If you’re a mom or have ever been pregnant, you’ve probably been mom shamed. It happens far too often, and unfortunately it's often from other moms. It’s frustrating because moms should be lifting each other up and empowering each other as women, not actively belittling, judging, or putting down. But what can you do to end this awful cycle other than vow not to do it yourself? Call it out. Check out these seven real-life scenarios from moms and ways to call out mom shaming, according to an expert who knows.
Psychotherapist, author of My Self, and owner of Serendipitous Psychotherapy LLC, Kelley Rompza Kitley, tells Romper that in her experience and expert opinion, the best way to call out mom shaming is to use a direct, honest, and empathic approach without getting into a power struggle with the other person. (Easier said than done.)
So how do you know if you’re being mom shamed? Kitley defines mom shaming as “judgmental thoughts and behaviors — including gossip — toward another mom(s) and the way she may or may not choose to do something in regard to her children or relationships.”
Let’s face it, nobody parents 100 percent the same way, and we all have differing opinions on the way to go about doing things. If your kid is safe and not in danger, you're doing OK. Instead of feeling the need to shame others, we should focus on pulling each other up and creating a support system for all of us moms. And sometimes? That means calling out the shaming.
“If we don’t call out [mom shaming] then it becomes normalized and the cycle doesn’t get broken," Kitley says. "Negativity feeds off of negativity, and oftentimes it's a way people attempt to connect."
Instead of negative though, why not focus on the positive? Kitley points out, "You’ll certainly earn a reputation for not being the mom who gossips and people will be more mindful of not saying anything in front of you if they choose to carry on with mom shaming."
“You will set a good example for other moms to know the behavior is not OK and in the future, might help moms think and pause before they say something" she adds. "Most likely they will feel ‘shameful’ about engaging in mom shaming. It will also send the message that moms will know you have their backs.”
With social media and our constant exposure to our peers, mom shaming seems to be even worse than ever before. “There is constant exposure into everyone’s life, whether it’s real or fake and everyone has a different opinion about core values and raising children,” Kitley says.
What if you're feeling a little judgmental yourself? Kitley suggests that you try to redirect your thoughts. “We are not responsible for our first automatic thought, but we are responsible for how we treat other people and what we say. Sometimes not saying anything at all — especially in mom culture — is much more powerful then joining the group norm,” she says.
I provided Kitley with seven situations where real moms experienced mom shaming, and Kitley offered her advice on how to be direct and honest to try to correct and diffuse the situations.
1. The One Where Your Mom Gets Judgmental
One mom tells Romper, "I let my kid eat Lucky Charms in front of my mom once, and my mom picked out the marshmallows and told my 6-year-old they weren't healthy." When this happened, it made her 6-year-old daughter really insecure about her body. She wants her kid to learn she can have anything in moderation. The mom herself was deprived from food like that all her life, and she started to binge on foods in college because of it. She'd exercise so people would see she was trying, but when she was alone, she'd binge eat.
"This is a huge trigger as it brings up so much from the past and her own relationship with her mother," Kitley says. "It’s important to remind ourselves that our parents did the best they could with the tools they had and most likely had our best interest in mind. A suggested response to say when this comes up again could be, 'In our household, we practice moderation and have permission to eat all types of food, so we’re going to leave those marshmallows right where they are.'"
2. The One Where Strangers Are Just So Concerned
"I get constant comments about where my toddler's socks are when she takes them off at the store," another mom tells Romper. This mom's daughter loves to take off her socks — because she's a toddler. Every time they go out somewhere and her socks are missing, someone asks where her socks are. The mom says it's low-key, but it makes her feel terrible, and she wants to yell, "Her feet are fine!" But she ends up mumbling and ducking away.
"Everybody has an opinion," Kitley says." And it would be nicer if they kept it to themselves. It’s not like you are wearing a sign that says, 'please critique my child.' No need to mumble and duck. Make eye contact and politely say, 'Thanks for your concern, but we’re all good.' She might think twice before making another mom feel terrible."
