10 Ways to Deal with Mom-Shaming

How to cope with unwanted criticism of your parenting choices.

Posted Oct 17, 2017

Frank Flores/Unsplash
Source: Frank Flores/Unsplash

Who hasn’t had her child-rearing choices questioned—by family, friends, your spouse, or a stranger? Who in your circle is most judgmental?

As a parent, you are subject to comment on a host of parenting decisions: Whether you decide to breastfeed or not; to co-sleep or not, go back to work or stay home with your children, what you let your children eat for breakfast; how you discipline or dress them, the bedtime you set or the time you allow or don’t on “screens”…Often, the “advice” or “suggestion” is completely unsolicited and makes you feel guilty or uncertain.

On social media, even benign parenting practices are subject to criticism. Unlike the rest of us, celebrities are publicly “mom-shamed” more frequently on the Internet. Mariah Carey received a wave of criticism for posting a photo of her 4-year-old son still using a pacifier. Several stars, from Mila Kunis to Chrissy Tiegen to Maggie Gyllenhaal, have been targeted online for breastfeeding in public. Actress Olivia Wilde was berated for posting a picture kissing her young son on the lips.

A new poll finds a majority of American mothers are being judged, some on the Internet, some in person. The University of Michigan’s C.S. Mott Children’s Hospital conducted a national poll surveying 475 mothers of children aged 5 and younger. They were asked if they’ve ever had their parenting questioned.

Sixty-one percent responded that they have been criticized for their child-rearing decisions. The most common topic of criticism: Discipline. Seventy percent of criticized moms reported this. The second-most-cited denunciation concerned diet and nutrition; the third, sleep; the fourth, breast versus bottle-feeding, fifth, child safety, and sixth, childcare decisions.

Although sometimes the criticism is intended to be constructive, 62 percent of those sampled said they believe mothers receive “a lot of unhelpful advice from other people”; 56 percent said mothers “get too much blame and not enough credit for their children’s behavior.”

Family More Likely to Judge

According to the study, family members comprised the top three groups of “mom shamers.” The moms who felt criticized said their own parents (37 percent), co-parent (36 percent) and in-laws (31 percent) were the most frequent to pass judgment. “This may reflect the high volume of interactions with family members, or that mothers may interpret family criticism as an attack by those who should be more supportive,” the researchers noted.

Remarking on the stress and overwhelming choices of new parenthood, the study points out that 42 percent of the criticized mothers said the judgment “made them feel unsure about their parenting choices.” As a parent, you have the ultimate say—even if you’re conflicted about your choices.

10 Tips for Standing Up To Mom-Shaming

When it comes to standing up to those who judge you, it can be tricky to assert your parenting authority and keep conflicts at bay. Here are 10 insights and suggestions to help bolster you against those who believe they know what you should be doing and how to do it.

  1. Accept the fact that being a parent who is not judged, at least in some way, is probably unlikely. In other words, expect to be challenged so you won’t be surprised or caught off guard when it happens.
  2. Understand that judging and criticizing makes some people feel better. Your mother, for example, may assert herself only to feel involved.
  3. Keep ears perked for critics who dispatch information just to hear themselves talk—the know-it-alls.
  4. “Mom shaming” is often a cover for someone’s own insecurities or guilt about things they wish they had done differently. For some, who may have older kids, transmitting advice is a way to have a vicarious “do-over.”
  5. Stick with your supporters and reduce the time you spend with those who judge you—be they family or friends.
  6. Accept that some days you will feel as if you messed up. No one is perfect; almost all parents make mistakes (perceived or real) now and again.
  7. Use your sense of humor as armor against judgment. What your butting-in critics say may even become laughable in a year or two.
  8. Don’t be influenced by friends whose parenting looks seamless and easy—what you see especially online is often a smokescreen.
  9. What you take as judgment may be ignorance. Close family members may not know your history or why, for instance, you don’t breastfeed or have more children or why you discipline your children as you do.
  10. You know your child better than anyone else. Be confident about what you believe is best for your child and you, not what others believe—and say—you should be doing.

It is quite amazing that in spite of what others think mothers do “wrong,” most children turn out quite well.

Have you ever had your parenting decisions—big or small—questioned or criticized? Please share your experiences in the comment section.

Copyright @2017 by Susan Newman, Ph.D.

References

University of Michigan C.S. Mott Children’s Hospital. “Mom shaming or constructive criticism? Perspectives of mothers.” Ann Arbor, MI: Mott Reports, June 19, 2017. Volume 29 , Issue 3.