Before I became a mom, there were things I would say, think, and believe about motherhood that, today, I would consider to be the definition of mom shaming. Some of those thoughts were informed by internalized misogyny and sexist ideologies I hadn't yet unlearned. Some of them were informed by unfair and insensitive ideas about family dynamics and women. Some of them were just the result of outdated parenting ideologies.
Whatever the source of the mom shaming thoughts and beliefs were, I'm glad I now actively do my best to be mindful about these issues. We all should be more mindful, in fact, and not just for the sake of our own wellbeing as moms, but for the sake of other moms who could benefit from more support and understanding. Even those of us who do our best not to judge someone else might not always be aware that our comments can be shaming.
In so many ways, it's the subtle ways that we mom shame that hurt the most. But when we acknowledge these subtle jabs at other moms, they can serve as a point of departure for conversations about how to unlearn harmful stereotypes about women and motherhood.
1. "Wow, You're Already Back At Work?!"
Since the United States is the only industrialized nation without mandatory paid family leave, it's not uncommon for parents to go back to work at a time that some might consider "early." In 2012, a reported 1 in 4 new moms went back to work two weeks after labor and delivery.
Studies have shown that going back to work "too early" can harm a new mom's health. But if you think a new mom went back to work "too soon," your issue is with our country's failed family leave policies: not the mom. You have no idea what sort of financial or family circumstance are responsible for her decision to go back to work. We're all trying to survive, and one day thrive, under the banner of capitalism. And let's face it, most of us struggle financially. But even a family's financial situation isn't the reason a mom goes back to work in a time that people deem "unacceptable," it's still her decision to make.
2. "Must Be Nice To Be A Stay-At-Home Mom"
One thing that really irks me is the unnecessary distinction between stay-at-home-moms and working moms. All moms who are caregivers to their kids are working moms. Stay-at-home-moms are doing work, mothering is their career, some people just undervalue their labor. Our labor.
For some moms, their primary profession is child-rearing, so their home becomes their workplace and they become an unsalaried, full-time employee who's never granted overtime benefits in the form of money. Sites like Bill the Patriarchy invite moms to calculate how much they are owed for their parenting, household, and emotional labor, in an effort to highlight the invisible costs of motherhood.
Some moms, in addition to being the primary person in the home responsible for childcare, choose to or must also work remote jobs to supplement family income. Basically, it's time for the rebranding of stay-at-home-moms. We're not just chillin'. When you make comments about being at home with our children all day "must be nice," you're perpetuating incorrect ideas about motherhood and parenting in general.
3. "OMG Being A Single Parent Must Be So Hard"
Parenting is hard. Period.
Saying that being a single parent must be so hard, or that you couldn't imagine doing what a single parent does, you're low-key shaming that parent for not having a partner. You don't think you could be a single parent? Sure you could. Because all of us parents do what we have to do for the benefit and wellbeing of our children. So while it might sound like a compliment, acting as if a single parent is doing the impossible just makes them feel like they're in the parenting game alone.
4. "Wow, You've Already Got Your Body Back!"
Think about the ways in which diet culture, fat phobia, and societal ideas about beauty impact our thoughts about body image. By praising a mom for "having her body back," you're indirectly shaming the countless moms who look different after giving birth. A mom never lost her body. Her body just changed. So while it may seem like you're complimenting a mom if you comment on her postpartum weight loss, you could actually be revealing your true feelings about what a postpartum body is supposed to look like.
5. "Another Kid, Already?!"
The time you spend shaming moms for how many kids they do, or do not have, could be put to much better use. In this case, you could be making sure she has information about childcare services if she needs them. Or you could just mind your own dependents. Some moms plan to have multiple kids. Some moms have multiple kids and the circumstances aren't something the mom wants to discuss. Either way, it's unfair to shame a mom for how many kids she has or plans to have.
6. "That Baby Weight Looks Great On You!"
This isn't a new rule but it's one that, apparently, needs repeating: don't comment on someone else's body. Just because a mom's body has changed doesn't mean you have the right to say a damn thing about those changes, even if you think those changes are positive.
7. "That's One Spoiled Baby!"
Please stop telling moms they're spoiling their children by holding them often or picking them up when they cry. Not only do different kids have different needs, there shouldn't be anything wrong with wanting to show your child some affection.
It really sucks to be out with friends or family and hear someone say, "Are you ever going to put the baby down?" or, "That baby needs to learn how to be independent" while you're sitting calmly with your child, harming no one. All you're doing when you equate a mom holding her baby regularly to spoiling, or future developmental issues for the child (especially if you're not a doctor with deep insight into their child's medical information), is revealing that you have a different parenting style. And that's totally cool. Do you. But don't shame other moms for having a more hands-on approach.
8. "Who's With The Baby?"
Let's all just assume that if a mom is out with friends or running some kid-free errand or just living her life without her child by her side every hour of every day, she has someone watching that baby. Like the other parent of that child, for example. Or a babysitter. Or a family member.
I don't think it's too much of a stretch to assume that moms who go out in public sans their children haven't left their babies home alone. Come on, now. Asking who is watching the baby is just subtly implying that a mom shouldn't go anywhere without her child.
9. "Your Kid Will Make An Awesome Older Sibling Some Day!"
Maybe that mom doesn't want another child. Maybe it would be medically dangerous for her to get pregnant again. Maybe she's having trouble conceiving due to medical reasons. Maybe she's healing and recovering after pregnancy loss. Maybe she's coping with infant loss.
There are countless reasons why it's inappropriate to question why a mom isn't pregnant, or to subtly imply that she should get pregnant soon so she can give her child a sibling. It's impossible to know about someone's reproductive history and experiences, so it's best to not say anything at all. Focus on the child she has, not the child or children you think she should have.