Mom shaming occurs when someone judges or criticizes a mom for her parenting style or choices. While this may sometimes come from a place of care or concern or from a lack of knowledge of the situation, it is ultimately more harmful than good. Mom shaming can result in self-doubt, anxiety, and insecurity. Fortunately, there are many ways to cope with mom shaming in healthy ways.
This article really dives into mom shaming, but I’ve also summarized my thoughts in this video:
What Is Mom Shaming?
Mom shaming refers to the act of shaming a mother’s decisions about childbirth, breastfeeding, parenting style, choices about the children’s education, whether to work or stay home, and even mom’s appearance, just to name a few. Mom shaming can be extremely damaging and can lead to loneliness, insecurity, mom burnout and stigma around working moms and stay-at-home moms.
Sometimes, the unrealistic expectations moms put on themselves and others are at the root of mom shaming. Some people who engage in mom shaming genuinely feel like they are trying to help. Others get a boost to their own ego when they put others down. Regardless of the motivation, mom shaming is hurtful to those who receive it and those who engage in it because it harms a mother’s support systems, relationships, and community. Moms need support and encouragement, not judgment and shaming.
7 Examples of Mom Shaming
Mom shaming happens in person and online, and it can come from friends, family, partners, and other moms. Sometimes, mom shaming is blatantly critical or hurtful, such as a stranger saying, “I can’t believe that mom feeds her kids like that,” or it can be more passive, like your mother-in-law saying, “Maybe your baby wouldn’t cry so much if you did things my way.” Sometimes, people say things meaning to be helpful, but are actually mom shaming.
Here are seven examples of what mom-shaming can look like:
1. Criticizing a Mom’s Choice to Stay at Home
A 2012 Gallup Poll showed that stay-at-home moms experience significantly more worry, anger, stress, sadness, and depression than moms who work outside of the home. Instead of judgment, they would benefit from more empathy, support and understanding.1 Mom shaming about staying home may show up in comments like “it must be nice to not have to work” or “I wish I had been able to play with my kids all day.” Anyone who has been a full-time at-home mom knows that it is a tough, exhausting, and often thankless job.
2. Criticizing Breastfeeding Choices
Opinions about breastfeeding are everywhere–when the formula shortage happened in 2022, many people took to social media to express their opinions about it.. Breastfeeding is one of the most personal and often exhausting aspects of motherhood, yet many people feel the need to express their judgment. Moms already agonize about breastfeeding enough without the shame of others.
Often, whether or not to breastfeed isn’t even a choice, but is dictated by circumstances. Birth trauma, NICU stays, and issues with latching or production often make breastfeeding impossible or extremely stressful to the mother. The choice of whether to breastfeed, issues with breastfeeding, and even when to stop are all sources of anxiety and stress for moms; they don’t need to feel that they are being shamed on top of it.2
3. Shaming Moms Who Take On Nontraditional Parenting Roles
This type of mom shaming is based on attachment to outdated social norms and expectations. Even in this modern age, many still expect moms to take the burden of housework and childcare entirely, and may look down on mothers who choose to work full-time, socialize with friends, travel, etc. instead of staying at home with their children. There are many ways to raise a family, and it’s up to each parent or family unit to decide how things will work best in their home. This is no one else’s decision.
4. Competition Between Moms
Mom shaming can also stem from competitiveness and comparison between moms. When moms start to compare themselves to other moms, on social media or in person, it can begin a competition for the cleanest house, most gifted kids, most put-together mom, etc. This implies that some moms are inherently better than others, and this can create a shame spiral among moms who don’t feel like they measure up.3
The reality is, all moms have strengths and struggles. Every mom has moments of anxiety and doubt. Despite how it may look, no mother can take on every single role and fulfill every single need in their families. When moms feel the need to compare and compete with others, it leaves them feeling alone and disconnected.
5. Shaming About Children’s Development
Moms can feel ashamed when their children fall behind on developmental milestones or don’t keep up with other kids in terms of growth and development. This is already something that moms worry about, and blame themselves unnecessarily for. The last thing they need is someone else comparing their children to others.(FN4) Not to mention, this can feed into negative stereotypes about “healthy” vs. “sick” children.
6. Shaming Moms for Choices About Sleep Training
Sleep training is a big source of mom shame, parental guilt, and judgment. Every new parent comes to a point when they have to figure out how to get some sleep. There are many different schools of thought about sleep training: cry-it-out, attachment-based, co-sleeping or a modified approach that combines several strategies. No matter which method you end up choosing, people will often have strong opinions about how parents deal with their infant’s sleep.5
7. Judgment About Kids’ Activities
Moms often feel judged and shamed when it comes to their children’s activities. This can manifest as mothers comparing their kids to others and scrambling to make up for areas where their children may be “falling behind.” Moms may try to keep their kids busy in response to perceived pressure to keep up.
On the reverse side, moms may feel shamed by others for how busy their kids are, with comments like “My kids were never that busy growing up. They got to play”. Even if these comments are well-intentioned, they come across as shaming because they call the mom’s decisions and parenting into question.
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Why Do People Mom Shame?
Even now, people still have unrealistic, sometimes outdated expectations about what a mother’s role is, which typically plays a role in whether people mom shame or not. Some people simply believe that their way is right and aren’t afraid to voice their criticism, often under the guise of concern. Others may feel insecure about themselves and get a little boost for putting others down. Still, others see motherhood as a competition, and are always comparing and weighing themselves against others.
