Sometimes you'll be having what seems like a completely benign conversation with another mom, and she'll say something that sends a little zing through your brain. It won't necessarily register until later, when you're on your way to work or strolling home or doing the dishes, and you realize, "Hey, what the hell? Did she really mean to say that to me?" Mom shame is real, and there are a lot of ways you don't realize other moms are shaming you because, well, we've all done a bang up job of figuring out how to be clever and insidious.
Since I'm a really open book, I tend to tell my friends (and non-friends, and casual acquaintances, and people I've just met five seconds ago) about damn-near everything. Sadly, this opens me up to a lot of judgement and commentary. In other words, I'm no stranger to the mom shame (and all kinds of other shaming, for that matter). When it has come from good friends of mine, I've usually been good about addressing it so we could hash it out and so I could express how one comment or another made me feel. It usually ended up being a good opportunity for both of us to let off some steam, or to explore our individual mom insecurities. (For even the most "together" mom, there lies some major guilt and insecurity. It is pretty freaking hard to avoid, and is usually why judgment and shame happen in the first place.)
I know I'm guilty of the shaming part, too. I've heard things come out of my mouth that I know weren't right as soon as I was saying them. Usually, in a couple of hours or (sometimes) days, I'll reach out to the friend I had said those things to, and apologize. We all have our moments when we lose our filters, and let our own insecurities and self-doubts get the better of us.
When They Say They Would Never Let Their Kid Eat "That Poison"
You will usually hear this phrase at the exact moment your sweet cherub is tearing into a bag of non-organic crackers, or whatever.
As your child stuffs her face with orange chemicals, this other mom will kindly clarify that she doesn't mean to judge what your child is eating, it is just that, with her child's very sensitive skin allergy (not confirmed by any medical doctor, just casually observed on a singular occasion that may or may not have been linked to any particular food product), she avoids feeding him any kind of non organic food – especially with horrible orange food coloring, like that garbage you're kid is eating right there.
When They Say That They Don't Even Own A Television
You've just finished complaining to your Mom Group about how you've unleashed a monster by exposing your toddler to one episode of Daniel Tiger, and now you can't seem to figure out how to tear him away from the damn television without suffering through a full-on meltdown mode.
Then, out of seemingly nowhere, Mom Friend in the corner pipes up that she doesn't even own a television. Or an iPad. Everyone drops the chocolate chip cookies they've been chowing down on to stop and stare at this creature from a mythical land of Perfect Mothers. Instead of any electronic entertainment, she explains, she and her partner put on elaborate child-friendly musicals before bedtime, to help get her child to sleep. "It works like a dream!" she trills. "He sleeps from seven to seven!" You wonder if everyone else wants poke her with their iced latte straws, or if it just you.
When You Are Having A Breakdown And They Just Give You "That Face"
You and your mom friend have kids who are the exact same age and are going through the exact same stages – or so you would think. You've never seen your friend lose it. Like, ever. She's never expressed that horrible but very raw feeling of sometimes wishing she could go back to those pre-child days where all you had to worry about on weekends was where to have brunch and how to nurse your hangover.
So here you are, nursing for the sixth time this morning but now it's at a coffee shop and you still haven't showered or had a chance to pee, and your head hurts because you didn't have time to drink coffee or water yet, and you're having yourself a good cry in front of your friend. That's when she makes "the face." You know what I mean. It's the face of someone who feels pity for you but really doesn't get it, and also feels sorry for you that you're just not enjoying the hell out of this whole motherhood thing. You realize, after you get home, that she was judging you for that cry, and for your weakness and inability to relish in the being covered in milk and babies. Ugh.
When They Comment on How Clean Your House Is
A newish mom friend comes over for a play date for the first time, and she can't stop marveling at how clean and tidy the house is. "It's almost like no children live here," she says.
At first you take it as a major complement. You spend a lot of time and energy making sure the house looks nice. In fact, a lot of your waking hours are spent wiping things, dusting things, and washing things; because you're holed up here pretty often with a small child. So, it's not like you have time to sit down and do any big projects. The only sense of accomplishment you can obtain right now are from small projects, like putting baby toys neatly into a box, or fluffing pillows on a couch. Later, you realize what your friend is hinting at is that maybe you're spending unnecessary energy on cleaning. Energy that might better be spent elsewhere, like focusing on your kid. You look back at the other conversations you had during the play date, where she offered lots of unsolicited advice about how to get longer naps, that seemed to all involve literally sitting and staring at your child in his room. No, thanks. I'll take the clean floors.
When They Ask, "Really? Who's Your Doctor?"
Any time I let it slip out that I was doing something a little off the beaten path with one of my kids – for example, when I started them on solids, I let them eat any food under the sun as long as it was mushed up real tiny – I'd get this question: "Really? Who's your doctor?"
The first reaction from other moms seemed to always be like I was endangering my kid. It wasn't until I qualified that a doctor (with an extensive practice) had, indeed, promoted this particular approach to introducing solid foods, that moms didn't think I was playing Russian Roulette with my baby.
When Everyone Was Losing Their Minds Over The Idea Of Public School
In my particular Brooklyn area, the moms (and dads) started freaking out in the worst way when it came time to think about school. Suddenly where one was applying to school for their child was the only thing anyone was talking about. It was Montessori this, and Saint Whosiwhatsits that, and on and on and on.
We have a lot of wonderful public schools in the area but, of course, every child is different and there is no one size fits all when it comes to learning style. However, I found that when I announced that we were going to go the public school route with our son, I got a lot of "good for you's" from other moms, like I was doing something "special" but not really palatable or ideal.
When You're Practicing Extended Breastfeeding And Someone Says "Really, Still?"
Yes, if you see me breastfeeding my 18-month-old child, it is not a grand illusion. I am, in fact, breastfeeding my son. That is exactly what is going on here.
I got a lot of comments from other moms about my extended breastfeeding practices with both of my boys. Yeah, it wasn't like I was super psyched to still be tied to my babies in that way at that point in the game, but it wasn't such a big drag, either. Not most of the time, anyway. I knew it was going to end soon enough, so I kind of just went with it. So comments like, "Really? Still?" made me feel ashamed of what I was doing, like I'd made a wrong turn somewhere along the milestones chart and hadn't properly helped my kids separate from me in what other people viewed as a healthy way. (Which, you know, was not true at all.)