My first experience with unapologetic judgement and shame came around my kid's second Christmas, when we took him for another round of pictures with Santa. Another mother and somewhat of an acquaintance used social media to shame my decision for letting my kid sit on a stranger's lap, and in that moment I realized what it was like to be judged and shamed for a decision that, honestly, didn't affect anyone but my immediate family. What I didn't realize was how shaming moms actually hurts kids; not until I found myself sitting on my couch crying, feeling like a horrible mother who was screwing up her child, only to have my son come up to me and hug me with the absolute saddest look on his face. He saw that his mother was hurting and, well, he was starting to hurt, too.
When the collective "we" talk about the "mommy wars" and shaming moms, we tend to focus on how it affects mothers. Seems fair, as it can be extremely detrimental and relentlessly hurtful and, well, anything but fun. However, I think it's worth our time to focus on what happens to children when they either see their mother being judged and shamed, or see their mother judging and shaming someone else. Kids learn by watching our actions and listening to our words, and not necessarily the actions and words we direct towards them. They're constantly watching and examining how we interact with the world around us, which will no doubt shape how they end up interacting with the world they'll one day face on their own.
If we want to teach our children that judging and shaming people isn't acceptable, we can't turn around and judge and shame moms. Not only do we hurt a mother that is probably (read: definitely) just trying to do her best, we unknowingly hurt the kids around us. Here are just a few ways how:
That Mom Might Start Doubting Herself...
I consider myself a pretty confident individual, but when someone shames me for my parenting choices, that confidence starts to dwindle. At the end of the day, I want to do what is best for my kid, so someone's judgement and eyebrow raising (sometimes) sends me down a rabbit hole of self-doubt. I start wondering if I really am doing the right thing for my kid. Do I, his mother, truly know what's best? Could someone else (usually a stranger on the internet) really know something I don't when it comes to my son? I can find myself feeling pretty damn awful about myself, which is basically the last thing any mother needs to feel.
...And Change Her Mind About Decisions That Were Actually Beneficial
During the first few months of my son's life, my partner and I received some pretty judgmental comments about our choice to co-sleep. We started second guessing ourselves and, unfortunately, decided to try and put our son in his crib. It didn't work, like, at all. He didn't sleep as well as he did when he was in bed with us and I couldn't sleep, even when my son was, because he wasn't next to me and I was worried he wasn't breathing and, well, you get the idea. We had made the best choice for us, but let someone's judgement change our minds and those few days of going back on a decision we had already made were taxing, difficult and, well, unnecessary.
Kids Know When A Mother Is Upset...
My son has this uncanny ability to tell when I am upset or frustrated or stressed out or sad. He just, well, knows. I can see how my mood affects his, so I think it's important that mothers do what they can to make sure they're OK, first and foremost. When a mother is feeling attacked or shamed, trust me, the kid is feeling attacked or shamed, too.
...And Can Mimic Those Feelings/Emotions
I've watched my son become upset, just because I am upset. I have seen him act out because I am stressed out. Kids feed off of their parents and their environment. I don't want my stresses to end up burdening my son, so I'm constantly trying to ignore any shame or judgement thrown my way. Of course, easier said than done.
A Kid Might Start To Think It's OK To Shame Their Mom, Too...
If a kid sees someone shaming their parent, they might think it's acceptable to second guess their parent's decision, too. "Hey, that random stranger thought it was OK to tell my mother she did something wrong, so why can't I?"
Or Shame Someone Else's Mom For Doing Something Different
And, of course, if your kid watches you shaming or judging another mother, they'll probably start to think that it's perfectly OK to shame and judge others for the decisions they make. If they see a kid doing something different or a parent making a juxtaposing choice, they might feel entitled and/or better than those individuals. I don't know about you, but that's not something I want my kid to learn.
Kids Need To Learn Tolerance...
One of my main goals as a parent is to teach tolerance and acceptance to my kid. I want him to be aware that differences are not "bad" and someone else's choices are just that: theirs. I can't do that if I am shaming and judging other women for making choices that differ from my own.
...And That There's No One "Right Way" To Do Things
Just because my son and/or myself decide to do something one way, doesn't mean someone else's way is wrong or bad. There's no way of knowing someone's history or backstory or what goes on in their house or the endless list of experiences that shape their decision making. Everyone is different, which means different choices and decisions are a necessity. I want my son to know that, so that he can be a more inclusive and accepting individual.
Kids Are Happiest When Their Parents Are Happy
My son is at his happiest when his mother and father are happy. Sure, a random toy Elmo will do the trick every now and then, but my son definitely smiles his biggest smile when his parents are doing the same. I know that I am often at my lowest, when I am shamed and judged for the decisions I make as a parent and, well, that definitely affects my son's happiness.
Teaching Inclusion Means Refusing To Shame Mothers In Front Of Your Kid
It's honestly that simple, and yet shaming mothers and their decisions continues to be an ongoing problem. We can't expect to teach our children to value other people's decisions or choices or beliefs, if we refuse to do so ourselves. We can't hope for a more diverse world, if we criticize a choice that differs from our own.