3. The One Where You're Shamed For Formula Feeding
According to one mom, she "got schooled on chemicals from my Sam's Club haul when I posted it on Facebook, including how bad formula feeding is." Her cart had formula, 5-Hour Energy, and wine, so she humorously posted the photo with the caption, "This is my 'ife now" on Facebook. An old coworker started talking about all the chemicals in her cart and it really hurt this mom's feelings because she was struggling with postpartum depression and anxiety already, and she had to stop breastfeeding because of it. The mom acknowledges to Romper that the old coworker didn't know any of that, but she felt like it shouldn't matter because her kid was eating.
"This is infuriating. Sometimes we just need to put our imaginary blinders on or picture ourselves wrapped in saran wrap so nothing sticks," Kitley says. She adds there is no need to respond to this one, "but positive self talk and cognitive restructuring is so important."
She suggests getting back to the basics to yourself: "Is my child fed? Yes. Are they being cared for? Yes. I am a good mom whether I choose to nurse or formula feed. Even if 100 people validated you and your choices, we hang on to the one person who said something to offend us. Acknowledge that and let it go."
4. The One Where Everyone Thinks Your Kid's Screen Time Is Their Issue
"While grocery shopping and ready to pop with my second child, I got shamed for giving my screaming toddler my phone to watch YouTube Kids so I could finish grocery shopping and stop feeling so frustrated," another mom tells Romper. After her son immediately quieted down, an older lady in the next aisle said, "Oh, all these kids playing on phones — it's such a shame." The mom said, "Well, it's either this or we listen to him screaming."
Kitley says she loves this response and also suggested that someone could use humor and say, "I know... kids these days, right? But it seems to work for us."
5. The One Where People Are Pearl-Clutchy About Your Words
"Someone on Facebook didn't like me sharing a photo of my son and calling him a pre-existing condition because he was a c-section baby," a mom tells Romper. "I was making the point that since we both have pre-existing conditions, our health care could be more expensive for the rest of our lives and how wrong that was." The mom-shamer on Facebook commented and said this mom was using her child as a political tool and "how dare she." The mom responded that she would stop using him as a political tool when the government stopped using him as one.
"It’s best not to give any attention to the negativity on social media —it’s not the most clear form of communication. Delete anyone who isn’t supportive and block them," Kitley suggests.
6. The One Where They Comment On Your Kid's Weight
"I was at my son's baseball game and one of the other moms said to me, 'Oh, I didn't know the little chunky kid was yours,'" one mom shares to Romper. Um, what?
Kitley says, "I can't even with some of these things. This is why I believe it ought to be a prerequisite in life to engage in at least one year of psychotherapy. We’d all be more insightful and empathic and not say stupid stuff like this that is very offensive."
Kitley suggests a very straightforward and direct approach for something like this situation. "Please don’t body shame by son, I found that to be very offensive."
7. The One Where The Doctor Shames You
"My son was fat-shamed at an ENT appointment discussing his tonsils and was told he needed fat camp," another mom shares. Apparently this ENT asked her in front of her 5-year-old if he drank a lot of juice, and suggested a summer camp where he could learn to "be more active."
"Using a direct approach with a professional such as a doctor can take a lot of courage to address because of the power differentiation, however, that makes it even more important. A doctor's role needs to be empathic and the language used can make a huge impact. We need to protect our children and be role models," Kitley says. "[Doctors] are constantly observing us and how we handle situations. We can't control other people's words or behaviors, but we play a huge part in how we respond. Be honest and open and say exactly what you thought. Tell the doctor your son doesn't drink any juice and he is genetically a bigger kid. And that you are a healthy family."
Bottom line? Mom shaming needs to stop. We are all just trying to get by and are trying to raise healthy, happy humans the best way we can. It doesn't make you wrong because you parent differently than someone else. If you are being mom shamed, feel free to call that mess out. Be direct, honest, and empathic without getting into a power struggle.
Check out Romper's new video series, Bearing The Motherload, where disagreeing parents from different sides of an issue sit down with a mediator and talk about how to support (and not judge) each other’s parenting perspectives. New episodes air Mondays on Facebook.