Dealing With (Mom) Judgement, Criticism and Guilt

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“Show me a mother, and I’ll show you a woman who feels guilty for something, thanks in no small part to the judgmental internet musings of other moms who’ve made different choices.”

So says Brandy Zadrozny in an article she wrote for the Daily Beast earlier this year.

I’ve written about the toxic nature of shame before, and as a mother of two with all things parenting on my radar, I see and hear about mommy guilt and mommy shaming every single day. The Internet and social media makes it all so easy.

Today, we can snap a photo, share it on Facebook, and have it go viral within hours.

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We can leave nasty comments on blog posts and photos – anonymously.

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And, of course, we can turn to Instagram and Pinterest to remind us of what perfection looks like.

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Damned if you do, damned if you don’t

Women, mothers especially, are extra sensitive to the perceptions of others. It doesn’t matter what we do or how we do it – someone will always have an (often unsolicited) opinion on the choices we make. And it’s usually because they’re different from the choices they’ve made.

To have an unmedicated birth or choose and epidural. To nurse, not to nurse, and for how long. To cry it out or attachment parent. To work or stay at home. To school or unschool. To hand over the iPad or have a screen free household.

On top of that, there’s the constant reminder that we’ll never measure up to Suzy Supermom down the street with her impeccably dressed twin sons who are attending robotics camp at Stanford, or Polly Powerparent across the country with her picture perfect Instagram feed.

are you mom enough

Here’s the ironic part about all of this: as much as we abhor the mommy wars, we – us fellow moms – are the ones fueling the fire. Subtle or not, we’re the first to dole out the judgement and criticism.

As I type these words at a coffee shop, I can’t help but eavesdrop on an interview between a mother of four and a potential nanny. The mother has just finished a lengthy speech defending her decision to hire outside help even though she’s “just a stay at home mom”.

I can completely empathize with her desire to justify this choice. It’s as if she has to prove to the nanny, the eavesdropper, and herself that she’s a good mother. I’ve been there. And guess what? She’s an amazing, loving parent whose sons couldn’t be more well behaved and polite. Good for her for asking for help.

At the same time, I’m thinking to myself that she needs to chill out. Her sons don’t need to be involved in twelve different extracurricular activities, especially if her oldest, Jonathan, isn’t sleeping well at night. Maybe dinner shouldn’t be eaten in the car or on the couch in front of the television.

Shame on me for being such a hypocrite, right?

Well, it also means that I’m a mother who faces many of same insecurities about myself, who worries about the choices I’m making, and thinks about how I measure up as a parent:

Bad parent:

  • I’m doing my kids a disservice by not signing them up for more activities.
  • I’m selfish and lazy because don’t want to shuttle them around all afternoon.
  • I should look at the fall activity schedule and add something into the mix.

Good parent:

  • I value family meal times, sleep, and less structure
  • I don’t want to over schedule my kids
  • I’m grateful that I’m not overwhelmed and exhausted

We pass the judgement onto our kids

My month of diving into the world of parenting and education has made me hyper-aware of how my own words, actions and parenting choices are affecting my daughters’ need to seek approval from others.

It’s my job as a parent to direct my kids, and push them in the right direction. I can’t help but want to hover and nitpick, set high expectations and, in so many words, approve or disapprove of their behavior.

I’m realizing now just how delicate the balance is between guiding our kids in a way that’s nurturing and not overtly judgmental. 

It goes back to the idea of reinforcing a growth mindset in our children (and in ourselves too), because that’s how we become more resilient and immune to obstacles, hardship and the criticism that surrounds us on a daily basis.

It also requires that we learn to accept ourselves and be content with and trust the choices we make. But (and I’m stealing this idea from Maria Popova of BrainPickings) while we should all strive to be content with who and where we are right now, we should never be so self-satisfied as to assume that we’ve reached perfection.

Psychologists Dan Gilbert says:

Human beings are works in progress that mistakenly think they’re finished… the one constant in our lives is change.

We are never our final selves and we should never cut ourselves off from learning. Part of this is resisting the urge to force our opinions on other people and allow them (hard as it might be – there’s a lot of wackiness out there) to be content with and trust their own decisions.

And, of course, it never hurts to detach ourselves from our addiction to the news and social media (one of my most popular articles to date is this one on how to clean up your Facebook feed), because the less negativity we’re exposed to, the better.

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