Raising a child is the hardest job anyone can do, both physically and emotionally. It’s a giant, wonderful, amazing, steaming garbage dumpster of long hours and constant worry, self doubt, sleepless nights, stomach-churning ups and downs, in between wonderful memories and experience with the most beautiful people alive. But let’s not fail to recognize the relentlessness, the bone weariness of it all.
Now let’s add another ingredient, a toxic one, to that stew: public criticism, or what people refer to as “shaming”. The finger-wagging once done in the privacy of a kitchen between husbands and wives 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. I’ve written about it before in this very column. It happens to women and stay-at-home dads of all ages, from your neighbor across the road to the most famous celebrities. 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 criticize.
And opine they do, regardless of others’ feelings and the extent of their own expertise. One thing I’ve learned after a few decades of mothering: the loudest parents are often those who have no children. (There is nothing quite as hilarious to parents, as someday-parents-to-be with an idealistic, ironclad parenting plan they swear they’ll adhere to.)
At any rate, my crop of 90s mothers and those before me 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. Condemnation, it turns out, is an equal opportunity employer, namely because by judging others’ choices we open the floor to people judging ours. And what people choose to weaponize online can be astoundingly immature and petty.
Fans were upset when singer Jessica Simpson shared a photo of her son’s birthday party where (gasp!) she was not smiling. The comments on Instagram were venomous, 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”
Let’s get serious – if there is one picture in which I am almost guaranteed to not be smiling, it’s one taken at one of my kids’ birthday parties. I’m tired from cleaning my house for all the company coming over, I haven’t had time to finish my hair, I’m dragging five dozen hot dog buns and a big bag of party favors up and down stairs, I’m yelling at my people to hurry up and get ready, and I’m sweating. Not exactly prime time for a relaxed smile, for this mom or for the Jessica Simpsons of the world.
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 (her son is 19). Chrissy Teigen for posing with her baby in the sun. And those are just a few examples I can think of off the top of my head because I read about them online, that’s not the hundreds of thousands of non-famous women being torn to shreds online over their parenting choices.
The biggest kick in the gut is that moms who have been shamed and criticized 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 two, watching from the sidelines at the one grown, and in the thick of things with the other who’s well on his way. Don’t be so quick to criticize someone’s parenting choices. Judge silently, if you must. Mothering with grace and any measure of success, while keeping one’s sanity intact, is difficult enough without comments from the peanut gallery.