Several years ago, while I was out shopping with my son, I was publicly scolded for my parenting decisions by a complete stranger. You see, in an attempt to avoid a tantrum, I had allowed my 2-year-old to carry a large teddy bear around the store. But when I went to return the bear to the checkout clerk, I discovered that its large ass was black from be dragged across the store’s dirty floors. Even though the clerk assured me that I didn’t need to buy it, I insisted.
The cost of the bear was enough to make my stomach hurt. I was embarrassed I had made what I thought was a rookie mom mistake in letting my son drag it across the floor. And I was desperate to get out of there before my son made any other unintended purchases. Then, to make matters worse, the woman in line behind me decided that this was the time for a lesson from a “parenting expert” such as herself.
She told me how I needed to set limits, that I need to be firm, that this is what I get for letting my son carry the bear around. I stared at her for a moment or two, certain that she couldn’t be talking to me, but she went on and on and on about how I shouldn’t do this and that, pointing out all of my parenting mistakes and blaming me for the inevitably disastrous results of those mistakes.
Not only was this stranger’s criticism shocking because she knew absolutely nothing about me or my family or my parenting philosophies and still rushed to judgments about me, but what made it even more appalling was that this woman was a fellow mother.
Even though part of me wanted to pummel this woman with our newly purchased, dirty-ass teddy bear and crumble into a ball of tears, I mustered up enough courage to politely (albeit a bit sarcastically) thank her for her advice. I was angry, humiliated, and ashamed. And quite frankly, I was shocked that a mother would be so cruel to another mother. Shouldn’t we be supporting each other, lifting each other up, helping each other out?
I am generally an optimistic person. I choose to see the good in humanity. I generally assume the best in people. And yet it has become hard to ignore the ugly trend of mom shaming — not to mention public shaming — these days. I see it in the comments sections of the Internet when readers — oftentimes other women or mothers — resort to name-calling. I see it the way the public is quick to blame a mother anytime an accident happens, and the way parents and non-parents are both quick to say I never would have let that happen. I see it in the way we label mothers as working moms or SAHMs, despite the fact that dads are just that — dads, without qualification or label.
I see it in the way mothers criticize other mothers for their choices about everything from work to sleep to breastfeeding, and basically anytime someone makes a choice that is different from her own. I see it in the articles that harshly criticize parents for helicopter parenting or free-range parenting, blaming all the world’s problems on whether a parent co-sleeps or lets their kid walk to school alone. I see it in Facebook status updates that resort to public shaming — calling out our peccadillos and foibles with rash characterizations based on the briefest glimpse into a mother’s life.
Sometimes it feels as though the world is standing at the ready, with pitchforks in hand, just waiting to find a way to come after us moms. We are criticized if we co-sleep or let our babies cry it out. We are second-guessed if we homeschool or push our kids to excel. We are blamed if our children wander off and if we hover over them. We are condemned for our children’s mistakes, and even the most innocent mischief is met with a top-down kind of accusation of how it must be the parents’ fault.
What’s worse, this shaming seems to fall more heavily on the shoulders of mothers than fathers. And sadly it’s often fellow women and mothers who are doing the shaming — making mom shaming both sexist and carnivorous at the same time.
Look, I’m all for healthy discourse. I don’t shy away from disagreement, and I believe voicing our opinions — even when they differ from others — benefits us all. But disagreement and discourse is one thing; criticism and shaming is something else entirely. Rushing to judgments, grabbing pitchforks, and evangelizing opinions without knowing the entire situation is divisive and oppresses motherhood as a whole.
I have known firsthand the negative impact mom shaming has on a person, and I can honestly say that it changes you. You see the world as a sadder, angrier place. You doubt yourself. You worry more and connect less. You shrink just a little bit.
But I have also known firsthand the amazingly positive impact that comes from women lifting up other women. I have seen the changes that can happen when mothers support mothers, regardless of whether they agree on how to parent or what motherhood looks like. I have seen the way women can empower other women to leave an unhealthy relationship, ask for a raise, recover from addiction, honor a personal truth, live a healthier lifestyle, heal from past trauma, admit an eating disorder, ask for help, and live their best and truest life. I have seen the way women can step more fully into their lives, and become the best version of themselves, when other women believe in them and support them.
Moms, we are on the same team. Hell, there aren’t even any teams. Let’s lift each other up instead of tearing each other down.
Unless someone’s parenting decisions or actions have a direct impact on you and your family, shut the hell up. Let’s stop with the mom shaming, and the public shaming for that matter, rushing to share others’ mistakes with the world for our 15 seconds of internet fame. Let’s cut people some slack. And unless we know the entire story, let’s keep our fucking opinions to ourselves.
Because when women are lifted up — when we lift each other up — the pitchforks don’t stand a chance.