When my son was born, I considered myself to be a pretty prepared new mother. I was prepared to breastfeed and I was prepared for the inevitable exhaustion (kind of) and I was prepared to co-parent with my partner, even though we didn't see eye-to-eye on absolutely everything. I wasn't, however, prepared for the mommy wars that, no matter how hard I tried, I couldn't seem to bypass. Shame and judgment for the decisions I was or would eventually make was unavoidable, and I wish I knew the rules every new mom needs for surviving the mommy wars, before I was toe-to-toe with the first mom that chose to shame me.
It wasn't necessarily the worst scenario, in the big scheme of things. Honestly, I've been shamed for worse. My newborn and my cat weren't getting along, and my cat was scratching my son on a regular basis that I just wasn't comfortable with. My first reaction, after trying to simply keep them separate, was to find my cat a new, loving home. A seasoned mom-friend didn't think that choice was appropriate, and proceeded to shame me online. I was so shocked and so taken aback that I didn't know what to do, and ended up feeling like a horrible parent and a horrible pet owner. Why wasn't my son getting along with my cat the way her sons got along with her cats? What am I doing wrong? Can I even be a good mother, if I can't even deal with a small child/cat altercation?
It turns out, yes, I can still be a good mother and no, I wasn't doing anything wrong. Sometimes the need for validation that (I think) every mother has manifests into a need to shame and judge someone else. Thankfully, I made it through my first mommy-war-type scenario and ended up creating my own rules for surviving the additional moments that were sure to come. If you're a new mom worried about how you'll make it through, just follow these simple steps and, I assure you, you'll be a-okay.
Rule #1: Realize That Everyone Feels Insecure
Because every mother is trying her best (and trying to deal with the social pressures our culture puts on mothers) we're all insecure. I mean, we might be steadfast in our choices and decisions, but there's that tiny voice whispering in all of our collective ears, telling us that we're a step away from screwing our children up in a very specific way. That insecurity and that fear can, well, leave many a mother attacking people who do things differently.
Rule #2: Remember That The Mom Shaming You Is Probably Looking For Validation
At the end of the day, we all want to know that we're doing a good job. We all want to hear that we're good parents and that our children are safe and happy and healthy because of the many choices we make on a daily basis. Sometimes, that need for validation morphs into shame an judgment, because seeing someone do something differently (and doing it well) can leave us questioning our own methods and whether or not they truly are the way to go.
Rule #3: Remind Yourself That You Don't Need To Keep Toxic People Around
If someone is constantly questioning you and judging you and shaming you, tell them to exit stage right from your life. Everyone deserves to be supported and respected, especially a new mother who is navigating a gigantic life change while simultaneously sore and exhausted and probably even a little scared. People come in and out of our lives all the time, and their exit isn't indicitive of how much they once mattered to us or cared about us; it just means that they've changed and you've changed and there's no reason to keep them around.
Rule #4: Remove Yourself From The Situation (If You Can)
If this is happening in public, don't be afraid to get up and walk away. You don't have to subject yourself to someone else's rants or raves or judgments. Enduring someone's shame is not a prerequisite to becoming a strong or courageous mother, so don't feel like you have to sit there and listen to someone tell you you're doing something wrong out of some misplaced sense of kindness. Trust me, if someone is openly shaming and judging you, kindness went out the window a while ago.
Rule #5: Call On Someone To Come Support/Defend You (If You Can)
You're not alone in parenthood (even if you're a single parent, as I'm hoping you have a support system) and you shouldn't ever be alone when the mommy wears inevitably attempt to chew you up and spit you out. If you have a parenting partner, call on them to assist you or defend you or simply help you leave the situation. You shouldn't feel like you're the only one being attacked because, well, you're probably not the only one making the parenting decisions.
Rule #6: If You're Online, Log Off
If it's online (which, you know, it usually is) log off. Don't feel like you have to stay and defend your choices with a few angered clicks of a keyboard. You don't owe anyone and explanation, especially some internet stranger who finds solace behind the anonymity of a computer screen. Simply log off and go spend time with your family and the people who know you and love you and matter most to you.
Rule #7: Don't Be Afraid To Re-Evaluate Your Parenting Decisions
It can be difficult, but it's also no the worst thing to take this opportunity to truly evaluate your parenting choices. It can be humbling and if it makes you feel mentally exhausted, I don't think you should; but if you can separate the mean things someone has said, from their probably semi-best intentions, you can actually make yourself better (if there is room to improve). After a mother shamed me for thinking about getting rid of our family cat (her and my newborn son were not getting along) I took the time to actually do more research and talk to other, nicer individuals, and come up with an alternative to saying goodbye to a pet I really did love and care for. Her judgment and shame ended up being beneficial, even if her delivery and overall demeanor were hurtful.
Rule #8: (The Hardest Rule) Try Not To Take It Personally
Easier said than done, trust me, I know, but if you can look at the probably reasons why someone is shaming you (they want validation and they're insecure and they're worried your way is better than their way) you might just be able to not take their judgment and shame personally. It might even roll off your back and not even remotely phase you which is, you know, the dream.
Rule #9: Take A Good Hard Look At Your Kid
Seriously, stop and look at them. See how happy they are? See how healthy and thriving and wonderful and smart and just all-around joyous they are? See how loved and cared for they are? How safe they are? Yeah, that's because of you. You are doing that, every single day, so who the hell cares what someone else thinks? Seriously, how could it even phase you when you look at that face and see them so smiley and peaceful and just, you know, perfect?
Rule #10: Remember That Your Kid (And You) Are Different Than Everyone Else
Your kid is different than any other kid and you are different than any other mom. You come from a different background and have had difference experiences and that background and your experiences have shaped who you are, which is vastly different than the person who is shaming you. Different isn't bad (regardless of what anyone says or thinks) so whatever it is you're doing that someone seems to have a problem with, isn't bad either.
Rule #11: Remind Yourself That Different Things Work For Different Kids And Parents
Breastfeeding might have worked great for someone, but might have been horrible or painful or damn near impossible for someone else. Having a drug-free labor for one woman may have been empowering and beautiful, but for another woman it could be excruciating and a trigger of a past trauma and, yes, even dangerous. Different things work for different people and there is no "right" way to parent, as long as you and the baby are happy and healthy and safe.
Rule #12: Remember, You're The Most Qualified Person To Say What's Best For Your Family
It doesn't matter if the person shaming you has been a mom for 20 years or a mom of way more children or has taught parenting classes or has a birth educator certificate or considers themselves to be an expert: no one is more qualified to be your kid's parent or make decisions for your kid, than you.
Rule #13: Remember How It Feels To Be Shamed, And Recall That Memory When You Think Of Doing It To Another Mom
This is, perhaps, the most important rule. It can be hard, because how likes feeling shitty, right? But if you can, try and remember how being judged and shamed made you feel. Remember how it sent you spiraling down a rabbit hole of self-doubt. How it made you question yourself or just feel attacked or just feel alone in your parenting choices. Then, remember all of those feelings when you think about shaming someone else, because I guarantee you, if more of us did this step, the mommy wars wouldn't be a thing.
Rule #14: Pour Yourself A Glass Of Wine, You've Survived And You Deserve It
Cheers, mom. You made it. I can't tell you that you won't be shamed or judged again, but I can tell you that it does get easier to handle. You did good, and you so deserve that large glass of wine waiting for you.