Today, we are talking about how to handle mom-shaming. I’m going to start by asking you to raise your hand if you’ve ever been personally victimized by mom shamers. And keep your hand raised if that mom shamer was another mom… Yeah, I thought so. Because every mom will, unfortunately, feel shamed at some point in their motherhood journey.
So, we are going to talk about what mom-shaming is, what it looks like, why people mom-shame… And, finally, how to handle mom-shaming. If you already follow me on Instagram or TikTok, you know how often I post about mom shaming. And if you don’t follow me yet, let’s be friends!
What Is Mom-Shaming?
Before we can talk about how to handle mom-shaming, we need to first understand what it is. For those lucky few who still don’t even know what mom-shaming is (bless your sweet little untarnished souls), mom-shaming is exactly what it sounds like – moms being shamed for being moms. In my article on What No One Tells You About Pregnancy, I talked about how mom-shaming begins during pregnancy. This is when you are researching all of those hot button topics and forming your own opinion.
Top Mom Shaming Topics
Just as a warning for any new or expecting mothers out there, these topics include:
- How you choose to give birth
Whether that ends up being unmedicated, medicated, vaginal, or c-section
- How you feed your baby
Whether you decide to breastfeed, pump, formula feed, or any combination of these
- How you put your baby to sleep
Whether you are taking a more gentle approach to sleep or decide to use a sleep training method
- How much screen time that your kids get
As well as what age you start and what shows you choose.
- How or if you choose to work
Stay at home moms, work at home moms, or working (out of home) moms
Obviously, throughout this episode article, I’m not referring to matters of health or safety. However, if you are concerned about that with another mother, shaming is still not ok. You can educate them respectfully and then move on with your life.
No One Is Safe From Mom-Shaming
You can very easily find yourself the target of mom-shaming, even if you’ve done absolutely nothing wrong as a parent. In fact, you could do all of the things right and there will still be people mom-shaming you for your decisions. These people are commonly other moms who have chosen to do things differently. And are so set in the belief that their way of parenting is right, that no other parenting choice could possibly be right as well. When there really is not always one right answer.
Sure, those topics that I mentioned are the ones that seem to get the most heated. But, even evidence-based, credibly researched parenting choices can bring forward mom-shamers. I’ll share a personal example with you shortly because I’m certainly not safe from mom-shaming either.
What Mom-Shaming Looks Like
But first, I want to describe what mom-shaming can look like. At best, it’s sneaky. Usually, it sneaks in when mid-conversation or while answering someone’s questions about different parenting topics. Often when someone spends more time focusing on what they chose not to do and why, subtly implying those ways and ideals are wrong. When really, a healthier focus would actually be on what you chose to do and educating others on why. But still allowing room for grace in everyone’s individual journey.
Or it can just be outright bold and mean. Which is unfortunately what my personal story is about. These are moms or people who flat-out tell you that you are wrong. And use hateful or nasty words to judge you for your choices. They are trying to bring you down and make you feel bad about yourself. Regardless of how small or insignificant a topic might be.
I Was Mom-Shamed
So, for experience, let me set the stage for you… There was a Facebook post asking how often everyone bathed their babies. A pretty safe question to ask or answer, right? No one else is directly impacted by your baby’s bath schedule, especially not strangers on the internet. And yet, I was the target for one particular mom-shamer for following the American Academy of Dermatology’s recommendation to bathe my baby a couple times per week.
Before I tell you what she said to me, it’s important to know that I did not include that in my initial answer (as if to prove myself right above anyone who did it differently). And I was certainly not the only person giving this same answer. My comment was reassuring the original poster that their schedule was totally normal at that age.
However, one mom took it upon herself to tell me that I am a neglectful mother for not bathing my baby every single day and that it’s gross. This was, of course, after she said “I don’t like to judge other people’s parenting, but…” Anything that starts with that is not going to end up being free of judgment.
Mom Shame Hits You Where It Hurts
Let me tell you, I was triggered – deeply. My own mother was neglectful, I knew what a neglectful mother looked like. Having been on the other side of it, I knew what neglect felt like. And I have spent my entire life learning to be a different kind of mother. I was more than just surface-level shamed, I was deeply wounded by that comment.
