“You must be a martyr and a hero during labour”

The message: “Women have been giving birth in fields without pain relief since the beginning of time. It’s better for your baby if you have a pain-relief-free, natural birth. Anything less than that is a failure.”

The reality: What a mother decides about her own childbirth should not be up for public debate, or judgement. It’s really nobody else’s business and mothers should not feel pressured into a birth plan that they don’t want.

Heidi: Yes, women used to give birth in fields, but a lot of women died in the process too.

Medicine is a sign of our society’s progress. Why wouldn’t I use it? Nobody advises my husband to have his tooth pulled out without anaesthetic. So why do we get judged for using medicine during childbirth?

Abbi: My first childbirth was an emergency C-section so I had no choice in the matter. With my second, I walked in and said, “Epidural please!”

Abi: For me it’s about having a healthy baby at the end of it.

Joanna: Everybody’s bodies are different. Some women can do it naturally, but some women force themselves to have a totally natural childbirth, when really they should have pain relief or medical aid, and end up traumatised by their experience. I opted for a C-section with my second and luckily I didn’t feel guilty because my mum encouraged me to choose that option.

Mala: The pressure comes from doctors and other medical staff, such as midwives at antenatal classes, as well as friends and family.

Heidi: Also there is pressure to give birth at certain hospitals, or to go to certain doctors.

People always ask you who your gynaecologist is when you are pregnant and there’s definitely an A-list, a B-list and a C-list. Some are like local celebrities!

“You must do things the way we do”

The message: “We know best. About everything. Do it our way, or be judged.”

The reality: Why should we make decisions for our family based on other people’s preferences and opinions? We are adults. We can make up our own minds about which milk our children should have, thanks very much.

Dr Afridi: Even though I’m a psychologist, as a parent I feel pressured by other mums and by society to conform to the most popular preferences. What kind of nappies do you use? How much time do you spend holding him? There’s a book for everything, which leaves the door open for a lot of anxiety as we feel there is a right and a wrong. There are a lot of confidence issues when it comes to parenting... we don’t know if we are doing it right. People can comment on something a mother is doing and that comment can plant a seed of self-doubt in that mother’s mind, which can grow into a major concern, or anxiety. Social media has a large part to play in this... In my field of work, experts are talking about Social Media Anxiety Disorder a lot these days... and this is a good example. It’s natural for human beings to compare themselves with the people around them... For previous generations, this was a village of people. Now we are comparing ourselves to everyone we have ever met and more through social media.

Heidi: I feel like in Dubai this issue is heightened because we suffer from the tendency to be helicopter mothers.

Dr Afridi: Yes, mothers in other countries often have a lot more chores to deal with. But here we have taken that time and energy and invested it into our parenting, which is dangerous.

Abi: If we are trying to be perfect mothers all the time, what are our children going to think we expect from them? Are they going to be perfectionists?

Dr Afridi: Exactly!

“You must stay home and be a full-time mum”

The message: If you don’t stay home and invest all of your time and energy into looking after your children, and doing fun things with them all day every day, your children are missing out on the childhood they deserve.

The reality: Living in the UAE, most of us are lucky enough to have some help with the chores, meaning that we have more free time than mothers in many other parts of the world. And research shows that we are spending more time with our children now than mothers were in previous generations. So we should stop beating ourselves up with this stick of lies.

Joanna: After I had my first son, I went back to work. But with my second baby, I decided to stay home and be a full-time mum. I have a cleaner so I was looking forward to spending all day every day with the children. But I wasn’t happy. I didn’t know how to play with them and I felt miserable. My husband was saying to me, “Why don’t you go back to work?”

It’s getting better now but I still have days when I go to bed thinking, ‘Hopefully tomorrow will be better’.

I have just accepted the fact that the reality of staying home with the kids isn’t that fun... There are great moments. But mostly the days are all the same.

Dr Afridi: Can you see the pressure you are putting on yourself by thinking you should be entertaining your children all the time? It’s not realistic.

Abbi: People ask me, “Why don’t you want a promotion or to further your career?” I want to work, but I also want to spend time with my kids. I don’t want to be away from them from 9am till 6pm every day.

