When I was pregnant with my first baby I joined my first mom group. I thought it would be the perfect place to make friends and get the support and encouragement I needed to raise my child. Unfortunately, I was wrong. I received a large dose of shame, with a side order of bullying from the very people I thought would be my support system. I felt like a bad mom before my baby was even born, and the excitement I felt about impending motherhood faded. And all because I decided to join a mom group.
In theory mom groups sound great, and I know there are plenty of mom groups that actually are. As a new mom I didn't know what I was doing, so I knew I needed to find my proverbial village to help me locate my bearings and make it through the near-daily challenges that come with being a mom. But when I joined a mom group I learned a hard truth — other moms can be mean, y’all. Like, horrendously mean, to the point that you would rather do the mom thing alone than reach out and ask for help or advice.
I witnessed and experienced so much mom-on-mom shaming and bullying that it made me feel afraid and ostracized. I felt like no matter what I did or the parenting choices I made, I was never going to be able to live up to the mom group standards that were set forth without exception or understanding. Not only was I facing judgment and resentment online, but an actual IRL mom group was giving me much of the same.
In the mom group that I visited — because I know no two mom groups are alike, and there are plenty of supportive mom groups out there — seemed to present themselves as the "perfect moms" who loved every moment of parenthood. Their babies were perfect, their partners were perfect, their schedules were perfect, their homes were perfect, their, well, everything was perfect. I don't know if it was a defense mechanism or an attempt to validate their own choices and priorities, but the moms in that particular mom group seemed to shame me for every choice that wasn't exactly like theirs. I couldn't win, and ended up feeling overwhelmed and defeated instead of understood and supported.
If I fed my baby formula, I was shamed... even when my baby was literally starving and losing weight. It didn't matter that my doctor told me I had to feed my baby formula to help my baby survive and thrive; it wasn't what those moms did, so I wasn't "doing it right." I also watched moms who breastfed for longer than what the group deemed "appropriate" face judgment and shame, even when their children weren't ready wean. From working to staying at home, sleep training and bed-sharing, to babywearing and using strollers, all of our choices, as new moms, seemed wrong.
Being in a mom group that judged with impunity brought out the worst in me, and I ended up judging and shaming other moms, too.
When I searched for mom groups to join, I also realized that a few had a particular set of standards and requirements that all potential members had to adhere to in order to gain entrance. I understand wanting people in the group to feel comfortable and the need to be surrounded by like-minded people, but it also felt like I wasn't qualified to even be considered... let alone join a group of other mothers and women who I had hoped could've understood what I was going through. The entire search was demoralizing, and eventually joining a group proved to be no different.
When I joined a "crunchy" mom group I was kicked out for not being "crunchy enough" because I vaccinated my kids and chose to birth my babies in a hospital. But in what can only be described as a mainstream parenting group, I was deemed to be "too crunchy" because I cloth-diapered my kids, practiced peaceful parenting, and was into babywearing. I just couldn't find a place where I fit in. It was like looking for a table to sit at in the High School cafeteria all over again, and resigning myself to eating alone in the bathroom. Only as a mom, I had a baby with me when I peed.
We have to stop protecting our parenting choices by judging and shaming the parenting choices of others.
In a survey conducted by Mom.life, almost 80 percent of moms said they were bullied in real life and on social media. And I think part of the reason why the judgment and shame is so prevelant is because it's contagious. I am not trying to brag, but I'm a pretty caring and kind person. I legitimately want other moms to succeed. But before I knew it I found myself judging other moms and not being particularly kind, especially when I felt like I had to defend myself and my choices. Being in a mom group that judged with impunity brought out the worst in me, and I ended up judging and shaming other moms, too.
Motherhood is hard enough all on its own, so we've got to stop making it harder. We have to stop protecting our parenting choices by judging and shaming the parenting choices of others. Making friends as a mom is hard, and trying to parent without a support system is arguably harder. And while, again, no two mom groups are alike and there are plenty of supportive spaces made available to parents, even just one mom group that makes a new mom feel alone is one mom group too many.
Whether it's a mom group or an online forum or a few very specific friends or just your other family members, you get to decide who is in your village... and who isn't.
If you're lucky, you will eventually learn that nobody's perfect — even if they look that way on social media or across the rug from you at a mom group meet-up — and there are so many ways to be a mom and different combinations of choices you can make as a parent that are completely valid and will allow you to successfully raise your child to adulthood.
You will also find like-minded parent friends who will accept you for who you are and become your village. If you can't find a group that meets those needs, you can always start your own. I did. I created a space for all the like-minded parents who didn't fit in anywhere else and were tired of finding mom groups that only made them feel like crap.
Just because I left mom groups behind doesn't mean everyone should, though. Just because I had to create my own space doesn't mean that's what every single mom is going to have to do if she wants to feel as supported as she deserves to feel.
It does mean, however, that forming your own supportive village can look, well, however you want it to look. Whether it's a mom group or an online forum or a few very specific friends or just your other family members, you get to decide who is in your village... and who isn't.