Hey Moms – Can we just stop with the mom judging already? You need it and I need it – so let’s agree to end mom shaming.
Parenting is hard. No one really knows what they are doing. I’ve found some things that work for my kids and so have you. Just like parents have for thousands of years, we fail as much as we succeed.
“I can’t believe she let’s her son get away with that!”
“Her daughter acts worse when she’s around.”
“I would never let my child eat what she feeds her kids.”
When moms make comments like this, they are tearing down instead of building up and contributing to an already hard parenting situation.
But it doesn’t have to be this way. Together, we can end mom shaming.
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The Day I Overheard Mom Shaming
One day this past summer, my family and I were at a public event for one of the children’s schools. All the kids were running around being rambunctious on a warm summer day, and the parents were watching and socializing.
It had been a hard summer for me with both the kids home from school and pregnant with our third child. All summer I had struggled with morning sickness and too much TV time and the guilt from not-enough-outings with the children. I was enjoying a rare moment of a settled stomach while I watched my children play.
Then I lost my appetite again. I overheard two moms chatting about a third mom, and my stomach dropped as did my mood.
“I really love Susie but her kids are so out-of-control.”
“Yeah, they don’t behave well.”
It made me deeply sad.
Mom Shaming is Destructive
I felt sad for a few reasons.
First, 95% of parents I’ve encountered are doing their absolute best with the hand they’ve been dealt. In my 20 years of experience as a childcare director, then an elementary school teacher and parent, I’ve only met a few truly neglectful parents.
Most parents are well-versed in threats and consequences and rewards and shame and “hold those kids accountable” as discipline because it was all they were taught. Most children respond to this punitive discipline model because of fear. But guess what? Many children do not respond to it.
Instead of it being a sign of bad parenting, it usually means those parents are dealing with a uniquely wired kiddo. And most parents don’t have the skills to deal with exceptional (or “out-of-control”) children because our culture still has an outdated, neurologically misguided mindset about discipline. Lots of professionals still believe it’s better to “teach them a lesson” than uncover the lagging skills causing the behavior in the first place and addressing those.
Simply, most adults still assume lack of will over lack of skill in children.
Second, mom shaming is personal for me. I have a child with behavioral difficulties. I have another child who we refer to as busy or spirited. I’ve had to work very hard to confront my own anxiety about how friends and strangers, teachers and occupational therapists, and sadly, even family members judge my ability to parent my uniquely-wired child.
Of course, I rarely hear their negativity about my parenting outright; instead I hear the judgement of other parents and their children’s behavior. It’s not a stretch to connect the dots. I’ve done a lot of inner reflection and continue to do it; and I understand this: my children’s behavior is not a reflection of me. My behavior is a reflection of me.
Third, mom shaming often appears as gossiping; and gossiping destroys relationships. Plain and simple, when moms complain in a negative way about other people, it creates an “I’m better than you” superiority mentality and causes the relationship to deteriorate.
Gossip usually has a way of getting back to the original target and it is toxic. There are appropriate ways to vent (hello, counseling! hello, call your best friend in private!) and there are inappropriate ways (gossip on the playground or gossip in front of your children or gossip in the faculty room).
When moms judge or shame another mom, it potentially destroys everything and absolutely builds nothing.
Parenting is Hard
Parenting is hard. Am I right?
For two years, I taught 5th grade to 35 English Language Learners with significant behavioral and academic challenges in downtown LA. They had relatives in prison, neighbors killed in drive-by shootings, and siblings in gangs. Their parents worked long hours in an attempt to provide a better life for children.
Teaching in LA was hard. But parenting my unique kiddo? This is the hardest thing I’ve done.
It’s hard for you, too! We are raising children in different circumstances than our parents’ and grandparents’ generations. I’m looking at you Snap Chat and 5-point harness car seats and peanut allergies. I’m looking at school shootings and how-much-screen-time-is-okay and college tuition costs.
Lord knows we already face enough judgment from our parents’ and grandparents’ generation (and guess what Baby Boomers: you were the ones who raised us. Maybe you share some responsibility in our ability to parent, too).
So, Moms, can we admit to each other that this parenting thing is impossibly hard? All of us have some great tips and insight that work for our children? All of us have some blind spots or areas for growth in parenting? All of us are terrified that we’re going to screw this up?
How to Stop the Mom Judging
I’m not a therapist or a mental health professional, but I am a prolific reader and non-stop learner. I can’t get into other people’s brains when they mom shame, but it seems like being judgmental is about two things: feeling insecure in some way or feeling frustrated or concerned.
- Related: What I’m Reading in 2019
When moms feel like shaming or judging another mom, it is really like an anxious flare from their brains: “Hey, pay attention to this problematic feeling over here.”
The internal judgmental or shaming thought is really a hint. It is triggering a deeper emotion. We don’t need to avoid those deeper emotions; that feeling is okay. We can handle big feelings.
It’s how we respond to that big feeling that makes a difference.