Dr Afridi: When people who work 9am till 6pm hear you say that, it can make them feel guilty. Even though you aren’t judging other people, and are making decisions that are best for you.

Joanna: I’ve worked full-time and I’ve been a full-time mum and both are equally hard.

 But being a stay-at-home mum isn’t as emotionally fulfilling as I thought it would be.

I think the pressure to stay home comes from the media and from our society...

I feel like if it is financially possible for me to stay at home with the kids, then I should. My granny said to me about parenting, “I envy you your modern conveniences, but I don’t envy you your choices. It was easier in my day.”

Abbi: We don’t have many part-time options here, which often forces mums to choose one or the other.

Dr Afridi: Research shows that children of working mums are more independent and have higher self-esteem, while children of stay-at-home mums have less behavioural issues but lower self-esteem. There’s something called ‘healthy neglect’ whereby it’s a good thing for a child not to have their parents around all the time to turn to. They learn to self-soothe and rely on themselves.

Dr Afridi: Young adults who are now entering the workforce can be very fragile and constantly need approval from their bosses.

“You must document on social media”

The message: “If you aren’t posting idyllic pictures of perfect parenting moments on Facebook and Instagram, you obviously aren’t having great moments with your children.

Poor them; you suck at parenting.”

The reality: Our social media feeds do not define our parenting.

Joanna: Once I became a stay-at-home mum, I started following other women in my situation on Instagram. Now I feel like it’s not been a successful day of parenting unless I’ve posted a picture of us doing something fantastic.

There was this 28-day Instagram ‘#captureplay challenge’ where you had to post pictures of your children playing and I cringed when I realised I was following my children around with my camera trying to get beautiful shots of them playing.

Abbi: My go-to parenting guide is social media. Yes it brings pressure in some ways, but it can also be helpful. It’s about finding a balance.

Dr Afridi: The problem with social media is that it only shows you someone’s perfect moments. Our reaction depends on our confidence in our own parenting. The more confidence you have, the less affected you will be by others’ posts.

“You can be perfect like us”

The message: It’s possible to be a perfect mother.

The reality: It’s not.

Dr Afridi: We are so worried about doing everything right that we often don’t listen to our instincts. So there is no learning curve... We want to get it right, first time.

Joanna: I google everything to make sure I am not missing out on a better way of doing things.

Heidi: The women’s movement gave us choices, but we have stitched ourselves up. We feel pressure to be strong, to be sexy, to work, to have a social life, to have children... It’s great we have choices, but it’s turned into pressure.

Dr Afridi: Our freedom has become a cage.

Abi: I sometimes wonder if our parents gave it this much thought. My mum always says she wouldn’t want to be raising children now.

Abbi, 38, has two sons aged 4 and 4 months

“I want to work, but I also want to spend time with my kids. There aren’t many part-time options here so mums are often forced to choose one or the other."

Abi, 38, has a daughter aged two and a son aged five months

“I often wonder if our parents gave it this much thought. My mum says she wouldn’t

want to be raising kids now.”

Joanna, 34, has two boys, aged three and one

“I’ve worked full-time and I’ve been a full-time mum and both are equally hard. But being at home with the kids isn’t as fulfilling as I thought it would be.”

Mala, 37, has a six-month-old girl

“The pressure on mothers comes from everywhere – from medical staff, friends and family.”

Dr Saliha Afridi, psychologist

This mother of four gives us her thoughts on how to shrug off external pressures

“We mothers can sometimes forget that we were whole beings before our kids came along. My children are part of my life, but they are not my life. I will give them all that I can, not all that I am. I want my daughter to grow up to be everything else, as well as a wife and a mother. There will be no space for everything else in her life if she gives 100 per cent of her energy to her marriage and her children. So why would I model this for her? I used to worry about my parenting but now I aim to be a ‘good-enough mother’. It’s about guilt management and energy management... We are not bionic. Our time and energy levels are finite. You need sleep and food, and time for yourself to do the things that energise you. Give your children your authentic self... parent from the inside out.”

To make an appointment with Dr Afridi visit www.lighthousearabia.com