By Alicia Cox, MA, AMFT
The experience of “mommy-shaming” is a common occurrence many mothers have shared. The Urban Dictionary defines “mommy-shaming” as “criticizing or degrading a mother for her parenting choices because they differ from the choices the shamer would make.” I have had personal experience with this as a mom and felt it was unhelpful and toxic. I also know as a mental health professional that it can be damaging to moms who are already questioning if they are doing everything they can and should do for their children. It seems to be more prominent now with the existence of social media.
The focus of mom-shaming has recently changed. A study published in Communication, Culture and Critique characterized the idea of mom-shaming as “combative mothering” and explored what this looks like for today’s moms. Previously, mom-shaming was centered on working moms versus stay-at-home moms. More recently, the issues that come up in combative mothering are related to differences between mom’s philosophies and practices that they chose in raising their children. Sometimes this can be more toxic because moms feel judged based on their choices and it can isolate them from other moms who believe their choices are wrong.
In a recent poll, six out of 10 mothers reported that they have experienced “mommy-shaming” directed toward their parenting choices. Most of the mom shaming reported in this poll came from family members. In four out of 10 cases, moms felt insecure about their parenting skills and sought out professional advice to reassure themselves that they are making fair decisions. One of the directors of the poll, Sarah Clark, believes “family members should respect that mothers of young children may have more updated information about child health and safety, and ‘what we used to do’ may no longer be the best advice.” Mothers with young children may already be feeling overwhelmed since young children require a lot of additional care, so advice may also be viewed as criticism instead of a recommendation.
Knowing how destructive mom shaming can be, what should we do to support moms? It is disheartening that women are turning against each other when we should be helping each other through the challenging but beautiful experience of being a mother. We should all be each other’s biggest cheerleaders through all the challenges of motherhood. We should be open to being a shoulder for one to cry on when we had a difficult day since we have all had those difficult days. We should be able to be raw in our emotions whether it’s extreme joy or shame.
Being able to be open about the trials and tribulations of motherhood would significantly reduce feelings of anxiety and isolation that results from feeling judged by others. Being supportive rather than judgmental would be one of the greatest tools to help each other through the experience of motherhood. So instead of feeling the need to let a mother know what you think would be best for her children, try to use supportive language and give her the benefit of the doubt that she may know what works best for her children.
Abetz, J. & Moore, J. (1 June 2018). Welcome to the Mommy Wars, Ladies: Making Sense of the Ideology of Combative Mothering in Mommy Blogs. Communication, Culture and Critique, 11(2). Retrieved from https://doi.org/10.1093/ccc/tcy008
Mom-shaming. (n.d.). In Urban Dictionary. Retrieved from https://www.urbandictionary.com/define.php?term=mom-shaming
Preidt, R. (20 June 2017). “’Mommy-shaming’ is common, survery reveals.” CBS News, Retrieved from https://www.cbsnews.com/news/mommy-shaming-is-common-parenting-poll-reveals/