Some people may feel they are genuinely being helpful by using this tactic, and they are truly coming from a place of concern. However, their tone or choice of words can inadvertently come across as shaming. Mom shaming often comes from other moms, friends or family members. A narcissistic parent or mother-in-law may shame and put others down to feed their narcissistic supply and ego.6
Effects of Mom Shaming
Mothers often feel judged no matter what they do, which can result in feeling overwhelmed, hopeless, or insecure. Moms may even develop motherhood imposter syndrome as a result. Those who are already struggling with negative self-talk may be more susceptible to mom shaming and may feel worse about themselves. Mom shaming can be very hurtful when it comes from support systems, such as friends, family, and other mothers. This can lead to feelings of loneliness and rejection, and discourage moms from seeking out support.
Moms who take mom shaming to heart and start to believe the negative thoughts about themselves may struggle with mom guilt, which can be especially harmful when it gets in the way of moms taking care of themselves and meeting their own needs, which is critical for their well-being and mental health. These negative feelings may also come out as mom rage or postpartum rage.
Moms who internalize that shame can take it out on their kids by making their own children feel inadequate. Eventually, children will avoid a mother who lashes out at them when she feels judged. It’s crucial for mothers to display a healthy sense of confidence for their children if they want to maintain a lifelong loving relationship. Don’t allow other people’s meddling to affect your relationship with your kids.
How to Deal With Mom Shaming
Moms can cope with mom shaming by turning their attention inward to their own needs and personal growth, setting boundaries with people who criticize and drain them, and building their support systems. By finding ways to manage their stress, moms can improve their mental health, build resilience, and become less susceptible to others’ opinions.
Here are ten ways mothers can cope with mom shaming:
1. Prioritize Self-Care
Moms tend to put themselves last, which can make the experience of being a mother especially draining. This can happen for a variety of reasons–they could be acting based on their expectations on motherhood, or they may feel guilty or shamed already by others. Prioritizing your own self-care and taking time to charge your own batteries can help you be more confident and emotionally resilient.
2. Focus on Personal Growth as a Parent
Shift your focus from what others think to what you can do to be a happier and more fulfilled version of yourself. What are your goals as an individual? Without taking others’ opinions into account, what are your goals as a parent?
3. Stop Comparing Yourself to Others
Mom shaming can be driven by competition and comparison. However, remember that everyone has challenges and struggles in their life, and there is no point comparing how you feel on the inside with how someone else looks on the outside.
4. Be Confident in Your Decisions
Once you’ve made a decision relating to parenting, stick to it. Trust that you made the best decision you could with the information you had. Second-guessing only leads to more insecurity and doubt, and invites others to give their opinions, so don’t let yourself go down that path.
5. Choose One or Two Trusted Sources to Go to for Information
There are so many sources of information out there about parenting, and many of them are contradictory. Decide on just one or two trusted sources–for instance, a healthcare provider, book, family member or good friend. When you need support, stick with those few trusted sources rather than heading into information overload, which will ultimately result in more confusion.
6. Find Your Mom Village
A great way to heal from shame is by shining light on it and talking to others who understand. Empathy and connection are the antidotes to shame.7 You can find your mom village via an existing group of friends, social media, or support groups in-person or online.
7. Unfollow Social Media Accounts That Make You Feel Bad
If a social media account leaves you comparing yourself to them negatively, or brings up feelings of insecurity or self-doubt, unfollow! Social media is for fun and connection; there is no reason to follow accounts that make you feel worse. Fortunately, there are also many social media accounts relating to parenting that focus on nonjudgmental approaches to parenting–it may be helpful to find those instead.
8. Celebrate Small Successes
Got out the door in 20 minutes instead of 45? Made it through the day without a major diaper blowout? Got an uninterrupted shower after a short walk? Celebrate the heck out of those wins! Put on some music and dance. Call a friend or your partner and share. Give yourself a hug. Buy yourself a treat. Celebrating the wins helps shift your brain to noticing the positives and can help you move past self-doubt.
9. Set Boundaries
If someone is offering unsolicited advice, it’s okay to say no! You don’t have to take it on. Try saying something like “I’m not really looking for advice right now, but thanks so much for your concern.” Remember that setting healthy boundaries can actually help you keep people around in healthy ways.
10. Ask for Help
On the other hand, when you do need help, don’t hesitate to ask for it. You don’t have to do this alone. Being a mother is hard, and moms are often resistant to asking for help because they feel they should be able to do it all themselves. Asking for help from supportive people can make your relationships closer and build your community.
How to Stop Mom Shaming
If you notice that you have inadvertently engaged in mom-shaming behavior, the good news is that you can change! Awareness of patterns is the first step toward changing them.
Here are some ways to stop mom shaming and improve your relationships with the moms in your life:8
- Stop comparing moms to each other
- Highlight each mother’s individual strengths
- Offer support, not judgment
- Work on your self-esteem
- Remember that there are many ways to be a good mom
- Adopt a growth mindset–be open to learning and seeing things in other ways
- Practice compassion
- Give moms the benefit of the doubt
- Remember what it was like for you
- Make a gratitude list
When to Get Help
If you find that mom shaming is impacting your sleep or your appetite, you are unable to stop thinking about it, you feel guilty for no reason, or you are feeling sad about it most of the time, seek out professional help. These can be signs of a postpartum disorder, such as bipolar, psychosis, depression, or anxiety. There are many skilled, trained therapists who focus in this area and can help.9
Finding a therapist can be tricky. Some places to start are by contacting your insurance company for a list of in-network providers and checking an online therapist directory. You’ll want to find a therapist with training and experience in perinatal or postpartum mental health.
Whether you are engaging in mom shaming or on the receiving end of it, it is ultimately more hurtful than helpful, and can lead to insecurity, depression, anxiety, and hurt your relationships with friends, your kids, and your partner. Fortunately, there are ways to cope with mom shaming, such as self-care, therapy, and social support. If you’re the one mom shaming, there are many ways for you to stop and encourage the moms around you instead.