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"I've never felt more judged than as a stay-at-home mum."

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We’d done the math. Checked our figures and added it up again. Like many mothers planning to return to work after having a baby, the bottom line was simple – it just wasn’t worth it.

The frantic scramble every morning, the drop-off tears (mine and my child’s), the public transport rush, the hard slog in the office, the pick-up/dinner/bath/bedtime monotony.

I couldn’t do it for what felt like $7.82 left for me after childcare fees.

It was an easy decision but something I didn’t take lightly. I thought about it. For ages. Played out every scenario. But the time spent away from my child just for the privilege of continuing a career didn’t work in my favour.

So, there I was, a new chapter about to begin. A stay-at-home mum! I couldn’t be happier that our family managed to make this work. My baby’s now my sole focus.

Who’s happy for me? Guys? … Anyone?

Sadly, the judgement calls far outnumbered the support.

I think I heard it all. Who knew everyone has such strong opinion on what a mum should do 12 months after the birth of a baby? As a nervous new mum constantly second-guessing every decision, the comments weren’t helpful.

Instead of high-fives, hugs and well-wishes, I had fellow mums telling me I was throwing away my career, that I’d be bored and lonely at home and that I was depriving my daughter of “social skills” because she wouldn’t be in care with other children her age.

I was made to feel like weekends with my child were worthless. I was regularly told that only working parents made the most of the time with their family on days off and I couldn’t possibly appreciate it because I was with my mini 24/7. Excuse me?

I’d find myself staunchly defending my decision, sometimes fighting back tears, reminding people that I really had no other choice. I’d tell them that what was important to me was that my daughter had a mother who was stress-free, had the time to ferry her to swimming lessons and ballet and wasn’t forced to cram in a cuddle between dinner and bedtime each night because that was the only time we’d see each other. But in doing so, I was mum shaming too. Shaming the mothers who had gone back to work and this was their reality, and very valid choice.

mother daughter nat esler
We have to just do what's right for us. Nobody else. Image: Supplied.
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Turns out all the “fears” for my family were unwarranted but at the time I spent sleepless nights thinking of the ‘advice’ I’d been given, wracked with guilt and wondering if I’d done the right thing.

To this day I don’t understand why some people chime in with strong opinions about someone else’s parenting. It does not affect us. At all. Everyone has their child’s best interests at heart, surely?

My experience is not unique, with telling findings from a new HUGGIES® survey showing that 71 per cent of parents agree there is more shaming going on today than ever before.

Almost half the respondents (45 per cent) say they have felt shamed for their parenting approach.

The impact is real.

The survey – of 1035 Australian parents living at home with children aged zero to 12 - also revealed that more than one in three parents who have been shamed into questioning their own abilities as a parent and have increased anxiety levels as a result.

Psychologist Sabina Read said parent-shaming was having a concerning impact on parents' mental health.

“We see that mums are typically quicker to criticise themselves and take comments to heart, often devastating their confidence as a parent,” Read said.

“Sadly, this can even have a knock-on effect on children, who feel their parents’ anxieties.”

The survey, conducted in January, showed that parent shaming was commonly experienced as someone questioning or criticising the decisions other parents had made (52 per cent) or making a negative remark about parent choices (50 per cent).

Mums are much more likely to have felt shamed than dads (58 per cent of mums versus 34 per cent of dads), which is consistent with my experience.

Issues that were raised included discipline, screen time, pregnancy diet, breastfeeding in public, and choices around work and use of childcare.

So how do we shame less and build each other up more?

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According to Read, taking a stand on the issue is the first step to champion all parents.

“With many people being unaware of how their remarks are perceived, we need to be more conscious of how we treat parents when they’re most vulnerable,” she said.

One idea is to focus on parent "faming", not shaming. If our kids gave us performance reviews, would they really rate us as harshly as some people do?

HUGGIES® filmed different mums getting "performance reviews" from their family, and the answers show we're more valued than we think.

Watch video. Post continues below.

As the video shows, the ultimate priority is for us - as all different kinds of parents - to feel comfortable in our skin and supported in our decisions.

No decision a parent makes is an easy one. But every decision we make is the best one for our families.

Before we open our mouths and say something that will only add to the everyday stress of raising a child, we should pause.

We should then offer a simple “good for you” when a parent reveals how they run their household.

After all, the only thing that should concern us is what goes on in our own.

What have you been shamed for as a parent? How did you respond? Tell us in a comment below.

Gorgeous mums with bubs and mums to be. Take our quick feedback survey now.

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