what is right. Not right in the preachy-preachy, holier-than-thou, total authority in the history of everything that was ever right right, but right for you. For your kids. For your family.

‘No, I don’t breastfeed.’

‘Yes, she’s three and still in nappies.’

‘I’m not going back to work at all actually.’

Enough said.

For me, perhaps the sharpest observation of the day-today dealings we have with the differing beliefs of other parents came when a dad who had been reading all the comments on my blog messaged me simply to say: ‘Opinions are like arseholes. Everybody has one.’

If that doesn’t make you smile the next time you meet a Mrs Judgey Knickers, I don’t know what will.


* Please don’t think I’m confusing helpful recommendations with unwelcome opinions. Sometimes, the safety or wellbeing of a child is at the heart of advice given and, if somebody wants to question how my car seat is fitted or point out a choking hazard, I’m all ears. Sometimes, other parents will see you struggling and think, I’ve been there and I can help. It’s only the preachy ‘You really should do it this way’ brigade who I am giving the middle finger to. Most mums are absolute gems. Solidarity to the parent pack.

Excerpted from The Unmumsy Mum by Sarah Turner with the permission of TarcherPerigee, an imprint of Penguin Random House. Copyright © 2017 by Sarah Turner.

THE UNMUMSY MUM: The Hilarious Highs and Emotional Lows of Motherhood (a TarcherPerigee paperback, on sale April 18, 2017) by popular mom blogger Sarah Turner. Inspired by the immensely popular blog of the same name, this no-holds-barred account of new motherhood will resonate with parents experiencing the range of emotions that come with the arrival of pregnancy and a newborn. Covering everything from “babywearing incompetence” to “second-child shortcuts,” this candid and relatable title reveals that we can read every parenting manual under the sun but still have no bloody clue—and not having a clue is just fine.