Parenting is not an easy job. Not only are parents responsible for how they bring a child into the world, but with so much information out there about the right ways to do it, just deciding which path to go down can feel like an obstacle in itself. And now for the modern-day parent, there’s the added pressures that can come with social media—just think, when was the last time you saw an Instagram feed filled with dirty laundry, unmade beds, and a full sink? A few months ago we spoke to influencer, entrepreneur and mum-of-two, Marcia Leone about her own parenting experiences, and one of the biggest takeaways from the interview was the low-key mum shaming that can happen (even from family and friends).
"As soon as you fall pregnant, everyone has an opinion on what you should and shouldn’t do, and that only manifests once you have the baby. The notion that there is a right and wrong way to do everything from feeding to sleeping and eating, automatically leads to judgments, and often mum-shaming. We should be taught to trust our own instinct more and not judge others for whatever their choices. We are all doing the best we can."
After Leone’s honest commentary, and in celebration of unapologetic women in all walks of life, we decided to chat to psychologist, Katie Kokolas from Lysn about the best ways to combat any judgement that you may experience whether it be in the workplace, at your mother’s group, or down the grocery aisle. Kokolas asserts that “most mums feel like they’ve been shamed for their parenting practices at some point, either from family members, on social media or in the school playground. Unfortunately, parenting beliefs are not as easy to hide as something like religion or politics, so a lot of the time mums do feel like they’re on display, waiting for the criticism from others.”
Kokolas also suggests that mum-shaming can often come from those closest to us (whether they realise it, or not). “Unfortunately mum-shaming can come most frequently from family members, those parents or in laws who think they know best or who did things differently when they raised their children. In these circumstances and with it being so close to home, it can feel particularly harsh and it’s very natural to feel sensitive towards the topic.” Whatever direction it comes from, it is never OK and you may experience many emotions after it happens. “It’s normal to experience a wide variety of emotions when it comes to mum-shaming, this can range from humiliation to sadness and anger. However, it’s always best to allow yourself to process those feelings, not dwell on them and definitely don't take them out of context” Says Kokolas. Below she shares four strategies to turn two when you feel judged.
1#: Try to understand their intentions
“It's always best to try to understand the intentions of mum-shaming, which certainly differs depending on the scenario or who it’s coming from. With family members, more often than not, they have good intentions and their comments are intended as constructive criticism or 'support'. A lot of the time it can be a family member’s way of feeling involved in the situation or them offering their advice because they’ve been through it. They genuinely don’t meant to be harsh or critical, and sometimes the sensitivities can be heightened because it’s coming from someone you love. In these scenarios, it’s best to thank the person for their advice and remind yourself that this person just wants to feel needed or involved in your child’s life.
On the other end of the spectrum is mum-shaming from strangers in public or through social media. Intentions can vary in these scenarios and sometimes the best thing to do is just stay quiet. You may instinctively want to get revenge or set the record straight, but a lot of the times you’re better off walking away or ignoring the person. Just remember that mum-shaming can often be a cover for someone’s own insecurities and a lot of the time, it stems from ignorance and not knowing your situation or why you are doing things that way.”
#2: Expect to be challenged
"Understand that it can be difficult to assert your parenting authority, especially for new mums. However, always remember that you know your child better than anyone else. It’s important to be confident in your parenting skills and do what is best for you and your child. Always expect that you will be challenged from time to time, but remember that that person doesn’t see your parenting 24 hours a day, so you are allowed to do things differently.
Shame is uncomfortable and whilst the initial reaction is to feel defensive and angry, find a way to de-escalate your emotions and stand by your choices. If you are challenged, remind them that you’ve made these decisions based on what works best for you and your family, and therefore there’s no reason to feel guilty or embarrassed for that."
3#: Use humour to diffuse tension
"Humour can be an especially effective response to mum-shaming as it can undermine the insult, diffuse the tension and allow the other person to see it from your point of view. Humour can help to lighten the mood, allow your to get your point across without hurting the other person’s feelings too, and can turn a conflict into a light-hearted situation. Sometimes, it can even be appropriate to exaggerate or add to the comments which can subtly put the other person in their place."
#4: Surround yourself with supporters
"If you’re being mum-shamed by friends or family members, try to reduce the amount of time you spend with them. Alternatively, have an open conversation where you explain how it makes you feel and gently ask them to let you do things your way.
If that fails, spend more time with those that encourage, support and ultimately make you feel good about your choices. Ensure that you have a support network that are willing to give help not wrapped in judgement or criticism. If you genuinely feel that you are unsure of the parenting strategies, then having those supportive people around you will make it easier to reach out for help.
Your supporters are there to love and celebrate you and your family, not make you questions your parenting skills or feel ashamed. It's important to note however, that there is no shame in reaching out for more professional support, if you feel those around you won't be as open-minded as you need. Part of great parenting is realising how confusing it can be and seeking support when you need it. Remember to be mindful of how you treat other mothers as well, and ensure that your advice is supportive and never looks like mum-shaming."
For more information on shame, and overcoming it, read Brené Brown's cult book, Daring Greatly ($17).