A Comprehensive Guide on How to Stop Mom Shaming
While we believe in self-expression, at Posh Peanut, we support the movement to stop mom-shaming, and there are simple ways to change the conversation and stop mom-shaming once and for all.
Moms have it tough. Dads do too. But there’s pressure to achieve a perfection that women deal with much more. Societal expectations and centuries-old stereotypes put moms in the position of primary caregivers. Many women are delighted to (and do) take on this rewarding role. But it is not always realistic. Single moms, for example, don’t always have options. They say, “it takes a village” to raise a child. So why is mom-shaming so pervasive? Shouldn’t we all be in this together instead of taking each other down? Rather than stigmatize, let’s be part of the solution!
What Is Mom Shaming?
In a nutshell, mom-shaming involves criticism, unwanted advice, making fun, and even bullying. It can be subtle or severe. Others (primarily mothers themselves) chime in on a mom’s parenting tactics with their critiques. This unsolicited judgment may have been intended to be beneficial. Often, it winds up being hurtful. These “opinions” put a burden on already stretched-thin, stressed-out moms.
Mom shaming comes about because someone (be it a sibling or a stranger) would have “done something differently.” This disapproval is generally unsupported and unhelpful. Here’s how to handle mom-shaming and how to shut it down.
Examples of Mom Shaming
Comments may seem innocent on the surface. However, it is not always the intention that moms on the receiving end pick up on. Moms may get the impression that someone thinks they are not doing a good job at parenting. Such doubt can cause a mom to question her own capability. When her parenting is doubted or disputed, a mom’s whole world can crumble down. What was meant to be “constructive” winds up being destructive.
Who is Shaming Moms and What are They Talking About?
According to a poll conducted by C.S. Mott Children’s Hospital with Michigan Medicine, more than 60% of mothers have been mom-shamed. The biggest mom-shaming offenders? Family! Their partner or spouse, in-laws, and parents have plenty to say. Friends, peers, moms in their social circle (and ones they don’t know), and random strangers on social media are culprits too. Health care and childcare professionals have been called out as mom shamers as well, but perhaps their input has some weight.
Topics high on the shame “list” includes discipline, diet/nutrition, sleeping, breast/bottle feeding, child safety, and childcare. Unsurprisingly, over half of the moms who’ve been approached didn’t find much value in the “advice” thrown at them.
Mom shaming can happen face-to-face, behind someone’s back, blasted on social media, or passed from one person to another like a game of “telephone.” And we all know how those messages get distorted. Friends, foes, family members, and people you don’t know can unintentionally or deliberately mom shame. We’ve witnessed it. Sadly, some of us have done it.
A sample of mom-shaming…
“My baby was already walking by now.”
“I can’t believe she didn’t even try to breastfeed.”
“Wow, you went back to the office already?”
“I only fed my baby homemade baby food.”
“I’d never get my toddler a “Happy Meal.”
“Your baby’s name is, uh…interesting.”
“Why is she bringing her baby to this (restaurant, show, party, service, etc.)?
“My kids would never get away with acting like that.”
“She is certainly taking her time losing the baby weight.”
“Are you still breastfeeding?”
“You should hold your baby this way.”
“Are sweatpants back in style?”
“I wouldn’t leave my baby with a sitter this soon.”
“Shouldn’t you put the baby down for a nap by now?”
“I hear the schools in your city aren’t the best.”
“Isn’t he too young to be vaccinated?”
“She’s going to be spoiled.”
“Breastfeeding can help you shed pounds.”
“If you let the baby sleep in your bed, you’ll never get them to sleep on their own.”
“We only let our kids watch educational TV shows.”
“You guys order a lot of takeout!”
“You haven’t signed her up for (gymnastics, Girl Scouts, music lessons, Little League, etc.) yet?
“When will you get that boy a haircut?”
“My parents spanked me, and I turned out OK.”
Mom shaming can also take shape when moms post photos and updates of their “picture perfect” lives on social media. Behind the scenes, things are not always quite as peachy. Other moms see these photos and feel like they can’t “keep up with the Joneses.” They may even think they are failing. Remember that social media is NOT real life. You can’t compare yourself to others. It is unproductive and needlessly upsetting.
The examples of mom-shaming are endless (unfortunately), but you can see the pattern. Mom shaming, even if it comes from a good place, can sting. It puts moms in the uncomfortable position of defending their parenting decisions. This slighting, be it sarcastic or severe, has consequences. Moms need allies, not adversaries. Let’s stop mom shaming! Who’s in?
How to Give Advice but Stop Mom Shaming
No mom is perfect, so let’s invite her to listen in a welcoming way. Otherwise, she may be closed off to even sage suggestions. We all have our own “parenting protocol.” Unless you genuinely believe a parent is putting their child in danger, how you’d do it is not necessarily the #1 way.
