Hello, my name is Jamie, and I am a compulsive complimentor. I compliment the barista on her nail polish. I compliment the guy in the park on his tattoo. I compliment the supermarket cashier on the name that I read off her name tag. This is part me trying to spread happiness into the universe, and part me opening up lines of communication in a way that (hopefully) puts people at ease. I always try to choose my compliments carefully, but this is especially true when it comes to praising other moms, because they often receive compliments that are actually mom-shaming.
As anyone who has been a mother for about two seconds can tell you, we are on the receiving end of a never-ending cacophony of conflicting messages. Devote yourself entirely and completely to your children or we're going to consider you a selfish hag, but be sure to take time for yourself because if you don't you're not fulfilling your duties as a woman. Be proud of your career, but feel guilty every single second you're at work. Be sexy for your partner, but remember you're someone's mother now and being too sexy is inappropriate. Honestly? It's not all that much different from being a woman without children. If you're a woman, it's pretty hard to "win."
But because of the emphasis society places on motherhood (and, let's face it, the fact that even without society telling us what we should be doing, we are deeply and emotionally invested in our motherhood and the well-being of our little ones), the backhanded compliments we receive as mothers can often be the ones that sting the most. Here are just a few examples of compliments that are actually insults, because it at least helps to know when someone is shaming you (so you can quickly ignore them).
I'm Sure You'll Lose The Baby Weight In No Time. I Did!
This has the benefit of being both a backhanded compliment and a humble brag! Look, no one's body is required to look a certain way ever, much less after undergoing a massive physiological change. Assuming someone wants to lose the weight or implying that they should (this "compliment" does both) is absolutely shaming.
Is That A Glass Of Wine? Good For You! I Never Let Myself Drink When I Was Pregnant Because I Was Worried It Would Hurt The Baby.
Translation: "It's just that I care about my baby, you know? Like, because I'm a good mother who doesn't put her own selfish needs above those of her unborn child. Oh, yes, I'm sure your doctor said drinking a little wine while pregnant was safe. Of course! You would never do something unsafe, but for me, I just wasn't willing to take that risk, you know?"
Feel free to substitute literally anything for "wine." Sugar, caffeine, sushi, you name it.
Oh! That Name Sure Is Different!
Translation: "What a hideous name. Your kid is going to hate you someday."
You Look Great For Someone Who's Had Kids
Nothing really says, "I think you look like crap" quite like, "We have lowered the standards for acceptable appearance in order to accommodate your haggard ass so you don't feel bad." For real, everyone: actual compliments do not have qualifiers. See also, "You're really pretty for a black girl."
Good For You For Just Taking It Easy! I Drove Myself Crazy Going To The Gym Every Day.
Translation: "You let yourself go. I didn't because I have standards. But hey, I guess it must be nice to be lazy!" Bonus points if they talk about how healthy they feel after they work out.
Good For You For Pursuing Your Career After You've Had Kids. I Just Could Never Be Away From Mine.
Of all the things that have ever been said to me as a mother by other mothers, this is almost certainly the worst. Not only is it shaming and hurtful, but it also ignores the very real possibility that working isn't a choice for many people, at the very least not a practical one, as most American families have two working parents. "For me it's about priorities," someone once told me, to which I responded, "Yeah, a big priority for my family is eating and having a home."
I Wish I Could Be Laid Back Like You
Anyone who is saying this almost certainly doesn't mean it, but is trying to look for a passive aggressive way to let you know that she thinks you're too laid back. She is trying to tell you that she thinks your house isn't clean enough, or your kids are too rowdy, or you need to put more effort into your appearance.
Oh You're A Stay-At-Home-Mom? Respect. I Could Never Do That. My Brain Would Turn To Mush. I Need To Be Challenged.
This is one I've gotten a couple of times and I really just can't believe people can't hear themselves being offensive as they're saying it. Like, either you're saying my brain has turned to mush or you think I have no intellectual curiosity or ambition. Then I get all socialist revolutionary on them and go on (at length) about how there are ways to mentally stimulate oneself outside of capitalist structures (in my head, because I don't like actual confrontation).
It's So Nice How You Just Let Them Do Whatever They Want
Translation: "Your children are poorly behaved animals with bad manners."
You Look Great! I'm Not Used To Seeing You Dressed Up!
Translation: "Oh wow! You so often look like a frumpy mess that seeing you with so much as a little bit of lip gloss on is actually jarring. If you gussied yourself up just a little bit more, I would be sure to reward you with even more of these backhanded compliments in the future!"
I Wish I Had Time For Myself, But I'd Just Feel Too Guilty Taking Time Away From My Kids
I've honest-to-goodness heard this one, and even though I know it was an attempt at a humble-brag/shaming comment, all I could do was laugh maniacally in my head because what in the ever-loving hell? Really? I know that society really pushes the idea that mothers should be martyrs, so I can't entirely blame you for internalizing it, but are you honestly going to try to push it on other women?
But Your Baby Is So Cute! They Need A Sibling!
Stop. NO. No, no, no, no, no. If you want to see another adorable child in this world, have one yourself. Or adopt one. Do not, under any circumstances, pressure me or make me feel bad for not having more children than I am comfortable with, I don't care how cute you think my kids are. It's also sort of a sneaky, shaming thing to say because it's couching it in terms of, "This is what would be best for your child and if you don't do it you're selfish."
Oh Bless Your Heart, I Could Never Have [#] Kids
Because apparently you're going to be shamed for having too few kids or too many kids. Here's the kicker: everyone and their mother has a different idea of what "too few" or "too many" is. It's awesome.
You've Got Your Hands Full
Personally, I am not offended by this one (I have my own interpretation of how it's meant), but among my mom friends this is probably the single biggest complaint and I feel I would be doing a disservice to moms everywhere if I didn't include this in the list. "You've got your hands full" is taken to mean any or all of the following:
-You had too many kids
-Your kids are out of control
-You're handling your kids poorly
-You look awful
-I can tell you're having a hard time right now and I take pleasure in your suffering
-Get your shit together, woman
Society has ingrained in many of us that, like ballet or IG selfies, motherhood is meant to look beautiful and effortless. So, when someone comes up and lets us know that we are not conforming to that idea, it can be very hurtful.
So please, no matter how you intend these compliments, think twice about giving them.