Being a mother is not for the faint of heart. As if caring for your own needs wasn’t enough, being a mother means that you’re also responsible for the health, safety, and wellbeing of another human.
While there’s no “one-size-fits-all” option for parenting, some people believe that their way of doing things is the best way. Unfortunately, this often leads to a negative practice that’s gained popularity in recent years: mom shaming.
According to a 2017 poll conducted by Michigan Medicine’s C.S. Mott Children’s Hospital, nearly two-thirds of mothers have felt mom-shamed about their parenting skills.
Whether you’ve been a victim – or a shamer – here’s what you need to know about this harmful trend.
Brené Brown (author, podcast host, and researcher at the University of Houston) defines shame as, “an intensely painful feeling or experience of believing that we are flawed and something we’ve done or failed to do makes us unworthy.”
Mom shaming happens when people criticize a mother for making parenting choices that differ from the choices they have made or would make themselves. (For example: “If you don’t breastfeed your child, you’re doing it wrong.”)
Because it breeds insecurity and anxiety, mom shaming is not only ineffective, it’s also damaging.
In a world where Facebook, Instagram, and other social media outlets often paint an unrealistic picture-perfect glimpse into others’ lives, mothers are particularly vulnerable to “comparisonitis.” Mom shaming only makes this worse.
Laura Cipro, a psychiatric mental health nurse practitioner with Intermountain Healthcare, spoke on the KUTV “Baby Your Baby” podcast about the effects mom shaming can have on a mother’s mental health.
“When mothers can’t meet these unrealistic expectations, they are set up to be disappointed, feel like failures, or become insecure about their parenting abilities,” Cipro said. “Data shows this can lead to an increase in rates of anxiety and depression in mothers.”
Though it’s never easy being a parent, a global pandemic has a way of complicating things.
A recent CDC study found that almost 41 percent of adult respondents are struggling with mental health issues stemming from the pandemic. Some are related to the virus itself and others are due to the measures used to contain it (social distancing, staying indoors, etc.).
Sadly, the pandemic has also brought with it an uptick in mom shaming as parents are deciding whether or not to host playdates, homeschool, or venture out into the public.
Though it’s natural to question decisions you feel may be impacting your own family, Cipro warns against judging others too harshly -- particularly in today’s circumstances.
“I think it’s especially hard during a pandemic not to be invested in other parents’ decision making, because their choices just might directly affect you and your child’s health. However, it’s also especially not helpful during a pandemic to criticize or shame others,” she said.
“There are so many factors. Every family situation is multi-factorial. The pandemic adds more factors. We can’t possibly know all of the factors other parents face, so we shouldn’t judge.”
When it comes to defending yourself against potential mom-shamers, or learning how to recognize these behaviors in yourself, Cipro recommends the following:
- Don’t judge another person’s choices. Realize that there are many factors that go into someone’s decision-making process, and it’s natural for people to arrive at different conclusions.
- Support other mothers. Now more than ever, people need support instead of criticism. Even if someone’s choices are different from yours, assume the best of intentions. Focus on the positive.
- Reframe your thinking. Instead of viewing another person’s choices as a personal attack against you, try to understand how they may have come to that decision. This opens the door for more compassion and less judgment.
- Use disarming statements. If you’re the victim of mom shaming, you can use a neutral response to shut down bullying without engaging in it yourself. (For example: “Thanks for sharing your opinion.” “Hmmm, I’ll have to think about that.” Or “I don’t appreciate when my choices are questioned.” “I try not to comment on others’ parenting styles.”)
The most important thing all mothers and caregivers need to understand is that they’re not alone. If you’re struggling with your mental and emotional health, it’s important to get the help you need.
Intermountain Healthcare has a free Behavioral Health Navigation Service. Call 1 (833)-442-2111 any day of the week between 7 a.m. to 7 p.m. Interpretation services are also available.