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Don't shame moms, offer them encouragement

January 22, 2019 | Rachel Velishek, LPCC

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Mom Shaming is real. According to research conducted by the baby food company, Beech-Nut, more than 80 percent of moms have experienced shaming in some way. This shaming is most often coming from other moms. Mom shaming usually occurs when mothers criticize another mother for making choices different than they would make. Parenting is hard enough without the nonsense. Having to endure others’ criticism, judgment, and beliefs is unfair to moms. Moms are shamed for everything and anything: using a microwave, mother’s age at delivery, mother’s sexual orientation, marital status, birth plan, processed or whole food, vaccinating, breastfeeding, sleep routine, staying at home or going back to work, and more. Moms are criticized from the moment their pregnancy is announced. Someone somewhere always has an opinion, a challenge, and a better way of doing things.

I am sure that mom shaming has always existed but the rise of social media provides access to information and lifestyle choices that can be easily questioned. Even if someone chooses to not utilize social media, they will likely still endure mom shaming. Many individuals feel entitled to share their opinion and experience as if it is their purpose in life to approach a random stranger at Target and intervene on parenting tactics.

The expectations of mothers continue to grow higher with each generation. We are becoming more critical of others and of ourselves. It needs to stop. With higher expectations there is more disappointment, frustration, and guilt. Research published in the Journal of Child and Family Studies gave insight into the mental health outcomes of intensive mothering. This research found that intensive mothering — defined as “the belief that everything you do (as a parent) matters so much” — is detrimental to a women’s mental health. The research described five factors that summarize intensive parenting.

  1. Essentialism. The feeling that mothers, rather than fathers, are the more “necessary” and “capable” parent.
  2. Fulfillment. A parent’s happiness is derived primarily from their children.
  3. Stimulation. The mother should always provide the best, most intellectually stimulating activities to aid in your child’s development.
  4. Challenging. Parenting is just about the most difficult job there is.
  5. Child-Centered. The child’s needs and wants should always come before your own.

The research found that the higher mothers rate on the five-point scale the more intense their parenting style. The more intense parenting styles resulted in higher rates of depression and anxiety for those mothers. Researchers concluded that the mental health of a mother is affected by the WAY she parents more than BEING a parent.

In response to mom shaming, intense parenting has become considered a normal, acceptable behavior and parenting approach. I have noticed a trend in my personal interactions with friends, social media, and even within the therapeutic setting: Moms are more frequently defending their decisions as a mom. More moms are starting to doubt themselves, their influence on their children and their worth as a mother. It is unfair. Perfection does not exist. No one will raise a perfect child and the perfect parent does not exist. We all make mistakes but a good parent learns from those mistakes and tries harder next time. I do believe that it takes a village to raise a child but the village needs to be positive. As moms we need to stop judging each other and start offering support. Listen to each other without demanding change and offer words of encouragement rather than discouragement.

The truth is, sometimes the best parents have misbehaving kids. Despite the parents’ countless interventions, methods and approaches, sometime the behavior does not change. Judging and mom shaming will not make a difference nor will it benefit the child or mother. Unfortunately, some great kids have crappy parents and some misbehaving kids have great parents. Instead of criticizing the parent, offer support and guidance. Take the time to learn what the parent’s goals and expectations are for themselves and their child. Offer assistance in achieving those goals or teaching them how. Parenting is an ongoing learning experience; there is no handbook. We learn from the past experiences of ourselves and others. Be willing to learn and be willing to listen, but stop the shaming.

One of my most positive experiences as a mom was with a complete stranger in Meijer. I was in the process of grocery shopping with a toddler in the cart and a screaming 18-month-old reaching for everything and wanting everything and nothing at the same time. After countless looks, a text threat to my husband to never shop alone with both kids again, and several relaxing breaths, a stranger approached me. They said, “Sweetie, you are doing good. Keep it up mom, don’t give in. I see you and I am proud of you.” That was it. That simple gesture has become a memory I hold on to four years later. I appreciate that stranger. I appreciate them for that moment I was not judged, criticized, or told what to do with my child. I wasn’t told to spank him or bribe him or told to leave or stay. I was accepted as the mom I am. I encourage all of you other moms to do the same. Be the positive change. We have all been there, so the next time you observe a struggling mom, offer a word of encouragement.

Rachel Velishek is a licensed professional clinical counselor with Fisher-Titus Behavioral Health, Fisher-Titus Medical Park 2, Suite C, 282 Benedict Ave., Norwalk. Her office can be reached at 419-668-0311. For more information on Fisher-Titus Behavioral Health, visit fishertitus.org/behavioral-health.