Recently, I’ve had a series of conversations with a good friend, who is also a mom, that really got me thinking.
Some of the comments she had made bothered me. But as a result, they caused me to become more aware of the way all of us moms can end up insulting one another (whether conscious or unconscious), in an attempt to feel more secure about our own parenting.
Having been a mother for 13 years now, with two sons and two daughters, I’m well aware of the ways moms inadvertently shame one another.
Here are just a few of the seemingly innocuous things I wish we would all stop staying:
1. "It must be nice to not work and stay home with the kids all day."
After I lost my full-time job, whenever I'd ask another mom friend if she was available for anything (from a visit to a short conversation), she'd respond, "Well, I have to work." She’d even use this line to explain why she didn’t reply to my texts.
Please note: This had not been her go-to response before I started staying home with my children — but suddenly it seemed like she considered us to be on different teams.
I wanted to shout at the top of my lungs, "I have four children I raise alone. There isn't a day I don't work! You have only two children and a support system — stop your complaining!"
The problem is that because I feared I was being perceived as a lazy "stay-at-home mom," my own instinct was to shame her back. Unfortunately, I felt I needed to make her wrong to make myself right.
2. "You should be breastfeeding."
Having nursed all four of my children, I initially couldn't wrap my mind around why a mother wouldn't choose to breastfeed. Breastfeeding was important to me since research shows it's nutritionally beneficial to the baby, and I believed it would help with bonding. I breastfed even while working and going to school.
But in my arrogance, I also took for granted the fact that I had support in my decision to breastfeed from family, employers, professors, and a doctor.
I'd later learn that, just as many people live in food deserts and don't have access to organic or nutritious food, many women haven't been exposed to breastfeeding education and support from family members or their workplaces. There's no reason to judge those who don't make the same choice.
3. "You just let him run around like that?"
I was 21 when another woman at church scolded me for allowing my 7-month-old son to make a suction noise on my shoulder.
"He knows better,” she insisted. “You can spank him."
I didn't know what to say. I felt so guilt-ridden that I ended up verbally agreeing with her — even though I knew in my heart he was too young to know better.
That day, I parented out of a place of shame, based solely on the opinion of another person. Unfortunately, it wouldn't be the last time.
As I grow as a mother, I'm realizing discipline is a delicate dance of healthy boundaries and clear expectations.
There are numerous philosophies and traditions around disciplining children. Of course, if parents are being overtly abusive or negligent, that’s a problem. But otherwise, there are many ways to parent the “right” way.
4. "You bought her what?!"
Personally, I don't believe first-graders need iPhones. And I'm happy my mother insisted that I get a job when I turned 16. But I also believe I would have turned out okay had I not worked but instead focused only on school and extracurricular activities.
So if a parent wants to purchase an iPad for his or her toddler, that's yet another personal choice.
What matters most are the life lessons that can be taught at all income levels: Earning, saving, and giving.
5. "I guess that's why she turned out that way."
Yikes! I don't yet have adult children, but it never fails to amaze me how moms blame other moms for every less-than-desirable outcome in the life of a respective adult child.
I can’t tell you how many times I’ve heard people say that a child would have turned out better if only mom had done x — whether that was not working and staying at home, working and allowing a child greater socialization, or not raising the child alone.
Everyone has her own journey. All any mom can do is her best.
How We Can Change the Conversation
While I've both received and given my fair share of mom blaming, I'm convinced it doesn't have to be this way. I know moms can show one another the grace and compassion we so desperately need to walk out this calling.
Here are three ways I'm learning to shame less and encourage more.
1. Parent from a place of peace.
The more acceptance you have in your own parenting, the less likely you are to criticize another parent.
Mothering can be overwhelming, but it can also be a journey of joy and healing. Whenever possible, slow down and check in with you gut feelings about your interactions with your children. If you don't have peace about something, don’t say it. For example, if you're exhausted and stressed, do your best to keep criticisms to a minimum.
If you behave in ways that don’t make you proud, forgive yourself and live to mother another day.
2. Ask yourself important questions.
If someone says something you deem hurtful or judgmental, take a second and ask yourself these questions:
- "Why does this hurt me?"
- "Is it true?"
- "Do I believe it's true?"
- "Why do I feel shamed?"
- “Why do I think the other person said that?”
I find that when I have an emotional or knee-jerk response to an incident, it's usually something deeper inside me that's contributing to my response. These questions help me explore the root of my own reactions.
3. Give advice only when you’re asked.
My mom would often say, "The best advice is asked for." This is true. Earn the right to speak about someone's life — and even then, do so with care.
The calling of mothering is not an easy one. We ought to love and support each other through it!
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