As long as mothers are taking care of their babies, following official recommendations from doctors or health organizations, and doing their absolute best… There is no need to hurt another mother for choosing to do something different than you. And a mother who is shamed should not need to stand up for her choices. I definitely felt the need to explain myself. To say that I still spot cleaning my baby to keep him smelling lovely between baths. I also gave her a link to the official recommendation that I was following.
Who Mom Shames?
Now, you might be wondering what kind of person acts like this in real life? Remember those mean girls in high school or grade school? Mom shamers are just mean girls who didn’t grow up. And who now happen to be mothers with a much wider playing field for their cruelty.
Personally, I don’t care how often you are bathing your child. Or how you feed them. Because it’s not my business. Bathe them every day, great. Bathe them once a week, also great. I trust that what you do is best for your family. Whether you are taking them to daycare or to play in the mud each day. Or if they are in a clean home, clean clothes, and spot cleaned (for lack of a better term) throughout the day. You do you. I know you will handle your own situation accordingly.
Put an End to Mom Shaming
I don’t care about those things. What I do care about is mom-shaming. And what is my business is maternal mental health. We are hard enough on ourselves as moms. As moms, we are constantly questioning if we handled situations appropriately… if we were “fun” enough with our kids. Or if we taught them enough throughout the day. And don’t get me started on mom guilt.
Mom Guilt is the True Mean Girl
Actually, no. Let’s talk about mom guilt. Because mom guilt is really just a form of self-shame. We tell ourselves we are not doing enough, we need to do more. And we set aside all of our own personal needs and personal joys to try to do more. Mom guilt is just the mean girl in our heads. But we’ve already done enough. We are enough.
And I know all moms feel shame. I feel very comfortable making that blanket statement. If you don’t feel any shame ever as a mother, either from yourself or from mom-shamers out there, I would love to talk. I’d love to pick your brain and get your therapist’s number. You are clearly doing something right to cope with other people’s opinions.
Are You Mom-Shaming Too?
But for all of you moms out there who can relate, I am asking you to reflect on what you are saying to other moms. You don’t get to say you don’t “judge others” or “to each their own” and then immediately insult any decision that is not your own.
Of course, if the child’s welfare is at risk, that is cause for concern. But I still don’t think using words like “gross” is appropriate. We can express concern in much more loving ways. And I’d bet money that kindness would get your message across much better than insulting.
We get judged for how we are feeding our babies, how we are putting them to sleep, and how we choose to fill all of the time in between. All that should matter is that they are fed, well-rested, happy, healthy, and treated well. I’m not sure how formula vs breastfeeding matters. Or daycare vs staying at home. What kind of stroller you buy, how you choose to dress your kids or entertain them. Why are we so concerned about these things in a family that is not our own?
Hidden Reason Behind Mom-Shaming
Yes, we all have our own preferences. But that doesn’t mean you have to rip apart or tear down other mothers for their choices. I love when I see people commenting on the benefits of their personal choices. And acknowledging that it is not the only way to do it. It’s so much better than those comments you hear with nothing but negative things to say.
And I’d guess it comes from a lack of confidence in themselves. They are trying so hard to justify their choices and build themselves up to look like a better parent. And why? Because something in them says they aren’t good enough.
Wow, this is really coming full circle, isn’t it? I began this article talking about how all of us moms are hard enough on ourselves, right? The ones shaming the loudest are the ones likely seeking to rid themselves of their own feelings of shame. So, we can understand why moms do it. But that doesn’t make it easier to swallow when you feel personally shamed.
How to Deal With Mom-Shaming
Many moms are doing what I did in that situation, overexplaining and justifying their decisions. This is not necessary. You don’t have to explain why you did what you did or why you choose to do something in a certain way. Sometimes it’s ok to take the day off, sometimes it’s ok to take the easy route. You don’t always have to make things harder on yourself than they need to be. I’m about to be a mom of two-under-two. And I’m guessing my parenting choices are going to relax a bit more than they are now.
The first way you can handle mom-shaming is by responding. Now, be careful that this is not actually a reaction, but is truly a response… Because there is a huge difference between reacting and responding. I mentioned this a lot in my article Mindfulness in Everyday Life.
Reacting generally comes from an emotional place. For me, reacting feels like word vomiting any thought that comes into my brain. It has not been filtered, it has not been assessed. It’s raw emotion. And not always healthy. Like firing back at the other person, judging their different choices, or just being straight-up mean. The actual words being used might be more like “Well your way is actually wrong because…”. Or any other judgmental statement.
Responding feels intentional and thoughtful. It happens when you’ve taken a moment to emotionally regulate. And can reply in a compassionate, less aggressive manner. It considers the other person’s position, treats them with respect. But still firmly sets your boundaries for how you expect to be treated. This might sound like “I hear your input and appreciate your concern. However, this is my decision to make for my own family and I am doing what is best for me. Please respect that choice.”
Or, you can choose to reject the situation. Now, I’m not talking just absolute avoidance. You can choose to reject that person at the moment and not engage. Because I get it, not everyone has the emotional capacity to handle conflict at any given time.
Regardless of whether you decide to respond or reject, those emotions and that shame need to be dealt with.
How To Process Mom-Shaming
I have 5 tips for you today to help you process mom-shaming. I like to think of them as the 5 R’s to Recover from shame
Reflect on your experience through the situation. Use journal prompts to better understand your thoughts and feelings. Do a brain dump, which I have talked about so many times on my podcast and website. It’s literally what it sounds like – dumping your brain of every thought, worry, or concern it has. And just letting it go.
Remind yourself why you are making the best choice for your family and remember that you are enough. Positive affirmations can go a long way. Keep telling yourself “I am doing my best and my best is enough”. Write it on your mirror if you have to!
Reach out to someone you trust or a therapist. Vent. Get it out. The process of talking through our experiences and feelings is incredibly therapeutic and reliving.
Resume your life knowing you are doing what is best for yourself and your family. Feel confident in that decision. And know that no one else is walking in your shoes. It’s so easy for others to say what they would do in a situation when they are not the ones living it. You are.
Return the love
After you’ve removed those seeds of doubt and shame. And have planted these new ones that are full of acceptance and compassion for yourself, return the love. Give compassion to others. Cheer them on in their motherhood journey. And stand up against mom-shaming when you see it. Us moms are all in this together. Put so much good out there for other moms so it can outweigh all of the negative.
Moms Support Moms
So, here’s your love-filled reminder to be gentle with other moms.
You’ll never be able to make everyone happy with your parenting choices. That’s because your parenting journey is unique to you and your child(ren). We all parent based on our own personal beliefs, childhood lessons/traumas, and our view of the world. It’s a beautiful thing to be different, as long as we are making safe choices and not putting our children in harm’s way.
Moms don’t need more judgment. We get enough of that from the world. Moms need support, especially from other moms. No one understands motherhood better than someone who is actively living it. Can you imagine how amazing this world could be for mothers (especially new ones) if all of us mothers decided to support and lift one another up? And not spend our energy fighting, competing, or tearing each other down? We might actually expand our communities, which can only, in turn, provide more love and support for our children.
There is Not One “Right” Answer
Being a mom is challenging enough as it is, from pregnancy to parenting. And there is no ONE right answer for almost every choice we will make as a parent. (Otherwise, we’d all receive that manual along with our positive pregnancy test.)
We can’t win. No matter what you do, there will ALWAYS be someone shaming you for your choice. Someone who would have done it differently. Every pregnancy is different. Every baby is different. Every family and home life is different. And all of our individual life experiences are different.
But different doesn’t mean wrong. If we all made the same choices, bought the same brands, the same clothes, the same books… life would be boring. Our differences are what make us interesting, unique, and diverse. Our differences are what help us to show new perspectives to one another and allow us to grow.
Let’s support and lift each other up instead of tearing one another down
You’ve Got a Friend in Me
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