Earlier this week, Kim Kardashian West posted a photo of her son Saint in a car seat. Moms went haywire, posting thousands of comments criticizing her for putting her infant son in a forward-facing car seat, as opposed to a rear-facing one.
I sympathized with Kardashian West, because I've experienced the car seat controversy firsthand. Last year, when I posted a video on social media of my 1-year-old daughter’s delight over her first ride in a forward-facing car seat, I was called out by another mom, who told me I was putting my own convenience over my daughter’s safety. The experience taught me that car seat-shaming is a very real form of mom-shaming, and like any other form of mom-shaming, it hurts more than it helps.
This mom wasn't wrong. Current research suggests that putting an infant in a rear-facing car seat is safer. Research from the American Academy of Pediatrics (AAP) suggests that putting a child under 2 in a rear-facing car seat reduces their risk of injury by 75%. In the state of California, where Kardashian West lives, children under 2 must continue to be rear-facing unless they weigh 40 or more pounds or are 40 or more inches tall, which is why many commenters were concerned that Kardashian West was putting her child at risk.
"He is so cute," one wrote. "Let's protect this handsome boy by making sure [he] is rear facing." The problem with comments like these isn't that the woman was incorrect. It was her sanctimonious tone.
There are lots of reasons why some parents might want to move their kids to forward facing. Some states allow it: in the state of North Carolina, where I lived, children under the age of 2 aren't required to be rear-facing. Some parents feel their kids would be more comfortable that way. That was my choice for my child. Some people took issue with it, which is their right. But it was not their right to publicly shame me for my decision.
"There is no rush on getting your child to be front facing. Think about their life, not your inconvenience!" my friend, who had a child close in age to my own, wrote on Facebook.
She was adamant that my choice to face her forward was motivated by ignorance and selfishness.
I was shocked. I'd read up on the laws in my state, as well as the recommendations to continue rear-facing. I had even consulted with a community car seat checking station, a North Carolina resource for driving and car safety, when I got my daughter's car seat, where I was told I could switch her position when she celebrated her first birthday.
I told my friend all of the above, adding, "I wouldn't say we changed it for our convenience but rather for her enjoyment."
"Statistics and facts over a feeling of safety," was her response.
In the name of car seat safety education, this friend wanted to publicly shame me for switching my daughter to the forward-facing position. She was adamant that my choice to face her forward was motivated by ignorance and selfishness. She even sent me a link to a horrific video of children in car accidents who had not been kept rear-facing, all because she was so worried about my child's safety. Her words were hurtful, and not at all helpful.
That's the main problem with car seat-shaming: if you publicly and rudely call someone out for it, you're clearly not as concerned with child safety as you say you are. You're just trying to pick a fight.
I tried to thank her for her concern and leave the conversation at "you do you, I'll do me." But the conversation bothered me for weeks afterward. I couldn't believe she felt it was OK to speak to me that way in public, especially because I knew she was also a first-time mom. My frustration was cemented by the fact that another one of my friends who is also a mother private messaged me in response to my video, politely asking me whether my choice was in accordance with North Carolina car seat laws. She was clearly trying to be helpful in a respectful way, without shaming me or discrediting my choices as a mother. And she approached me privately and politely, so I took her seriously.
That's the main problem with car seat-shaming: there's a right way to do it, and there's a wrong way. If you publicly call someone out for it, you're clearly not as concerned with child safety as you say you are. You're just trying to pick a fight. My friend who shamed me was totally unable to acknowledge the possibility that I was a competent, loving mother. She was just interested in making it clear that she disrespected my choices, and she wanted to do so in public.
Car seat-shaming another mother does no good. It only furthers the mom-shaming trend and makes moms seem competitive and holier-than-thou, even though at the end of the day, we're all just trying to do our best and are in this together. If you're concerned about another mom putting a child in a forward-facing car seat, you need to prove that you trust the other mom's ability to make informed parenting choices before you try to engage her, and you should do so respectfully and in private. That can go a long way in informing and encouraging her to do what's best for her child.