Examine why you feel like judging
So this is what I suggest when you feel like judging, and this is what I do:
When you are about to judge another mom, it’s time to look deep inside. Are you really insecure about your own parenting? Are you trying to increase your own tenuous self-esteem by tearing other people down?
Then it’s time to work on your own empathy for yourself. Mantras can be helpful; I like “there are no perfect parents,” or “I don’t know how to make this better, but I won’t make it worse.”
Journaling can be a good tool, too. Getting those thoughts on paper can be a great way to bring compassion to yourself and others.
Or are you having a judgemental thought because you genuinely want to help, but feel lost and clueless? Are you concerned that your children will exhibit some of those troubling behaviors (and thus, revealing you’re not all that secure in your ability to manage difficult behavior with your children after all).
Then it’s time to talk to your friend or work on your own parenting skills. I whole-heartedly recommend Raising Human Beings by Ross Greene for developing confidence and skills in parenting. His strategies work for typical and exceptional children alike, and also can inform our ability to relate to all people.
Take some time to listen to your inner-voice. Dig deep and confront what is driving your behavior.
Tackle the problem
Doing the inner-work is important, but if you really want to support other moms, you need to tackle the problem. When you are tempted to judge another mom, you have a better option: you can help.
First, if even gentle confrontation scares the hell out of you, you are not alone. As women, we were not taught the skills to be assertive as girls. So, it’s not your fault. Remove your own inner-shame about that.
Second, there’s an obvious, but somewhat still hard strategy: LISTEN.
When mom shamers really want to be a friend, they can listen when to their friend as she voices her concerns or frustrations about her children. Ask if she wants advice or just empathy. Reassure her with all the examples of how she is a good mom.
Sometimes you’ll need some real tangible solutions, though. Let’s say you’re tempted to shame another mom. You listen to your inner-voice and discover it is because your kids don’t feel safe around her kids.
That’s a valid concern, of course. You need to honor your children’s concern and your feeling of frustration or helplessness. But as we’ve discussed above, there are other options beside gossiping with another friend.
You can teach your children refusal strategies. Role play the difficult situations your children are encountering and help them practice saying “no” in an assertive way.
If that doesn’t work, be honest and try to collaborate with your friend: “Hey Sally has told me that she’s having a hard time playing tag with Johnny. Do you have any ideas for how we can coach them through their conflict?”
The absolute worst case scenario is you take a break from play dates and meet up for brunch or happy hours instead. That means you can still support this mom friend while both of your children develop their lagging skills.
I think most of us fall into a trap of mom shaming because we haven’t been taught a better way to parent ourselves. We haven’t learned to listen to our inner voice and we didn’t have parents who coached us through difficult situations. Fortunately, there is a better way, and we can get better with practice.
Post a Reminder
We are busy women and sometimes need reminders of our goals and values. So I created a free printable you can download and post on your bathroom mirror, on a pretty clipboard in your office, or on the fridge.
Tools for Addressing Mom Shaming
These are a few of the tools I find useful when I need to dig deep in my own judgements and anxieties.
Raising Human Beings by Ross Greene
This is one of the best parenting books about developing a relationship with your child where problems can be solved. Though it’s not the primary goal of the book, it also provides tremendous insight in why we judge children and parents. Ross Greene has a long established career of helping unique and typical children alike find success at home in school.
This pretty notebook also is available in 8 different designs. Journaling in a notebook can be a really effective way to examine what’s going on in our lives.
Because fun pens make life better. Colorful pens also unleash creativity for me, and moms need this.
I have another print of this clipboard and it’s both sturdy and pretty. It’s currently displaying my reminder that I Support Other Moms.
Recapping Mom Shaming
Here’s the TL; DR (too long; didn’t read) version of my thoughts about Mom Shaming:
- Most parents are doing their best with the hand they’ve been dealt.
- Parents are well-versed in consequences but not in uncovering lagging skills that cause misbehavior.
- All mom shaming feels personal to special needs families or parents of behavioral challenged kids.
- Mom shaming and judgement does nothing to build relationships and only tears down.
- Moms can learn to listen to their inner-voice when the temptation to judge appears.
- Moms can problem-solve with friends instead of judging.
- Moms can also coach our own children to better to handle a difficult situation.
- Moms can decide to support other moms and commit to #nomomshaming. Get a free printable reminder.
I have two important notes as I conclude this:
- There were tons of dads at this event I went to and I only overheard them talking about home improvement or work, so that’s why I’m addressing moms.
- This article is judgmental about judging – 100%. We all make judgements all day long; it’s part of being an analytical human being. It’s when judgements become destructive and tear good people down, that judgements become a problem.
Mamas, can we just support each other already? We will have differences in how we parent our children but we can model for them how to address differences with empathy.
Parenting is hard. Moms, we desperately need each other. We need all the physical and emotional support we can get. Let’s do better for ourselves and stop the mom shaming now.