I wrote a column last month about water safety — about how I make my daughter wear a Coast Guard-approved flotation device at the beach and the pool — and I was criticized for it.
Some women remarked online that they couldn't believe I was doling out such bad advice.
Their rationale was that some flotation devices aren't safe (they're right — it's a concern I also raised in the column) and swimmies foster a false sense of security around the water. Drowning is a leading cause of death among children. There is no substitute for swimming lessons or vigilance. But short of never taking my children to the beach, or the pool, or on a boat, these are my best options.
Rationally, I know this makes sense. I know I'm making smart decisions.
But I won't lie. The feedback hurt my feelings. Aside from the fact that the women thought I was giving out bad advice to other parents, it made me feel like I was being a bad mom to my own daughter.
I started questioning my decisions. What am I doing wrong?
Then I came to my senses. This was a classic case of "mom shaming."
Medela, a company that manufactures breast pumps, explains in a blog post that "mom shaming" is the act of "bullying other moms for their parenting choices in subtle (and sometimes not so subtle) aggressions ... It’s a small way for some women to gain stature among a group by tearing down others. And as horrible as it sounds, it’s an easy trap to fall into."
Here's the thing: I don't think these women who piled on the criticism about my column would have spoken that way to my face.
But mom shaming isn't limited to social media. (Or to the topic of water safety, for that matter).
Other examples include judging moms about their choice to breastfeed (or not); judging them about returning to work (or not); criticizing how they discipline their children, what they put on the dinner table, how much screen time they allow or — my personal favorite — how many hours each night their newborn babies sleep. As if moms can control that!
And while I've never called out another parent online or questioned the expertise of a reporter on social media before, I'm as guilty as the next person when it comes to mom shaming. I may do it more quietly than some women. But we're all our toughest critics.
So how do we deal with it?
Psychologist Susan Newman offers several tips to help moms cope with criticism in an article for Psychology Today.
The first is to realize, more likely than not, you'll be judged by someone somewhere sometime for your parenting style. Don't be caught off guard when it happens.
In fact, a National Poll on Children's Health conducted by the C.S. Mott Children's Hospital at the University of Michigan in 2017 found 6 in 10 women reported they had been judged for their parenting skills, most frequently by other family members.
It's human nature to judge other people. It makes us feel better about ourselves.
"'Mom shaming' is often a cover for someone’s own insecurities or guilt about things they wish they had done differently," Newman, the psychologist, writes. "For some, who may have older kids, transmitting advice is a way to have a vicarious 'do-over.'"
She advises that moms stick to their supporters, tune out their detractors, develop a sense of humor and, above all, take comfort in the fact that you know your child better than anyone else. That makes you very equipped to make decent parenting decisions.
I'll add one more piece of advice: Don't be shy about sticking up for yourself.