When your mom-shamers are other moms
This week on my Instagram I started a conversation about mom-shaming - isn’t it sad we even have a word for that? I’m sure it’s clear to you what mom-shaming is and you’ve probably even experienced it. It’s the implicit or explicit suggestion that the choice you’re making for your child is the wrong one. At best you hear it and ignore the hurt feelings, at worst you start to think you’re a bad mom.
What’s interesting is when I looked into mom-shaming and asked people on Instagram to share their stories, I found the typical culprit of this kind of unwanted judgment offer is often, other moms. It struck me as bizarre that the very people who should be our biggest supporters, seeing as we all do this mom thing with no rule book, are the ones with the power, and far too often the arrogance, to make us believe we’re doing it all wrong.
We are influenced by hundreds of outside sources every day, magazines saying this celebrity mom didn’t lose her baby weight quick enough, Facebook groups that slam moms for asking about sleep training, articles telling us not to let our children ever go near technology - ever! We consume all those suggestions of what is correct and what isn’t and more often than not end up spilling it out on another mom who has made choices different from our own. Sometimes we sell it to ourselves as well-meaning but we know where it comes from - a fear that we ourselves are doing it wrong and a need to pass that anxiety off to someone else thus making ourselves feel better.
I shared such a story this week. I went back to work seven months after having my first baby, my workplace is very flexible, it worked for me. I had a friend who chose to stay at home for two years with her baby, that was what she’d been brought up to believe was right. Whenever I was with her she’d ask things like, was the baby okay with the nanny? Did it feel bad to leave the baby and go to work? This friend never meant to hurt me but I felt like every question meant - you’re doing this wrong. And if she felt that way it was hard not to think, do other people feel that way?
Another follower shared a story about having her parents come to visit her baby when he was born. She spent the whole time being told - hold him like this, he needs to be fed now etc. Everything she did felt like it was the wrong thing to do. Eventually, she had an emotional breakdown because so early in her motherhood journey this experience made her feel like a bad mom. A story has just been sent to my Instagram about a mom who is planning her child’s first birthday and is getting plenty of suggestions from friends and family that it’s a silly idea because he won’t remember it.
We have to stop and realize that we’re all doing this sans playbook and there are a million ‘right’ ways to be a mom or dad. We love our kids so we feel really connected to and defensive of the decisions we’re making on their behalf. Not only does that mean we feel really hurt when someone criticizes those decisions, but it also makes us more prone to mom-shaming others when we see them making a choice we wouldn’t make. That’s why moms are so often the culprit and victim of mom-shaming.
Here are a few suggestions on how to rise above mom-shaming and avoid being a mom-shammer:
- Ignore it all together - If it’s a one-time thing the best solution might be to ignore it. If it helps, compassionately think about what that person is potentially feeling shame about themselves.
- Be brave and name the problem - Say to that person kindly “Hey, this is my kid and my call, it’s okay for you to not like it but I don’t need you to tell me why”.
- Don’t give advice unless asked - The only time you need to give a fellow mom your advice on the subject is when she says, “what do you think?” Even then, remember it might not be right for her family.
- Create boundaries - If someone consistently makes you feel bad about a choice, make yourself a rule not to discuss it with them, when it comes up, change the subject.
- Unfollow - If you follow a social media account that makes you feel like you want to mom shame the account holder because she's too fat, too thin, works, is a SAHM, breastfeeds, pumps, or anything else, unfollow her. Better to not surround yourself by the constant desire to mom shame, hate following will do you no favors.
- Delete social media comments if need be - If your shamers are social trolls you hold the power, delete, block, forget.
- Don’t let your own insecurities turn you into a mom-shamer - If you’re feeling insecure about something, own it so you know that you might be more likely to mom-shame when that topic comes up to protect yourself.
- Laugh and then cry - At this amazing Buzzfeed list of 25 ridiculous mom-shaming stories.
One of my Instagram friends messaged me her sage advice for dealing with shamers which I like: “I ignore it and think, I’m the one here with my baby at the end of the day, I know what she needs.”