Parenting is hard.
Read that again.
In a world where it really does take a village to raise a child, a sense of community with other people - especially other moms/parents - is essential to survival. First time parents are not given instructions when they are sent home from the hospital with their new bundle(s) of joy, and as more and more people are branching out to new places and setting down roots in new areas, even with social media and modern tech, family is not always close-by to help with quick questions and answer those pesky "what-ifs." Even the best and most well intentioned of parents can sometimes make mistakes along the way or make choices that may make others uncomfortable.
I remember being given a car seat/nursing cover after my first son was born. I swore it was a maternity/postpartum friendly skirt and wore it out a bunch of times before I found out (via the internet) that skirt was not among the suggested uses for my new gift. People were nice about it. We all laughed. it was funny.
But, what happens when the community turns on you? Really turns on you?
Sadly, we live in a digital world where, thanks to an increased virtual-living/working presence due to the pandemic and advancements in media at large, many people have forgotten the art of the fact check and turn into cyber bullies and keyboard warriors at the first sign of anyone who disagrees with their views - relentlessly and swiftly typing out every justification for their personal beliefs in a fury of insult and anger. Many people choose to read a headline and, without looking into it even with the most casual of investigations, just choose to believe it. Or even repost it. People have forgotten how (or were never taught/paid attention in class) to cite their sources, so to speak. Or people have forgotten the right to privacy and blindly steal photos or material from others in efforts to skew the message or to push an agenda. And that's not even the half of it.
How are we supposed to survive as parents when something as innocent as a photo of your child in their car seat can spark such widespread disapproval and condemnation - and usually from people who have no idea of the context, or even have their own children?
According to Medela.com, mom-shaming is defined as "bullying moms [or dads] for their parenting choices in subtle (and sometimes not so subtle) aggressions..." What does it look like? The site goes on to mention various (but not completely inclusive) instances where mom-shaming is taking place: commenting on how she chooses to feed her child ("breast is best!"), questioning the child's milestones ("my Dylan was walking by that age."), commenting on how she spends her "free time" ("I can't believe you just went right back to work." "Don't you feel guilty for working out when you could be spending time with your kids?" "How can you afford not to work or contribute to your household?"), commenting on or correcting parenting choices ("According to the standard safety guidelines..." "Well, MY pediatrician said...." and "You really should be doing that this way instead."), pushing your personal agenda/beliefs ("Why do you let your son play with dolls?" "For a girl, she wears a lot of blue!" "Don't you think her nursery is a little boy-ish?"), commenting on her body ("Wow! You lost the weight so fast! I wish I could take time away from my kids to workout, but you know I have to be a mom." "Wow! You haven't lost the weight yet? Yikes! Girl, let me show you some diet tips."), questioning birth choices ("She elected to have a c-section?" "I gave birth all-natural - no drugs - and only had to push for 10 minutes. I don't know why you'd want to put drugs in your body just to give birth. It's no big deal." "C-section is birth isn't really birth."), judging her by the "Pinterest Mom" scale (commenting on her nice hair, face full of makeup, "put-togetherness," workout habits, Elf-On-The-Shelf placement game, her cooking, her ability to "do-it-all" and make it look effortless), the number of kids a person decides to have ("you only have one kid? What that was enough for you?" "Wow...four kids! Do you guys actually have any hobbies besides baby making?") and - finally - the elusive putting on the perfect mom insta persona (more nebulous, but certainly involves putting on the show that your life is literally perfect by staging all of your photos just-so and acting like it's 100 percent organic - no one is that perfect).
That's a short list. Certainly not a comprehensive one, but it is a start. It's a good place for you to start examining how you have personally treated others or have been treated yourself. Chances are, at one time or another, we have all been guilty of at-least one of these bullying tactics, whether we realized it at the time or not.
So, now that we have a better understanding of what types of comments or behaviors might constitute mom-shaming, let's talk about what you can do about it should you find yourself the victim, and how to stop doing it, if you are in fact nothing more than a bully.
Help! I've been mom-shamed!
Parenthood is not for the faint of heart, so you already have some pretty-thick skin just from surviving this far. Don't underestimate that power. Whether you are the take-no-prisoners, mess-with-the-bull-you-get-the-horns Type A mama (like myself) or someone who tends to be a bit more non-confrontational, here are some strategies to help you deal with the Car Seat Karens, Neonatal Nancys, and the I-Don't-Even-Have-A-Kid Kims.
1. Ask yourself: Is this even true?
There it is. Right in front of you. Some nasty comment from an internet troll. Or a backhanded mom-shame laden compliment from a friend or even a stranger. You read it. You hear it. You take it in. You feel it. Stop yourself RIGHT THERE at "feel it." Ask yourself, is what this person is saying even true?
