Raising a child is the hardest job anyone can do, both physically and emotionally. The long hours and constant worry. The self-doubt. The sleepless nights. The stomach-churning ups and downs. And the relentlessness, the bone weariness of it all.
Now let’s add another ingredient, a toxic one, to that stew: public shaming. The finger-wagging once done in the privacy of a kitchen has been amplified by social media, brought out into the public square to embarrass the recipient and — let’s be honest here — to make the rest of us feel superior.
Mom-shaming is a thing. A big thing. It has been featured in magazines, debated in talk shows and reported on the national news. And yes, it happens to women more than men, to celebrities as well as commoners. As we offer a peephole into our lives, posting pictures of our families and sharing private moments and thoughts, we give strangers an opening to opine.
And opine they do, regardless of others’ feelings and the extent of their own expertise. One thing I’ve learned after several decades of mothering: The smartest parents are often those who have no children. Or put in another way: The longer I parent, the less I feel I’m in full possession of all the answers.
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At any rate, my generation faced only a fraction of the censure millennial mothers encounter these days. Mothering has always been a competitive sport, but it is now more evident than ever. Today’s moms are criticized for leaving their kids alone or for keeping them too close. For choosing to work or for deciding to stay home. For refusing to encourage extracurricular activities or for over-scheduling their children’s afternoons. For bottle feeding or breastfeeding or trying solids too soon. For cloth diapers or disposables. For co-sleeping or exiling the baby to the bassinet. Condemnation, it turns out, is an equal opportunity employer, namely because by judging others’ choices we make our own appear critique-proof.
There are basic, non-negotiable tenets of child-rearing, of course: providing a safe environment, food to eat and a bed to sleep in, guidance, love and loving discipline. Yet, what people choose to weaponize online can be astoundingly immature and petty. Ignorant too.
Fans were upset when singer Jessica Simpson shared a photo of her son’s baseball-and-parrots birthday party where (gasp!) she was not smiling. The comments on Instagram were pathetic, including this doozy: “I’m glad your kids will look back on these pics and see that their mom cared more about looking “good” in pics rather than actually smiling and having a good time. #unfollowingyou”
Singer Pink was criticized for a picture showing her drinking coffee while pregnant. Decaf, in case you were wondering. Model Victoria Beckham was admonished for her son’s tattoos. Brooklyn is 19 years old, by the way. And actress Mila Kunis was condemned for breastfeeding in public. Wait, there’s more: Chrissy Teigen for posing with her baby in the sun, and Kim Kardashian for putting her 18-month-old in a forward facing car seat that met height and weight requirements. (You know mom-shaming has hit epidemic levels when I’m defending a Kardashian.)
Though these are viral examples of public shaming, trolls also populate the less-visible corners of the internet, and they’re not any less nasty. Earlier this year Beech-Nut, the baby food brand, found that 80 percent of millennial moms deal with mom-shaming and 68 percent think it has worsened over the past five years.
But here’s the kick in the gut: Moms who have been shamed are more likely to do it to another mom. Instead of providing support, instead of banding together, mothers are waging war against each other. And that’s the real shame.
Take it from a mother of five who now watches from the sidelines. Mothering with grace and energy, and while keeping one’s sanity intact, is difficult enough without comments from the peanut gallery. Ease up, already.