Proactive Ways to End the Parent-Shame Game

There are a million things to consider when you become a parent—especially for the first time. