Stop the Mom-Shaming!

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Preparing to leave the hospital with my firstborn.

Thirty-four years ago, I gave birth to my first child in a rural hospital in North Carolina that resembled something out of a 1950s movie. Twelve hours into labor, some pretty scary complications necessitated a cesarean section. Five days later, I left that archaic hospital with staples across my stomach, carrying a pink blanket with my healthy baby girl snuggled inside. There was physical pain at the incision site, but my primary emotion was pure euphoric gratitude for the surgery that saved my child’s life. So I was surprised when I moved to Tulsa and met an entire group of women ashamed of having c-sections. Some even proclaimed to feel less like a “real woman” because of the surgery. I was embarrassed I wasn’t even aware enough to feel shame. Thus began my introduction to the world of “mom-shaming,” sometimes created by others and sometimes self-induced.

Unfortunately, I learned that not having a drug-free childbirth experience is only the beginning of the shaming of mothers. Breastfeeding is a hot topic for mom-shaming. I recently saw a Facebook post intended to promote breastfeeding that instead came across as judgmental, implying that the bond between mother and child would not be as strong in bottle-fed babies. I wonder when it became everyone else’s business how we feed our babies? There are many reasons a woman may not be able to or chooses not to breastfeed. As long as a baby is being fed, your opinion is not relevant. I am not arguing that breast milk isn’t best. I am just saying to mind your own business unless asked for an opinion. Don’t try to add another layer of guilt to women who are bottle-feeding their babies. You don’t know their story, and you don’t need to.

The list of guilt-inducing topics goes on and on, working vs. non-working-outside-the-home moms, cloth vs. disposable diapers, homeschooling vs. public vs. private schooling. How we choose to discipline is often the cause of judgment. We’ve probably all experienced the comments or glares when our toddler has a meltdown at Target, and we don’t handle it the way bystanders think we should. Judgment even extends to how we look postpartum.  Hollywood moms have set the unrealistic expectation that we should be back in our skinny jeans by the six-week postpartum mark. This outside pressure may leave a woman wondering why we can’t do it all perfectly.

The food wars continue past the breastfeeding stage. Are you feeding your kids fast food, processed food, or sugar? Do you feed your baby anything less than homemade, organic baby food? Be prepared to have people lambast those choices. But don’t worry, I got plenty of negative comments because I raised my children as vegetarians. When it comes to feeding your kids, there is absolutely no pleasing everyone.

So what are the effects of all this mom-shaming? Nothing positive.  Brené Brown defines shame as “an intensely painful feeling or experience of believing we are flawed, and something we’ve done or failed to do makes us unworthy.” The feeling of shame hits home hard if we feel we’re not parenting the “right way.” Mom-shaming can lead to feelings of anxiety and possibly even depression for someone who is already feeling insecure about their role as a parent.

Mom shaming has always been around, but social media makes it worse. Social media leads us to believe everyone else somehow has it all together. We see families in matching outfits posing on beaches, a good-looking man, a beautiful woman, and happy, perfect children. It’s easy to believe in the carefully curated image and wonder why our family doesn’t look like that. Those little glimpses into one moment of someone else’s lives may lead us to shame ourselves! But always remember, that was just one moment, and they paid someone to create a picture-perfect scene. Sometimes we become our own worst bullies.

When you’re engaged in that dangerous activity of comparing your life with others, remember that social media doesn’t tell the complete story. I admit my own role in this type of duplicity.  My four-year-old grandson spends 24 hours with us most weekends. The pictures I post on Facebook are of us doing science experiments or sweet moments when he’s sitting on my lap and we’re reading together. I don’t post about the times when he’s whining because I won’t let him watch “just one more” episode of Octonoauts or the playroom destruction he often leaves in his wake. Who wants to see reality?

If you feel you are being mom-shamed, you have options. Here are eight things that might help.

  1. Ignore the comments
  2. Have a ready reply ranging from, “Thanks for your opinion, I’ll consider it,” to a more confrontational, “Why are you trying to give me unsolicited advice?”
  3. Create a circle of strong, supportive allies in your parenting journey.
  4. Limit your social media time if you feel it’s impacting your parenting confidence.
  5. Most bullies are picking on someone else because they feel insecure about their choices or their parenting abilities. Picking on someone else is a feeble attempt to make themselves feel better.
  6. Try to find the humor in it. Let yourself laugh about the fact your four-year-old is still using a pacifier or the absurdity of the fit your toddler threw because they couldn’t lick the cart at Target.
  7. If a family member or close friend is a frequent offender, it might be time for a “real” conversation about how it is making you feel. They may be misguided and think they are helpful.
  8. Foremost, be confident in your parenting. You know your child the best, and if you feel assured you’re making the best choices for your family, you can let the negative comments go unheeded.

People who are most often guilty of mom-shaming are other moms and family members. We should be supporting and helping one another through the journey of parenting, even if our styles and opinions are a bit different. Interference is justified if you suspect child neglect or abuse. If that is the case, then it is your legal duty to contact DHS. Short of abuse, leave your mom-shaming comments where they belong – unsaid! And by the way, I breastfed one child but not the other, and they both turned out to be healthy, intelligent women to whom I am equally bonded. No shame here.

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Categories: Grand Life