Sadly, it took no time at all for me to experience mom-shaming; usually from other mothers who decided to birth differently or parent differently than I did and do. While some of the judgment was blatant and obvious and clearly intentional, there were other instances that weren't as clear-cut or apparent. As a new mom, you learn to recognize the secretly hurtful things all moms have said to other moms at some point and, if I'm being completely honest with myself (and you), there have been times when I have been unintentionally oblivious to the negative impact my words have had, too.
It's difficult to be completely aware of how everything you say impacts everyone you say it to, but it is worth the constant effort to remain vigilant and aware. Motherhood is difficult all on its own, without silent judgements and hidden hatefulness, packed into sentences and wrapped in conversations that would — at a quick glance — seem kind. Mothers owe it to one another, and themselves, to be conscious of all the secret ways we may be hurting one another so we, you know, don't.
If you've said the following things, don't beat yourself up. I can guarantee you, you're not alone. If these things have been said to you, I'm sorry. Try to remember that while your reaction is completely valid, the mom who said these things probably wasn't aware of just how hurtful she was being.
"I Don't Know How You Do It"
I think this phrase is used with the greatest of intentions. When a mom is working or caring for multiple children or taking her kids on vacations or keeping her house clean or doing one of a thousand things, she'll hear this question and it's usually said in awe. However, while the intention might have been good, it comes off as condescending. Working mothers work and parents with multiple children parent and mothers who take their children on vacation still vacation because, well, they just do. Continually asking them how they do it starts to sound a lot like, "Why do you do it?"
"I Can't Imagine Doing What You Do"
Again, probably said with great intentions but it sounds disdainful instead of supportive. The mother you said that too probably couldn't imagine exactly what her life would be like or how she would be living it either, but she is and so are you. We can't completely understand what another parent or mother or person is going through, so instead of saying something that seems somewhat patronizing, just listen as they talk through their day. That might actually make it easier to imagine doing what they do.
"Oh Yeah! My Kid Does That, Too."
Of course we all want to share stories about our children and their likes and dislikes and that super cute, completely adorable thing they did the other day. But sometimes that desire trumps common courtesy, and we don't allow other mothers the opportunity to do the same.
Cutting off another mom by saying, "Oh my child does the exact same thing and it's so wonderful and the other day they did this, this and this," is hurtful, rude and just plain unnecessary. Listen to other mothers and let them share stories because, no, it isn't always about your kid.
"Yeah, We Thought About Doing That But..."
I think it's wonderful when mothers can share their parenting choices in a non-judgmental environment. I think we can all learn from one another and benefit from one another's experiences, so sharing ideas and tactics and choices can be a great thing.
But when it is met with silently judgmental phrases like, "Yeah, we thought about doing that one parenting thing but decided to do the exact opposite," it sounds a lot like shaming. It's also just straight-up unnecessary to say, as I think it's more than obvious that every parent contemplates every parenting decision imaginable, before settling on whatever choice works best for them. So let's just all assume that we've all thought about all of the things that have to do with our child and the thinking never stops and we'll continue to think about parenting things until the end of time and space.
"You Don't Even Look Like You Had A Baby"
I just don't know what this means. Is there a certain way a mother should look? If a new mom doesn't fulfill that stereotype, is she less of a mother? If a mother does fulfill that stereotype, does that mean she doesn't care about anything other than parenting and has completely given up on caring for her appearance or some other equally offensive assumption?
Mothers come in all shapes and sizes and colors and while this phrase is said to compliment a woman's body, it is actually incredibly hurtful. There is no one way a mother does (or should) look and unless a woman is carrying around a child (and even that isn't a tell-tale sign) there is no way to look at her and know for sure that she is a mom.
I completely realize that this sentiment is said in an attempt to compliment a mom who is seemingly doing it all. However, this is nothing short of a hurtful statement (and one I have said more than once, unfortunately).
There's no such thing as a Superwoman, and saying a mom is when she is exhausted and doing more than one person should do in a single day and clearly not taking time for self care, is essentially perpetuating the unrealistic expectation that in order to be a "good mom," you must be a martyr. False.
"It Must Be Nice..."
In parenting (and life in general) I think it's best to assume that it's always nice and it always sucks. The grass is never greener and we all experience our own unique privileges and our unique disadvantages. To tell a mom, 'It must be nice," is to essentially tell her, "You're hard work doesn't matter as much as mine, because you have it easier than I do." You don't know that. There's no way for you to know that. Hard work is hard work, no matter how you slice it.