When you have a baby you’re suddenly faced with so many things that you have to learn how to do.
It can take a long time to feel comfortable and confident tackling all the tasks that parenthood demands of us. And while we’re finding our feet it can really feel like everyone and his mother is watching us and judging our abilities as parents.
A lot of things, like changing nappies for example, we can practice in the safety of our own homes before we have to potentially do it in front of other people. But eventually we have to venture out into the world and in front of witnesses!
I’ve definitely had several moments when I’ve felt awkward and like I’m being watched while I’m out with my children.
The first few times I went out to baby group after Nerys was born and I had to attempt to get her safely into a stretchy wrap I felt really self-conscious. I felt as if I was drawing attention to myself with this huge length of fabric. I felt like the baby-wearing pros were watching and wondering if I had a clue what I was doing!
Then I had to face something I was really worried about – breastfeeding in public! Even in the breastfeeding-friendly atmosphere of baby group I was still unbelievably self-conscious. Especially because, in those early weeks, Nerys was a very messy feeder and I had a tendency to end up covered in milk! I didn’t want to use a cover, but also really didn’t want to end up flashing the room, so I moved as quickly as I could to get her latched on!
At the other end of the spectrum, you have the parents who are bottle feeding who worry so much about being seen and judged by the breastfeeding mums that they would rather leave than pull out a bottle. My son was formula-fed from 2 weeks and I was lucky enough to feel confident in my decision that this was what was best for our family and so never had any problems feeding him in public, but I know that some women find this really hard.
There are so many other times that we feel like people are staring at us when we’re out in the world.
When you head out on the school run with unwashed hair and weetabix smeared on your clothes. Or when your toddler is pitching a fit in the supermarket when you won’t buy them any chocolate. Or even when you take your baby out without a hat on a chilly day.
But it turns out, we might be worrying unnecessarily. We might just be falling victim to the spotlight effect.
The Spotlight Effect is the psychological term for our tendency to believe that more people notice things about you than actually do.
So, while we might think that all the other parents at the school gates have noticed that the baby is still in her pyjamas, chances are only one or two of them actually did.
People in general are really egocentric, meaning that we’re basically the centre of our own universes.
This doesn’t mean that we all think we’re great and so everyone must be looking at us, more that we’re so used to seeing the world from our own perspective that we believe other people must do the same.
We are so aware of the fact that we’ve got baby food splattered on our top that we assume that other people must be aware of it too, when in reality they don’t even know that the stains exist and are, in fact, much more preoccupied with their own appearance to even pay much attention to ours!
This quote from a study carried out at Cornell University sums it up really well:
“Strangers, colleagues, and even friends rarely have the luxury of devoting their full attention to either our triumphs or our slips….They are typically busy managing their own actions and appearance and the impressions they hope to make.”
Makes sense really, if we’re preoccupied with our own lives, then it does follow that other people are preoccupied with theirs!
So next time you’re anxious about having to feed your baby in public, or getting a newborn in a fancy sling or just leaving the house with no make up and hair that needs a wash, don’t worry too much about it – people aren’t looking at you half as much as you think they are!
What are your experiences with this? When have you worried that everyone is looking at you?