A mom posts a photo of herself bottle-feeding her newborn and is suddenly bombarded by three different friends, all asking why she isn’t breastfeeding. Doesn't she know "breast is best?" A mom decides to let her child have a bag of chips, and the stranger at the grocery store shakes their head. Doesn't she know that stuff is poison? A mom is breastfeeding in public and told to go to the nearest bathroom. Doesn't she know that's inappropriate? I asked moms to share how they cope with constant mom-shaming, because it is prevalent, relentless, and cruel. And, sadly, it has become synonymous with motherhood itself.
I was at the receiving end of mom-shaming before I even had the chance to hold my child. When I was pregnant, people kept telling me how I "should" give birth, and after my son was born and immediately taken to the NICU I was subjected to blame and a crippling amount of guilt. Little did I know, that was only the beginning. I’ve since encountered random bits of mom-shame, both direct and indirect, regarding everything from wanting to take my baby outside the house before he got his vaccines, to letting my kid watch television. Most recently, I've been shamed for not pushing him to potty-train sooner. Apparently mom-shaming doesn't end when your kid reaches one milestone and moves toward the next.
The constant shaming and judgment used to bother me, and sometimes I’d get upset and clap back. But these days, at least, I do my best to ignore the haters. I don’t always ask parenting questions publicly (especially around loved ones, since it’s easier to ignore lousy opinions from strangers than from friends), and I've learned to take people’s opinions with a hefty grain of salt. So with that in mind, here's how other moms cope with mom-shaming, because believe it or not: we're all in this together.
1. Only Ask For Advice In A Super Safe Space
“I only ask for advice in private supportive Facebook groups. I don’t ask my family and I don’t throw out questions or concerns to social media at large. If I so much as hint at a problem I’m going through, I get so much criticism from family members and it drives me crazy. It will all be conflicting advice, too — like, you hold the baby too much, you don’t hold her enough, she eats too much, she’s not eating enough, she’s not sleeping right, and she shouldn't be sleep trained. It never ends.” - Rebecca, 29
2. Ignore Them
“I ignore it. Those who mom-shame are no better or worse of a mother than I am, no matter what they think, say, or feel. Also, I know there are parenting things mom-shamers do that I don't. I also know it isn't my place to offer advice when they didn't ask for it. If another mom or parent asks my advice, then I always state, ‘This is what does/has worked/is working for me.’ I'm a firm believer in, ‘stay in your lane, I'll stay in mine,’ and, ‘live and let live.’ Plus, how much of a sad sack of a person are they to have to feel good about themselves by making other moms feel bad? Bullies.” - Meredith, 39
3. Remind Them We're All Doing Our Best
“‘Well, we are all just doing the best we can, right?’ That’s what I say when I’m feeling super condescended to after a rude remark.” - Ally, 30
4. Write. It. Off.
“For me, personally, the most effective way of dealing with any kind of shaming is to basically look down my nose at people who would try to do it to me. If someone tries to ‘shame’ me, by which I understand to mean that they are insulting me or criticizing me in a disrespectful or ignorant manner, then I just try my best to write them, or at least their comment, off as silly, foolish, or ignorant. If I think there is a basis for the criticism, then I try to take it as a learning experience without beating myself up too much.
"I can use these strategies best when I have supportive people in my life to talk to about these kinds of incidents, who can help me laugh off silly comments, and/or reassure me that even if I made a mistake, that’s OK, and it doesn’t make me a bad mom or person!” - Courtney, 41
5. Remember It's Not A Reflection On You Or Your Parenting
“I try to be open to constructive criticism and not take it personally, but it has become obvious to me when it creeps into mom-shaming, in which case my mantra is that shaming says way more about you than it ever could about me. I cannot be mom-shamed — I can only learn and improve or survive an attempted shaming.” - Jamie, 35
6. Look At How Well Your Kids Are Doing
“I think I have gotten to that wonderful point in life where I don't care what others say. Someone wants to try to shame me? Good luck. My kids are loved, happy, healthy, clothed, fed, housed, clean, and educated. I am confident that there is nothing to shame. Truly, if someone says something you don't like about your parenting, tell them. If they apologize, move on. If not, decide if this person is worth having your life. It is pretty simple.” - Marissa, 40
7. Carefully Curate What You Share In A Public Setting
“Carefully curate when I share in a ‘public’ setting. I have a pretty good sense of what topics or pictures will bring criticism and just don't share that. I know that can sound like I basically hide things, but I don't feel that way because the root cause is that I don't care to even hear/read input from people on their opinions. It's none of their business, so I don't even give them the opportunity to share their opinions.” - Nikki, 40
8. If Necessary, Don't Share Info With Friends & Family Members
“It’s sad, but I rarely share with certain friends or family anymore. They’re just too judgmental and quick to offer unsolicited advice.” - Kate, 42
9. Understand Your Child's Age-Appropriate Behavior
“The best way I learned to cope was by gaining a better understanding of age-appropriate behavior. A lot of mom shaming, especially in public, is about not ‘controlling’ your child. Knowing that my kids are acting in a completely age appropriate, albeit annoying as hell, manner helped me feel a lot more confident. I don't get embarrassed by tantrums in public because they're just being kids.” - Shana, 34
10. Give The Mental Middle Finger
“Does giving people the middle finger count as a coping strategy? Sorry. But seriously, in my mind, that is what I do. I just don't care about people's unsolicited opinions. If someone has actual data they can point to that I am doing something wrong on a safety or health issue that's one thing. If you're just angry because I do something differently than you... oh well. Too bad for you.” - Carol, 44
11. Stay Busy
“As a special needs Mom, I just don’t have time for people's crappy attitudes." - Sandy, 41
12. Treat The Shamer Like A Toddler
“I was shamed quite a bit when I was pregnant and had littles, especially from my family. Everything from, ‘You are going to eat that while you're pregnant?’ to ‘You need to stop holding the baby so much or you're going to do damage to yourself.’ What the hell is that about?
"I got so tired of it that I stopped spending time with those people that were the worst offenders. And when I was around them, I learned to shrug it off. I think my favorite part was just smiling huge and saying, ‘Yeah, probably,’ then going right back to what I was doing.
"In the other part of my life, I started making a habit of saying, ‘Your kid is rad!’ every time one of my mom-friends starts to do that 'I'm a terrible mom’ thing. I really tried to concentrate on what their kids were doing and understand the behavior instead of the adult reaction to it (mine included). It helped me learn the difference between terrible parenting and terrible adults. (Spoiler: I've found way more terrible adults than terrible parents.) It also helped me realize that adult tantrums are way more common that you'd think. Being able to recognize that is almost like a super power now, because once I see that behavior in an adult I can disengage mentally and treat it like you would any toddler throwing a fit: offer cookies/juice and a time-out. You'd be surprised at how well that works.” - Tiffany, 44
13. Trust Your Parenting
“I'm from the South, so people always got very, very upset that I was raising my kids outside of church. ‘How will they ever know right from wrong? What about their moral compass! Oh no!’ I finally snapped and said, ‘If my kids require a scary dude in the sky to threaten them with burning in hell forever to make them be good, then I'm not doing my job as a mom!’” - Grace, 43
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.