Most mothers—new and seasoned vets alike—are always on the search for answers. We are constantly looking for effective tools and strategies to raise our kids, especially when it comes to baby sleep methods, potty training, or discipline techniques. When we are unsure of what to do, we seek out the advice of others. But what happens when advice turns into criticism?
We’re told that becoming a mother should be one of the happiest times in a woman’s life. Images of adorable baby feet, nursery themes, and name ideas can flood a woman’s mind when she finds out she is expecting. A lot of times, we are unaware of just how many decisions we are about to make for our child. From small choices, like what time your child will go to bed, to larger ones, like how you plan to discipline (or not discipline) your child.
With these decisions, come feelings of self-doubt. There is no such thing as a parenting manual, and cultural norms give conflicting advice on what the “right” choice is.
Because parents have so many different viewpoints and options on how to raise their kids, it is no surprise that conflict ensues when some parents believe their method of child-rearing is best, and judge other parents if their methods differ. This conflict amongst the parenting community is known as mom-shaming.
Mom-shaming is when other people openly criticize a mom for her parenting choices, which might cause her to feel ashamed or doubt herself. This criticism is so widespread that a recent study showed that 60% of moms have felt shamed by another person. Moms get judged for literally everything, including discipline techniques, diet and nutrition, breast vs. formula feeding, screen time, safety, and more. Buzzfeed writer Asia McLain broke down some of the most ridiculous mom-shaming moments, including a mom who was derided for giving her little boy a man-bun, and another judged for not keeping all of the art her child created in school.
The impact of mom-shaming
Shaming a mom for choices she makes for her family lowers her self-confidence. This has a cascading effect as a lack of self-confidence also leads to a lack of effectiveness in her parenting abilities. If she starts to feel that she is doing an awful job, she may start to become depressed, hopeless, and stressed, all of which can negatively influence her parenting.
Judging a mom also sets a negative example for kids. Children model their parents’ behavior, so if we’re seen criticizing another person they’re more likely to do the same.
Moms are clapping back at shamers
If there’s any silver lining to mom-shaming, it’s the creative and empowering ways some moms have decided to respond to their shamers. Chrissy Teigen, for example, has taken a famously comedic approach in her social media.
Photographer Abbie Fox, a mom of three, chose to respond through her art. She created a photography series which showcases and celebrates different parenting techniques and how loved each individual child is, regardless of the choices their moms made in raising them. In Fox’s photos, children hold signs spelling out hot-topic or taboo parenting methods. The series ends with a photo reminding us all that the love we give our kids is all that truly matters.
How can we increase our confidence as moms?
While we may not be able to stop the mom-shamers, we do need a strategy in place to help us overcome feelings of doubt and unworthiness. Due to this sometimes judgmental community, we are always on guard. We can’t post a photo online of our kid eating a hamburger without someone commenting on how unhealthy fast food is, or bottle feed our baby in public without a stranger coming up to say, “I hope that is breast milk you are feeding her.”
We’ve come up with some useful tips for moms to shift the “bad mom” mindset into more of a self-love, confidence-boosting approach.
- Know that self doubt is NORMAL. So many new mothers have the false belief that having a baby will make them feel complete and that their maternal instincts will guide them. Be aware that experiencing self-doubt is a completely normal part of motherhood. We are not alone!
- Stop the comparison game. In a world full of social media influencers and images of other moms that appear to have it all together, it is incredibly easy to get caught up in comparing our lives to what we see online. The truth is, Instagram is a highlight reel of our lives. Nobody wants to post a photo of their kids fighting, their baby crying, or their messy house, but we all know that it happens! Take a step back from your social media accounts, if necessary, to stop being affected by false realities.
- Take time out for YOU. A lot of times, individuality gets put on hold when we become moms. Our mentality shifts from being selfish to selfless. It is a big change to go from taking care of only ourselves, to taking care of everyone else BUT ourselves. Do something small every single day to work on your personal development. Whether that is reading, listening to a podcast, drawing, or anything else that brings you joy. It will help reduce stress and give you more patience for your kids.
- Take ownership. You are the only one who knows what is best for your family. Moms, dads, and other primary caregivers are the glue that hold families together. Take ownership of that! By telling yourself and others, “I’ll decide what’s best” you’ll give yourself a sense of authority that will boost your self-esteem in the choices you make as a parent.
- Positive self-talk. Start to praise yourself daily for positive things, instead of criticizing yourself for negative ones. This can be for small tasks, such as giving the kids a bath, or big ones, like successfully potty training a toddler. Are you feeling good about the way you stood your ground and said “no” when you normally don’t? Did you get the baby to nap for longer than twenty minutes? Celebrate the small achievements.
- Help other parents. Psychologist David Simonsen, says, “What I find is that the more someone does something in their life that they can be proud of, the easier it is for them to recognize their worth. Doing things that one can respect about themselves is the one key that I have found that works to raise one’s worth.” Offer to take a friend’s new baby for an hour so they can take a nap. Offer to do their laundry. These small acts of helpfulness will make you feel good and radiate positivity.
- Build a support system. When they say “it takes a village” they aren’t kidding. Motherhood is hard and in this world where mom-shaming is on the rise, it is becoming even harder. Find a friend or group of friends who you can trust and who will have your back when times are tough. The emotional support of a good friend is something that can greatly improve your self-esteem.
- Delegate. Sarah Friedberg has written about the unrealistic pressures society puts on moms today—everything from going back to work right away to expectations of keeping a tidy house to meal planning to school events and more. The amount of work that is expected of a mother is tremendous. In fact, a recent study done by Welch’s found that working mothers clock an average of 98 hours per week. That is the equivalent of 2.5 full-time jobs. It is no wonder many of us feel drained and overwhelmed. It does NOT make you a bad mom to hand some of these tasks over to your partner or other family members. We cannot and should not do it all.
Motherhood is a beautiful thing. It is fun, messy, frustrating, and rewarding. There is nothing quite like it. We are all doing our absolute best and all that really matters is that our children are loved.
For all the moms out there, we see you and appreciate every little thing you do.
For all the mommy-shamers out there, whether intentional or unintentional, let’s remember that as long as safety is not a concern, there is no right or wrong way to be a mom. This Mother’s Day, let’s lift each other up instead of tearing each other down.