That said, you can offer advice in a non-judgmental, non-confrontational manner. A caring and conscientious mom will appreciate honesty. But remember to back off if she is not interested in the information. Forcing the issue can cause the conversation to escalate from friendly advice to a full-fledged argument.
The Mott Poll Report found that over half of moms who have been mom-shamed have stopped shaming other moms. Being bombarded with unwanted criticism gave these moms some perspective. A “taste of their own medicine,” so to speak. This dose of reality made these moms realize that they could treat other moms better. Or at least give them a break.
We would be far better off if we live and let live. As tempting as it may be, putting our two cents in is not always worth it. People have lost friends, cut ties with relatives, and drowned in dead-end disputes on social media. “Mama bears” will protect their cubs at any cost. And they believe they know what is best for their little ones. Take note, be nice, and make mom-shaming a non-issue.
Positive, shame-free ways to offer advice:
- Ask a mom how she is doing. If she is falling short in some way she wants help, she can let you know. Get her permission before you “preach.” Make suggestions, but don’t give a “sermon.”
- Be positive. Your tone and demeanor can steer the way the conversation goes. Come from a place of concern.
- Be there to lend an ear or a shoulder to cry on. Let her know you are there when she needs you, not when you decide it’s time to dig in.
- Skip the judgmental phrases. Say, “This might make things easier…” rather than “You ought to do it this way…”
- Explain how you got through particular parenting issues. She should not do it your way but illustrate how all parents have obstacles to overcome.
- See things from her perspective, not your personal preferences.
- Give her a few ideas/options. This way, you can help her navigate a new approach.
- Be honest, but not harsh.
- Tell her when she is doing a great job, so she will appreciate your advice when things aren’t going smoothly.
- Make it a two-way street. Let her know you value her opinion and would love any advice she may have for you.
- Talk about the situation itself and not the mom’s actions specifically. For instance, “I was told to buy organic veggies for my kids. Do you do organic-only, or do you think it doesn’t really matter? I’ve heard pros and cons, and I’m confused.” She will be much more receptive to discussing than if you had said, “Is that apple that Johnny is eating organic?”
- If there is nothing she can do about a particular situation, don’t mention it unless you can help. If her toddler has to be placed in childcare all day because both parents work, so be it. Unless you have a better solution (or you’re a sitter), stay out of it.
- Don’t make assumptions. Ask directly before you advise. What you see isn’t always what you get.
- If you see a mom struggling, give her your support, not the “side-eye.”
- If you are not sure what you want to say (or if it’s even 100% factual), save it.
How to Handle Mom Shaming
If you have been a victim of mom-shaming, you know how much it hurts. It could be your own parents who are picking on you. Or you’re shocked by strangers on social media who would never dare shame you in person. No matter where the mom-shaming comes from, the results are real. And they can cut you to the core.
You may be the non-confrontational type.
- This might limit you in the way you respond to mom-shaming. You don’t have to battle it out, but you could benefit from standing up for yourself. If that’s not your style, ignoring the mom-shaming is the way to go. Brush it off and just be you.
That’s just the way it is.
- Parents will be judged. Psychology today suggests expecting to be confronted. This way, when mom-shaming comes your way, you will be ready to respond. At least you won’t be surprised.
It’s them, not you.
- Many mom shamers are reflecting on their own parenting mistakes. They are hoping to “make up” for their shortcomings by telling you how to do things “right.” Their insecurities drive them to meddle with other moms. This is intrusive, even if it was meant to be educational.
Avoid the critics.
- If you know that every time you go to “Mommy and Me,” that one mom is a “Ms. Know-it-All,” keep your distance. She may never get the hint that you don’t want her help. When it comes to family, this can get tricky. Be direct, and hopefully, they’ll dial it down. You can try to steer the conversation towards another topic too. Get your partner involved (on your side, naturally) if need be.
Turn things around.
- No, don’t bash someone back in retaliation, but reframe the shame. Let this person know that you are open to their opinion. Suggest discussing the topic from two sides. Both of you may learn something valuable. If not, at least you tried before getting ticked off.
Do unto others...
- If you want mom-shaming to become “extinct,” use your power to start the pro-mom movement. If you see another mom being shamed, come to her defense. Catch yourself before you become the busybody yourself. If you are a mom, you know that parenting is demanding. Put yourself in the other mom’s shoes and send her the signal that you’ve got her back.
Moms may seem like superheroes, but we’re only human. All parents will mess up, probably many times. We have to look at the big picture rather than nit-pick. If you have been mom-shamed, find comfort in the friends and family who encourage you. Root for other moms who may be in a rut. Let’s promote positivity and partnership in parenting!
Join the conversation! Have you been mom-shamed? What did you do? How did it make you feel? Who did the shaming? Did they stop mom-shaming?
Editors Note: This post was originally published 5/20/2019 and has been completely updated and revamped for accuracy and comprehensiveness.