Please note: This post was written before the recent events at Cincinnati Zoo (where people have been vilifying the mother of the little boy) but published today .
When did mothering become a competition? When did it become a chance to raise yourself up over another as if you were superior in your maternal instincts and she, a silly ditz who is messing up her children for life? What is it about being asked questions/advice that make some women think they know all the answers and if anyone is to ask such a silly thing in the first place, she must be unfit for motherhood? Shouldn’t being a mom be the opposite? When I think of the characteristics good mothers posses, I think of kindness, patience, forgiveness, and encouragement. We treat our own children with these attributes, yet strangers who are stressing out, worried and needing help tend to get judged and scoffed instead. Is it easier to add to the mom shaming, or to give help?
I recently wanted to know what other moms do regarding nighttime diaper changes for their babies. My 2 month old was still eating every 1.5 – 2 hours every single night and I was feeling like a sleepless zombie. If there was anything I could do to get him back to sleep faster, I wanted to know about it! So I Googled, “Is it okay to skip a nighttime diaper change?” and found a few different mommy threads on sites like Baby Center and whattoexpect.com. One original post, the mother asked this question, but not in a searching-for-help kind of way. Her wording was thick with judgment and sarcasm, stating that she heard other moms talking about skipping this diaper change and how terrible they were for letting their child suffer through a wet nappy for a few more hours just so they could be “lazy” and get more sleep. I was shocked at her tone and her intentions for mom shaming. In just a few sentences, she shot down weary mothers everywhere who were just searching for help, like I was. In this one post, she managed to guilt and ridicule many moms’ decision just because it differed from her own, and she wanted validation that this truly was a terrible practice.
In response, some women agreed with her and others didn’t. The ones who disagreed explained why they chose to eventually skip one nighttime diaper change when their baby woke to eat. Most mothers who participated in the discussion chose to rise above the poster’s snarky tone and didn’t take the opportunity to shame her in return. However, a few annoyed mothers did shoot back low-blow remarks, effectively continuing the mom shaming in the other direction: “What, you wake your baby with a diaper change? Don’t you know this makes them extra tired and fussy the next day? They will never learn to sleep through the night if you always wake them up with those cold wipes!”
This is just one example, but I use it plead to mothers everywhere—please, stop the mom shaming! Ignore the opportunity to judge! Suppress the urge to make yourself feel more superior by mocking another mom’s choice! Shut down the hate, not the mother.
Most moms who seek the help and advice of strangers on the Internet and on feeds such as this one are new and/or scared. They are up at 2 am, trying to figure out if the thermometer reading shows a dangerous level of fever. They don’t know how to soothe their colicky baby. They are overworked, overtired, and misunderstood. These mothers are worried they are messing up already without having to be told that they are and without hurtful words like “lazy” and “dumb” being thrown in their face.
The next time you are tempted to respond with sarcasm or annoyance to what a mother is asking or has chosen to do, take a moment to stop and think. Choose your words carefully and reread them before pressing, “enter.” Try to picture this mother’s circumstance and worries. Give her the benefit of the doubt. Maybe she knows her own child better than you do, and perhaps what works for her kid might be different than what worked for your own. Realize that those differences are okay and if you must respond, try to be aware of how your tone might come across to her. Whether it’s in person or through text, are you being uplifting and encouraging, or is your intent to harass, offend, or degrade her? It’s always easier to just keep scrolling if you disagree with a mother’s choice. And I know I always feel validated and energized when I get a friendly encouragement, instead of an angry remark.
When we’ve been given the Internet as a tool to connect to so many mothers around the world, use it to do good, passing on the experience you’ve already gotten to achieve. If the seeking mother takes your advice and chooses to do the same thing like you would have done it—great! If she disagrees, that’s her right. Shrug, move on, and hug your own child tighter, the child you’re actually responsible for. Stop the mom shaming and spread a little cheer, instead. Because when you think about it, we’re all mothers who basically want the same things for our kids and are just trying to not mess them up along the way.