2. It's not you, it's them.
I know. It's easier said that done to just not take it personally. However, it is so important to remember this one simple truth: It really is not a reflection on you, but rather on the person or persons who are commenting. It says so much about their own insecurities and personal lack of fulfilment than it does about you or your skills as a parent, and certainly not your child. I think it is safe to assume that whatever the criticism, you were not intentionally harming yourself or your child, and in most cases, there was probably a whole lot more to the story that your critic ignored. Think about how easy it would be for them to just scroll on by your social media, to not comment on your weight, or your looks - but they just have to do it. You played no active role in their hate, you didn't ask for the commentary: you are just there existing as the badass mama you are and they took the time to comment. On you. On your kid. On your outfit. On your workout. On your house. You irritate their demons and their insecurities and personal resentments. It is not your responsibility to fix that. Other people's opinions of you are not your business. They have therapy for that. Address it if you feel you should, but mostly just do the block and bless: "Bless your uninformed and ill-intentioned heart. You are now blocked so that you may live in a universe where I do not exist." The block and bless move just makes you that much more of a gift.
3. Try "The Teigen."
No stranger to haters, celebrity mom Chrissy Teigen has famously clapped back at many a keyboard warrior on her social media platforms. And, she's good at it. Really good it. Which is kind of sad in away, because that's the only way to get good at those type of comebacks - to have to do them frequently. Chrissy has been criticized for nearly everything she has ever done and it is actually kind of infuriating when you think about it. Her usual stance is to just be very blunt - address the behavior directly - and then flip it back on them. Her sometime humorous "you good, sis?" approach to Negative Nellies has proven to be pretty successful. For example, when a wannabe troll commented that she should cover up her cleavage around her daughter, Teigen went right back with: "She sucked it for months and doesn't mind it much." Or the (countless) times she has been shamed for her postpartum body and responded with comments like, "hate to say this but…you are not a small person? Also, I don't care about my weight sooooo this does not hurt." It's totally okay if you want to address your troll directly. Hey, they had no problem saying what they said to you, so feel free to read them their rights to mind their own damn business if you feel comfortable and confident enough to do so. Nine times out of ten in my personal experience, people don't expect this type of reaction and they have no idea how to respond when you call them out directly. They get flustered, they start backtracking, they start making stuff up, they start publicly posting excuses and try to shift the blame - but it's no use, they've already been exposed.
4. Keep the Receipts.
I'm not saying you have to do anything with them, but it's always good to compile CVS-style receipts if you have a serial bully on your hands. Some people do not know when to quit and will come for you just because they need to somehow feel relevant and important. This goes back to points one and two. These type of manipulators will try to paint you as the bad person when confronted (see point number 3) and it helps to have documentation of their longstanding casual relationship with the truth when it comes to you and/or your kids. There are two sides to every story and then there are the screenshots. I have receipts going back almost a decade now.
5. Accentuate the positive.
Instead of letting the comments of others fester in your mind, turn them around and make them into positive affirmations. If someone says something like, "I can't believe you aren't breastfeeding your baby!" - do not internalize it that way. When you are feeding your baby formula from a bottle, repeat this to yourself instead: "My baby is fed and that's the most important thing." Words can definitely hurt, but the important this is to constantly remind yourself that the negativity of others does not belong in your head or heart. You have too much love to give and happiness to enjoy to focus on what some two-bit internet expert had to say about your choice of how to feed your child or what they wore in the last family picture you posted.
6. Take Action.
In most normal cases, this last suggestion is not necessary. However, if you feel that yourself, your child, or a family member has been put in danger because of what a troll has said or posted, be prepared that you may need to take the next step and alert your local authorities. This should go without saying, but it is NEVER OKAY for a Shamer to disclose a person's place of business, home address, phone number, email address, or other personal information. Ever. And especially not with malicious intent to expose that person to further ridicule or danger. Second, it is NEVER OKAY for a Shamer to post a photo of or details about your underage child on social media without your permission. These details could include address, phone number, social media handles, school addresses, activities, etc. The legal aspect here is hazy as the internet is still relatively new and evolving in the grand scheme of things, but it is perfectly acceptable to use this information in a civil matter if your local authorities are unable to arrest someone for an infraction of a law.
Lastly, if you find that you, yourself, are or have been guilty of any mom-shaming bullying behavior, it isn't too late to change your ways. Just be more considerate and mindful of the thoughts and feelings of others. Recognize that you are an imperfect person and your problem with the person you want to troll really does reflect on some inner unrest you have going on with yourself, and you really might be better off looking inward and trying to fix what is broken within yourself. It is entirely ok to see a post you don't agree with and just keep scrolling. If you simply cannot function without saying something to the person, might I suggest doing it privately ONLY if you are a friend or family member with the understanding that your question/comment/advice may not be well received and it may complicate your relationship with that person or their child, and be willing to accept the consequences of your words and actions without drama. There is always a certain way to say things so be sure that your tone isn't accusatory when and if you decide to approach that person. OR you could just mind your business, seek out a therapist, or write in your diary about it. Any of those will work.
If you are just an acquaintance, an unwelcome person, or an internet troll - the time for your comment is NEVER and the place for your comment is IN THE TRASH.
Try to be decent to each other. The world needs more of that.
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Hi! I'm Nugget. I am wife to my awesome husband, Fran, and mama to our toddler son, Remington. We also have another baby on the way (due very soon!) and our pup, Fiona. I am body positive fitness instructor, teacher, and health/wellness advocate. I believe in the potential of EVERY body to be happy and healthy.