Moms face overwhelming decisions and receive unsolicited advice. Criticizing a mother for her parenting choices, known as mom-shaming, can cause self-doubt, uncertainty, and guilt. Friends and family that mom-shame may think that they’re being helpful and don’t realize that their suggestions may be hurtful.
Criticizing a mother for parenting choices different from one’s own is considered mom-shaming.
Mom-shaming can inadvertently come from friends, family, other moms, or strangers.
Understanding the underlying roots of mom-shaming may help moms cope.
Avoiding judgment and advice regarding parenting is difficult, if not impossible, but there are ways to cope.
From the moment you become a parent, the decisions can be overwhelming. Children don’t come with an instruction manual, so many people are eager to fill your ears with unsolicited advice. Some of this advice may be helpful, but often it’s not. This so-called advice can come across as judgmental or critical of your parenting style.
Mom-shaming occurs when others criticize a mother for parenting choices that differ from theirs. Even if the person believes their comments are coming from a place of concern, mom-shaming can come across as bullying or hurtful. This can cause more harm than good, resulting in the mom suffering from self-doubt, anxiety, and insecurity.
The people who shame moms
Unfortunately, mom-shaming can come from anywhere and anyone. The comments may be passive, subtle, or even aggressive. Strangers may feel compelled to verbalize their opinion about how a mom dresses their child, disciplines them, breastfeeding practices, or anything the person feels the mother is not doing correctly. In this age of social media, many people feel compelled to share their opinions with strangers regarding even the most benign parenting practices. Many criticize more aggressively since online offers the ability to do so anonymously.
Mom-shaming can come from friends, family, and even your mother — making it difficult to maintain confidence in your parenting choices. Other mothers know how to push another mom’s buttons and compare parenting styles. You may even find that you are your own biggest critic and believe a mother should have instincts to guide them in caring for their child. Parenting can cause uncertainties, making you feel inadequate.
Common mom-shaming topics
Sadly, mom shaming can begin during pregnancy regarding the choices made. It doesn’t stop after the toddler years, and can continue well into the teen years and beyond.
Mom-shaming topics can include:
- Too much or too little discipline
- Diet and nutrition
- Sleep training and co-sleeping
- Breastfeeding versus bottle-feeding
- Child safety
- Childcare decisions
- Child development
- Stay-at-home moms vs. working moms
- Judgment about kids’ activities
- Screen time
Motives for mom-shaming
People shame for many reasons, often harboring unrealistic or outdated expectations about a mother’s role. Others may feel strongly about their methods, almost like motherhood is a competition.
Some people, especially family members, don’t realize they’re shaming. Family may genuinely think they are being helpful, but their tone of voice, or word choice, may come across as shaming. Although there’s no acceptable reason to mom shame, understanding the root of why some people do it, and that it may come from their own issues, may make it easier to cope.
Other reasons people mom-shame can include:
- Jealousy or anger. Each mom faces different challenges with their children, making it easy to judge another mom who appears not to have the same struggles. Hurtful comments may stem from deflecting these feelings onto an unsuspecting mom.
- Guilt or insecurity. Moms may feel insecure about their children’s development and express suggestions from a place of insecurity, lifting themselves by putting others down. She may feel ashamed that she didn’t breastfeed as long as you have or that your child has hit milestones quicker than hers.
- Ignorance. Modern tools and methods have changed previous recommendations for raising children. Still, even if older generations are made aware of these changes, they may take offense and insist that prior methods worked fine. Others may not be aware of your private struggles, and their innocent suggestions may sound hurtful or insulting.
How to deal with mom-shaming
Expect to be challenged with mom shamers. Being a parent makes it almost impossible to avoid being judged, so expecting it can help you be more prepared, so you don’t take it personally. Understanding that judging and criticizing makes some people feel better or disguises their insecurities about their parenting choices. Here are some tips to help you cope with mom-shaming:
- Set boundaries and choose trusted sources. The amount of parenting information available can be overwhelming, confusing, and often contradicting. Avoid information overload and choose a few trusted online sources, healthcare providers, or friends and family.
- Avoid or ignore them. Unfollow or block those who make you feel insecure about your parenting choices. Seek positive, non-judgmental mom figures promoting an accepting, supportive environment.
- Stop comparing. Often what you see or hear isn’t the full version of the truth, as other moms paint a picture-perfect life on social media or brag about their parenting wins. Usually, these are the same moms who keep quiet about their challenges, struggles, and parenting uncertainties.
- Prioritize self-care. Being a mom often means not getting enough sleep or having the time to do things for yourself to better cope with daily challenges, but caring for personal needs is vital for well-being and mental health. Those friends and family who genuinely think they’re providing support may be eager to help out, so you can take a nap, do some errands or do something for yourself.
- Celebrate small successes. Moms face challenges each day and new ones each year. Focus on positive accomplishments and successes, such as the baby sleeping through the night, having the diaper bag ready to go before you need it, or if you’ve planned dinners for the week. Instead of criticizing yourself for what you didn’t accomplish that day, celebrate the little wins. Each little victory reminds you that you’ve got this.
- Be confident in your decisions. If you aim to ensure your children are healthy and happy and have their best interests at heart, then know you’re the best mom you can be. If you fear offending a friend or family member, explain why your choices make the most sense for your family.
When to seek help
Mom shaming can lead to feelings of rejection, insecurity, and loneliness and can be hurtful when it comes from people you consider your support system. Some moms may begin to believe these comments about their ability to parent and struggle with guilt. There’s nothing that says moms have to do it all, and there’s nothing wrong with asking for help. Your friends and family may be more than happy to provide it.
Suppose you begin to lose sleep, and your appetite, feel ongoing sadness, or are overwhelmed with shame or guilt. In that case, consider seeking support, or professional help for possible underlying mental health issues.
No shame in being a Mom
It isn't easy being a Mom, and despite what other people might want you to think, most Moms have days that they struggle with, too. Moms are lifelong learners. Once you have it all figured out, your child enters a new stage of life with new things for you both to learn. If you're looking out for your children's and your family's best interest, you're doing your job right. But don't think you have to do it alone. Lean on trusted friends and family when you need support.
- Psychology Today. 10 ways to deal with mom-shaming.
- Reader’s Digest. 5 types of mom-shaming—and how to shut them down.
- The New York Times. Mom shaming is running rampant during the pandemic.