I have the good fortune of being a part time stay-at-home-mom, so my 2-year old son and I occasionally used to go to a public drop-in centre in our neighbourhood. The other attendees varied: Mostly home daycare providers, some moms, the odd grandparent, and even a rare dad sighting here and there! On one of our visits, a staff member suddenly pulled me aside. Apparently, another woman had been complaining – to staff and any other person who would listen – about my giving my son a snack at 11:30 am because all the other kids eat a snack at 10:30 am. My son and I would usually show up at 11.
I was flabbergasted. It might be the oddest thing I’ve encountered anyone to become upset over, and that’s saying a lot as a therapist. If these children were still nursing, would she have said “Well we all nurse together at 10:30 am, so why are you nursing at 11:30?” It wasn’t so much her personal preference as it was her public complaint and whispering that had me incensed.
The incident inspired me to write about the rising frequency of women blaming, shaming, and complaining about other women. In particular, other moms. The current zeitgeist seems to be a culture where mothers feel compelled or entitled to discredit, disgrace, and in some cases downright degrade other mothers, a phenomenon known as “Mom Shaming” (or M-aming as I like to call it).
Maming can include criticizing, undermining, left-handed compliments, giving unsolicited advice, dubious facial expressions, or general negativity that is aimed (directly or indirectly) at another mother regarding her parenting choices, approach to motherhood, or herself. And let’s face it: You’ve already done it, and so have I. At some point we’ve all judged another mom about something, whether it was to their face, online, or through idle gossip. When did parenting suddenly become a competitive sport? It seems so many are trying so darn hard to be the best parent they can be. The trouble is they’re doing it by trying to be better than all the others.
In my experiences, here are some of the most prevalent Mom Shaming trends that have got to stop:
1. Pregnancy Weight. I remember being at a baby shower and remarking to the lady of the hour how much smaller her bump was than mine when I was the same number of months along. My intentions were good. I meant for it to be a compliment (because so many had remarked how “huge” I was when expecting, to my chagrin) but she appeared slightly uncomfortable. There was no need for the comparison. There was no need for a quantitative remark at all. I said it thinking she would feel nice, as at 6 months along in my own first pregnancy, while standing in line at Starbucks with my husband, a woman standing behind us asked how far along I was. She then proceeded to declare in a loud voice for all to hear how big I was for 6 months, and that I looked like I was ready to deliver right then and there! Bottom line: Unless you’ve been asked or are a healthcare professional whose services have been retained, it is not appropriate to comment on a woman’s size or weight, during or after pregnancy.
2. Breastfeeding. This is a big one. I remember walking into a monthly get-together with colleagues when one of them - who I see a couple of times a year at best - asked me if I was still nursing. I answered “No” (my son stopped on his own at 10 months). She responded with “Oh no, you stopped so soon? How terrible!” with a crestfallen look. There are far too many exaggerations of the benefits of breastfeeding. There certainly are some scientifically proven benefits to doing it, but they will hardly separate ‘winners’ from ‘losers’ in life. I am grateful I was able to breastfeed. But it’s easy to forget that some women have a hard time getting into it (also me), and that still others can’t breastfeed at all. When my son was a few weeks old I met another new mother in our neighbourhood. She told me she could never breastfeed no matter how hard she had tried. She was literally in tears as she spoke. You never know what another mother’s reason is for not breastfeeding. Maybe she didn’t produce enough milk, maybe her baby refused to latch, maybe she had surgery. Or maybe…she just doesn’t want to. She’s still doing her best, so just support her. (Incidentally, I was mostly formula-fed as an infant and I think I turned out pretty damn great). Enough with the “Formula kills; breast is best” preaching!
3. Baby Gear. Babies need a lot more stuff these days than babies of past. From the right seats and strollers to blankets and bottles, we’ve come a long way in our understanding of safety and maximizing baby’s wellbeing. But it has gotten to be a bit much. When my son was 12 months, we were sitting with an acquaintance of mine for coffee. She suddenly informed me the bottles I was using were wrong. Apparently I should have upgraded them to incorporate ‘fast flow’ nipples long ago, so he could learn to drink faster. She openly chastised me and advised me to get new nipples as quickly as possible. In the wake of this nipple emergency, she may or may not have had a point. But we need to remember to mind our own business - at certain times if not all times - and to be aware of the fact that at the end of the day, babies really don’t need much in order to live well and prosper.
4. Working Moms vs. Stay-At-Home Moms. This is a battle as old as time, and one in which there never seems to be an ending where women can win. If a mother works, she is criticized by non-working mothers for neglecting her children, putting herself and her career ahead of her family, and generally not being a “good” mom. If a mother stays at home full-time with her children, she is criticized by working mothers for being lazy, less intelligent, and out of touch with the real world. When the heck did we forget to support a woman’s right to choose? Isn’t that the very basis of feminism in its truest form? Whatever makes a woman happy is what makes her happy. Period. Whether it’s work, domestic bliss, or some combination of both. Choosing one or the other does not make someone a better mother or a better human being. Some women have the luxury of staying home, or have no choice, and should not be faulted for that. Others willingly choose to work, or have no choice, and should not be condemned for having other sources of identity and fulfillment outside of children and family.
I think what we all need to remember here is that almost every mother – certainly every mother I have come across – is doing her best to raise her children as happy and healthy beings. I am reminded of a meme that went around on social media, where 5 or so different “parent packs” all enter the same park with their kids. There were the “working moms”, the “feeding moms”, the “soccer moms”, etc. Just as they are all rolling up their sleeves bracing themselves for an impending parental park brawl, a stroller slips out of a pair of hands, rolls away and down a hill. Without a second thought, every single mother turned and chased the stroller until they caught it and baby - safe and sound inside – after which they express their shared relief in unison. And all was well in the world.
We need to do more of that! Focus on what we have in common with one another and agree on, instead of what is different. Stop the shaming, the wounding and maming, and start ‘saming!’ Because at the end of the day, we all want the same thing: Healthy, happy, and independent children.
Who don’t live in our basements at the age of 30.
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