Mother Shaming: A Game We Shouldn’t Play
One of the biggest challenges I have faced as a mother is the feeling that I could not be honest with other mothers with my thoughts about parenthood. From the moment I first shared I was pregnant, I felt I had to fit into the mommy mold. “All” pregnant women love being pregnant, “it’s wonderful.” We “glow.” We must accept strangers touching us and commenting on our body shape and size. Childbirth and the pain, fear, exhaustion that accompany it are neatly swept under the carpet, while all focus turns to the newborn. Where again all the work, stress, uncertainty, and exhaustion of being a new mom is buried under stuffies, blankets, coos, and bedtime stories. Nothing changes as the kids get older, every mom is supposed to LOVE everything about being a mom.
And throughout it all, I kept thinking, “REALLY?” I love my kids but a bunch of this stuff sucks. Parenting his HARD! And I found it made me feel like a failure much more often than a success. But this was not something I could ever express to other moms. I was even hesitant to do so with my closest friends.
When I struggled with breastfeeding and stopped after three months, I was judged, “oh, the longer you breastfeed the better.” When I gave my kids I soother I was judged, “oh those aren’t good for their teeth.” When I expressed that I liked working, other mothers responded with “I love staying home with my kids, it’s the most important job there is.” When I encouraged my kids to be independent, other mothers would tsk, tsk and tell me how “unsafe it is out there.” When I did not pressure my kids to pursue a post-secondary education right out of high school, other mothers questioned how I could be so careless with their future.
I could go on and on. So I tried not to offer my thoughts and opinions on parenthood, because I realized I was not like other mothers. That is the reason it took me so long to launch Midlife Madness–fear of judgement.
Aging is funny because it gives you a fresh perspective on things than from when we were younger. Now, intellectually I know that of course there are other mothers that think like me. But like me, they too keep their mouths shut lest they be judged. This makes me wonder why women do this to each other. And I think in this case that it is perhaps because we do not realize we are doing it to each other.
I came across an example of this on Facebook a couple of weeks ago, and that made me decide to write this blog. A friend of mine shared a poster that I have seen go around a few times. Another friend of mine liked the poster, and she too shared it. These are both kind women who I like and admire. I think neither one had any intention at all to judge other women with their post, and yet it rankled me. Because they are friends, I did not comment on their post. But a couple of days later, when my husband felt it was necessary to comment, I rethought my position. The post rankled him too!
This is the post:
I don’t understand the whole “I got them to 18” method as a parent. Having children is a LIFETIME commitment. Come home and bring your laundry.....just come home. Maybe I’m just different but I want my kids to come take groceries and toilet paper out of my cabinets when they are 25. I want them to stop for dinner when it is their favorite meal at age 34. I want to watch their eyes sparkle when they are opening gifts they wanted for Christmas at 40. I want them to know I’m one call away and it doesn’t stop at age 18. They are forever my kids, not temporary assignments!
Now on the surface this seems like a perfectly lovely sentiment from a parent to her children. But on second reading, it is an extremely judgemental piece of writing that is heavy in shaming parents who do not share the sentiment. The second sentence is a blatant criticism of any parent who has a different idea than the one expressed. “I don’t understand the whole “I got them to 18” method as a parent. Having children is a LIFETIME commitment.”
Wanting your child to live an independent life and succeed as an adult should not be framed as parents not being committed to their children.
The middle section of the post that lists the things these parents want to do for their adult children, is presented in a way that makes it sound like if you don’t do these things you are not living up to your parental responsibilities. It does not consider that everyone’s circumstances are different. And it also implies you must give all as a parent otherwise you are giving nothing. I would be there for my kids anytime they needed me. I am happy to help them. But I want them to be self-sufficient. I did their laundry; I bought their groceries; I cooked and cleaned for them, and I paid for their entertainment, etc. But adults should do these things for themselves, and for their own children.
When our children grow up and leave home, our focus should be on ensuring we can care for ourselves in retirement. And I also think it is time for empty-nesters to enjoy a little freedom while they are still vital and healthy. Mothers (parents) should not be shamed on social media because after spending their prime years giving to and do for their kids, they now want to give to and do for themselves.
If you are a mother who has her adult children home all the time and still cooks for them, does their laundry, and buys groceries or necessities for them, good for you. To each his own. But don’t shame mothers who, for whatever reason, choose not to. That does not mean they are no longer committed to their children. It does not mean that they viewed parenting as a temporary assignment. It simply means that they have a different approach. And that is okay too!
One thing I noticed when my daughter became pregnant was that she seemed to be more able to set boundaries with people… at least with me. She was quite comfortable telling me she didn’t want me in the delivery room. I did not have the courage to say “no” to my parents. But after her son was born, she too started blogging (https://lostblondesole.com/?p=3244) about her experiences through pregnancy and early motherhood, because she felt some things I have expressed here. Primarily judged by others.
I applaud her for having the courage to do what I did not. But this also speaks to what a tremendous problem this is for women. I think most of us walk around feeling misunderstood or judged. If only we had the courage to be more open, more honest, more real with each other, then we would feel more supported too.
Like I said, I think most times we do not do these things intentionally, but with our Facebook memes, Instagram posts, and casual remarks sometimes we come across more judgemental than we intend. So next time before you post or comment consider if your words will make other mothers feel supported. If not, perhaps consider a way to reframe your comment so it is supportive and kind. Your audience will appreciate it and you will feel better for it too.