When I first found out I was pregnant, I looked forward to the days ahead when I would make new mom friends. I imagined us reveling in the elasticity of our yoga pants and laughing at the shit our kids would say or do, convinced I was joining a special club of solidarity; a sisterhood; a tribe. Unfortunately, it didn't take long to realize that my new "tribe" wasn't all it was cracked up to be. I started noticing all of the ridiculous things moms shame other moms for, and realized that while I would find some wonderful mothers to share my parenting journey with, I would also be spending a significant amount of my time either defending my choices in the face of judgement, or choosing to ignore mothers who shamed me for my parenting decisions.
Who even knew that mom-on-mom bullying was a thing? Certainly, before I became a mom myself, not me. Alas, mom shaming is an unfortunate, yet somewhat significant page in the book of motherhood that almost every mother has experienced, in one form or another. I am lucky enough to have found a supportive group of mom friends, but I wasn't always so fortunate, especially in the beginning. There were times during my first weeks and months as a mother, when I was ridiculed or judged or questioned or even shamed for some of my parenting decisions. I'm all for becoming a better parent and gaining new knowledge, but some of the rude and blatantly judgmental comments I received were never intended to better me as a mother; they were intended to sting, to point scornful fingers, and to make me feel like I was wrong or ignorant or misinformed. Honestly, those comments had a way of making me feel like I was an unfit mother, even though (rationally) I knew I wasn't. Shame can be a powerful thing, people.
Unfortunately, I wasn't the first mom to be shamed by other moms, and I most certainly won't be the last mom, either. I can, however, prepare new moms for the road ahead, because believe it or not, when you know what you're potentially walking into, the shame and judgement is somehow easier to handle. Sometimes.
I hated breastfeeding. I tried and tried and tried to be successfully at it, but I simply couldn't. It just never clicked with me or either of my sons, so at an early age they were both given formula. Although breastfeeding wasn't for me, I always have and always will continue to support moms that breastfeed, so it would be nice to receive the same in return. And while many of my breastfeeding friends have supported me without question when it came to my decision to bottle feed my sons, others made me feel like I had "given up" or "quit" or like I had somehow failed my sons.
On the other hand, some women are amazing at breastfeeding and choose to do so for an extended period of time. Unfortunately, our culture has yet to completely desexualize the act of breastfeeding, so when a woman chooses extended breastfeeding, people say some ridiculous things to her; things that are judgmental; things that are gross; things that shame the mom for making a choice that clearly works best for her and her child. Women who practice extended breastfeeding take just as much heat as women who never breastfeed in the first place. The world is garbage and makes no sense whatsoever.
Whether you are pro-vaccinating your children, or consider yourself to be somewhat on the fence, there is no denying the list of deadly diseases that vaccines prevent your child from catching. Vaccinations exist for a reason, and though there still may be speculation as to whether or not vaccines are linked to autism in children, most of the evidence points to vaccines being safe and extremely beneficial in protecting children from diseases. Many anti-vaxers are avid in their beliefs, but women who choose to vaccinate their children shouldn't be shamed for having different opinions or doing what they believe will protect their children (mostly because, well, it does).
As a woman who has worked outside of the home for the majority of my children's lives, I have faced more than my fair share of questions pertaining to the guilt others assume I must feel because I've left my children with capable and trustworthy caregivers while I sought employment outside of the home. While, yes, I do miss my kids sometimes while at work, I am capable of producing thoughts outside the realm of diaper-changing and story-telling. I love my kids, but I also love my career, and choosing to love both doesn't deduct from my maternal or professional aptitude.
We just can't win, can we? If we work, we're told that we should feel guilty, but if we stay at home, people assume that we're just chilling out in our pajamas, drinking wine, and watching reruns of Grey's Anatomy all day while our kids just fend for themselves. No one truly understands the struggle of stay-at-home moms until they, themselves, have been elbows deep in a pit of tiny toys and dirty diapers. It isn't a glorious job title, and rarely does it ever garnish the praise or admiration that it deserves.
There's more than just one way to become a mom, some of which don't involve giving birth at all, so we need to stop telling women that their birth wasn't natural if they didn't have a drug-free, vaginal delivery. Whether you chose to use drugs or not; whether you had a scheduled or emergency c-section; whether you adopted or went through IVF or used a surrogate, the way in which your child was brought into the world shouldn't matter to anyone other than you.
If women lose their "baby weight" too quickly, their health is questioned, but if they don't lose it in a timely enough manner, or never at all for that matter, it's assumed that they're unhealthy or that they've "let themselves go." Neither assumption is fair. How about instead of critiquing every square inch of a woman's body, we just give it a standing ovation for the amazing things that it did (i.e. growing and birthing a human)? Women's bodies come in many varying shapes and sizes, none of which should be considered "ideal" or "perfect" or "normal." They're all beautiful and wonderful and completely awesome, so let's stop calling them anything other than that, OK?
Sometimes kids are happy and cute and friendly, and sometimes they're sad and sleepy and cranky. Kids are emotionally unstable, but so are some adults, so when you see a child throwing a fit in the juice aisle of some overcrowded grocery store, try to remember that it's not fair to judge a mother (or a child) by one singular and fleeting moment of disturbance within an entire day full of better ones.
"Co-sleeping spoils children." "Sleep-training is cruel and damaging." Is there a middle ground here that everyone agrees on? How about, "Every child has different needs, and every parent does their best to meet them accordingly?" Ahh, much better.
There are so many different ways to be a good parent. What works for one family may not work for another, and visa versa. No one should be judged for just trying to do what they feel is best for their children. We've all got the same goals in mind, but we take many different roads to get there. How someone else decides to parent their child has no affect on how you are able to parent yours.
We're all on the same team here, so isn't it about time that we stop shaming and start supporting?