Motherhood can sometimes feel like a scene from the 2004 hit movie, “Mean Girls,” but instead of fighting over acne-covered boys, we’re fighting over snotty-nosed children.
Taking a tip from the movie’s Ms. Norbury, I’d like to ask you to raise a hand if you’ve ever felt personally victimized as a mother? If you did raise your hand, know that you’re not alone.
Researchers at C.S. Mott Children’s Hospital surveyed more than 450 moms and found nearly two-thirds felt shamed by another parent for their decisions. The respondents said discipline is the most frequent topic of criticism, while other common topics of criticism are diet/nutrition, sleep, breast- vs. bottle-feeding, safety and childcare. What’s more concerning is that 42% of criticized mothers said the shame made them feel unsure about their parenting choices.
“Maternal anxiety, if prolonged or pronounced, is a problem for both mother and child, and for mothers struggling with anxiety, one seemingly innocent comment can become a tipping point into potentially harmful uncertainty,” the report said.
I am a part of that group of mothers who have experienced shame. Most recently, I was criticized while returning from a family trip to Maui. My energetic, young children were running and stomping on an elevated barrier that made an echo sound in the airport. I asked them a few times to stop until another mother screamed from across the room, “You telling them to stop is more obnoxious than them stomping!” She proceeded to tell me she had compassion for my kids because they had me as a mother.
I’m still in shock as I write this. At the moment, I was speechless. OK, not exactly. I had a few (or a lot) of choice words for this woman. A mother of five (bless her) also stepped in to defend my effort to lower my kids’ volume.
(Channeling Ms. Norbury again, I’ll ask: Please raise your hand if you’ve ever had to repeat yourself or even raised your voice to get your kids to listen? I see a lot of hands up there. Please raise your hand if you have a kid with ADHD and find that repeating directions is effective? Still lots of hands up there. Thank you.)
Although the mom-shaming interaction settled within a few minutes, I was left uncomfortable during the rest of my vacation. My anxiety was high and I couldn’t wait to get home. This wasn’t how I expected to end our first big-since-COVID-started-vacation.
I couldn’t believe that I had just been publicly mom-shamed and bullied for simply asking my kids to stop stomping. Even worse, the mom-shaming happened in front of my children. (At home, I later spoke to my kids about bullies, how to deal with them and how I was standing up for myself against a bully.) If I didn’t address their running, stomping and loudness, I would have been criticized for not addressing it. Instead, at this moment, I was criticized for addressing it and even called an “obnoxious” parent.
I spoke with Lena Suarez-Angelino – a licensed clinical social worker and empowerment coach – who specializes in maternal mental health, shaming, bullying, self-esteem, confidence, and anxiety. Here are her tips on how moms can deal with shaming or bullying.
First, here’s what you can do if you ever feel mom-shamed or bullied:
- Be your own best friend: Being mom-shamed or bullied can happen online, at school events, and even in the workplace or at local mom meetups. When you’re feeling mom-shamed or bullied, take a break. Put down the phone, pause and walk away from the conversation, and allow yourself time to reflect and get grounded. In these moments, you need to be your very own best friend.
- Reflect on the incident: Once you’ve distanced yourself from whatever is triggering the feeling of being mom-shamed or bullied, reflect on what happened. Try your best to think objectively about what they were saying to you and why it felt like mom-shaming or bullying. Next, look for any “truths” in the statements that you have identified. Determine whether these statements are just really strong opinions, rather than concerns for the safety and well-being of you and/or your family. Dismiss anything that is identified as strictly the opinion of someone else rather than a safety concern.
- Think positively: Remind yourself how much you try as a mom. Use positive self-talk to provide love and reassurance to remind yourself that you are not a bad mom. You are not a failure to yourself or to your kids. You are worthy.
- Respond to the shamer: Depending on what is being said, a simple “Thank you for your input” would suffice with the intention that you are not engaging back and forth on why their shaming and/or bullying is justified. Following a similar concept, you could try thanking them for their time and sharing their opinion and acknowledging that parents only want what’s best for their children. You could also add a statement reminding the shamer/bully that all children are different and what works for one child, may not work for other children, and that is perfectly OK.
Here’s how you can stop yourself from being the bully:
- Be mindful of what you’re sharing with others, especially online, as it is almost always an open invitation for unsolicited opinions. This doesn’t mean that everything has to be “picture perfect” but also know that people are quick to judge and share their thoughts without a filter or consideration of how this could be received.
- Moms can also prevent mom-shaming or bullying by asking questions out of genuine curiosity, making it clear that it is not intended to be taken as criticism or ridicule.
- Lastly, the prevention of mom-shaming or bullying relies on people keeping their opinions to themselves and asking permission to share their opinion or concerns privately rather than in public, which significantly reduces the risk of embarrassment.
Finally, if you have been personally victimized and have difficulty coping with the criticism or its effects, look to your support group.
“Observe the people that are in your corner cheering you on and share how you’re feeling from being mom-shamed,” Suarez-Angelino said. “Depending on the type of relationship you have with them, you can ask to just vent or an ear to listen rather than expecting to arrive at a solution or receive advice.”
If the negative effects linger or lead to other challenges in your life, talk to your primary care provider for resources that can help.
If you are a mother, or parent, reading this, I hope you will join me in making a concerted effort to avoid judging others and stand up for any mothers who are being shamed. After all, at the end of the day, we all have the same goal: To be a good mom who raises a good human.
San Diego Moms is published every Saturday. Have a story idea? Email email@example.com and follow her on Instagram at @hoawritessd.