Mom shaming. It’s something almost every mom experiences at least once in her life. If not directly, definitely indirectly. Whether it’s through social media, unsolicited advice from other parents or relatives, or just everyday judgment from other moms, mom-shaming is real. Too real. And for many mothers, it can be a very difficult thing to deal with and handle, especially on a regular basis.

I know you wouldn’t be surprised if I told you that I have experienced mom-shaming more than once. In fact, my guess is if you're reading this, you likely have too. I don’t even think I could tell you all the different times I have had other mothers, or well-meaning (and not so well-meaning) relatives tell me what I should and shouldn’t be doing to raise my three girls.

The first very distinct memory I have of mom-shaming was with my third daughter. I was at the store with my older two. They were having a dinner of Costco hotdogs and lemonade (hey, my husband was deployed and I had two babies 14 months apart. Don’t judge). My third daughter was just a few months old so I was nursing her. She was covered with a blanket so no one could see anything, but apparently a teenage girl noticed me getting ready to feed her. She very loudly said to her mom, “Why is she doing that here? That’s disgusting.” And that comment from the teenager wasn’t even the worst part. The mom then looked at me, looked at her daughter, and said, “Some people just don’t understand where the right place to do things like that are. We are trying to eat here.”

I was seeing red. Usually I am one to actually stand up and confront someone but I was shaking so hard I knew I would say or do something I regret. This was my third baby and I had nursed the other two for over a year, and I never had someone say something to me about it except for positives. I was so shocked I could not even manage words. Thought trust in my head, I wanted to scream, "YES, so are WE!"

What shocked me and angered even more was that a mother modeled shaming for her very own daughter. A daughter that might go on to have children herself one day. A daughter who now has been taught that to loudly judge someone, especially an obviously exhausted mother who just took three young children through Costco, was the right thing to do.

The other very blatant mom-shaming moment came from a mother in my neighborhood. She had excluded my family from several events which to me personally, was fine. But she also excluded my children, and everyone on the cul-de-sac, except for us were invited. I would have been fine with it except that it was things like parties in the cul-de-sac where my kids would see all the other kids playing, and everyone leaving to go out for day-long trips together. My kids saw, and the other kids talked about it, and it hurt.

I had shared an article on Facebook about being excluded as a mother. I removed her from seeing the post because I didn’t want to stir anything up with her, but apparently someone else from my street showed her.

She thought I wrote the article (I hadn’t) and came to my house one day after preschool drop off to tell me what I terrible person I was.

She called me a troll.
In front of my daughters.

She told me I was bad mother, and that me working was preventing me from taking care of my children “the right way.”

She told me that I shouldn’t work out in my garage because I was obviously “showing off.”

It was one of the most humiliating experiences of my life.

The biggest catalyst for that judgment?

Social media.

If I hadn’t shared that article, she would have been none the wiser about my feelings on her exclusion. So maybe it was my fault for sharing an article I related to on the chance that she might know. But maybe, just maybe, we use social media as our fodder to shame when we have NO room to talk.

The Use of Social Media and Mom Shaming

Back in the “good ol’ days” when every move a mother made was not documented, you didn’t have nearly as many people commenting on how someone was raising their child. No one sat behind a keyboard and made nasty comments about how someone dressed their child, how long they breastfed for, what medications they gave them, or if they homeschooled or not. Of course, you still had people that would judge and be careless with their words about it, but it was not hundreds, sometimes thousands of people. And it was often not strangers.

And social media goes both ways. We didn’t have parents documenting their child’s every move. We didn’t have this unrealistic idea of what motherhood “should” look like. The perfectly posed photos. The clean houses in the background. The babies who always seem to be happy and the mothers who are always perfectly put together. Although this is indirect mom-shaming, it is still something that many mothers see on a daily basis, making them feel as though they aren’t “good enough.”

Social media is a huge proponent of mom-shaming, whether it is done directly by keyboard warriors behind the scenes or indirectly by mothers presenting an unrealistic and unattainable reality.

But social media has also been a saving grace for many of us moms. Back when I had babies, it was a place I knew I could find other moms to whom I was able to relate. Heck, forums just like these were commonplace for me when I was pregnant with my first daughter and throughout the first year of her life. I have found mom friends on social media that I have never, ever met in real life. I have learned more about the difficulties and struggles that different moms face from social media than I would have in any other way.

Nowadays, people have come to understand that Instagram reality is not the same as real reality. We know that behind the carefully curated photo is all the stuff the mom pushed out of the photo, the whisper threats to smile, and the angry kids who were likely bribed to sit and smile. Now we have videos of moms teasing about the struggles of motherhood, inspirational quotes about being the best mother you can be, and more support for mothers in general.

Of course, you still have your groups. Those who support long-term breastfeeding and those who don’t. Vaxers and non-vaxxers. Crunchy moms and moms who feed their kids Kraft Mac n Cheese. When will we learn that we can coexist and that supporting each other is the best way to make us all stronger, better moms?

And although I have seen, and experienced, some really hateful mom-shaming in my day, I have seen far more positives in the last few years. I find more moms telling each other that their decisions are theirs, and they support them either way. I have watched homeschooling families open their figurative doors to families who made the decision to homeschool last minute because of the pandemic, offering supports, resources, and encouragement when things were really hard during the adjustment period. I have watched mothers embrace motherhood more than they ever did before, because now they were home with their babies and recognized how much they wanted to be involved in their everyday lives. I have also watched spouses step up and help their child’s mother because after being home during COVID, they finally see and experience what it's like to be in mom's shoes all day every day

So even though social media can be divisive and can sometimes draw hate, it can also bring people together. It can offer support to mothers when they don’t have a village to support them. It offers them a place to feel like things are relatable and it makes them feel less alone.

Mom shaming doesn’t have to exist, but to be honest, I’m doubtful that it will ever go away. Mom shaming isn’t something new. For generations, mothers have been judging each other for the way their children are raised. However, we now have tools to voice our opinions about how others raise their children in almost an automatic fashion- social media. People are judgmental, and we all have different ways we parent. Some people will be supportive of that, and some won’t. Some will understand that everyone makes their own choices, and others will feel that their way is the only way.

The best thing we can do as parents, particularly as mothers, is to present so much support and love that people notice the good over the bad, just like I’ve seen over the last year.

*Note on the third sentence in the above paragraph. I wrote that without even thinking- “don’t judge”- because I innately felt that I was going to be judged for my decision to feed them Costco hotdogs. THAT is what mom-shaming has done to mothers- made them feel like they need to defend every decision they make with justification to fit someone else's belief.

Image: Nicoleta Ionescu/Shutterstock