Not fun: Study finds playgroups can make moms feel guilty

Thu Oct 29, 2009 12:00pm EDT
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PERTH (Reuters Life!) - Moms, beware the playgroup. An Australian study has found they can make mothers feel even more guilty than usual by allowing mothers to compare themselves, and their children, to others and find faults.

The study, by psychology and social sciences professor Bronwyn Harman of Edith Cowan University in Perth, showed that playgroups -- informal gatherings of mothers and their children -- reinforced the "good mother syndrome" which is how society expects an ideal mother to be.

"The good mother syndrome is an impossible achievement, because, as all mothers know, there is huge debate about everything related to motherhood and no matter what you do, it's wrong," Harman told Reuters.

"I don't want playgroups to sound negative, because they are very helpful for support and socializing. But playgroups do strengthen the good mother syndrome."

Harman's study was based on qualitative, in-depth interviews over several months with 21 women and nine playgroups in Perth. The women's children were aged up to five years old.

Harman said the majority of mothers said what they valued the most was the social interaction for themselves and their children, followed by receiving advice and observing other parenting techniques.

"But there are mothers who go to playgroups to exercise expertise as parents in a smug way, and that's the competitive element that most reinforces the good mother syndrome," Harman explained. "There is some boasting and criticism, and also the general comparing mothers do."

"Mothers should be kinder to each other and give each other a break," she added.

"Society needs to be much less judgmental, because in 99 percent of the time, mums are doing the best they can, but no matter what you do, you're wrong."

(Writing by Miral Fahmy, Editing by Belinda Goldsmith)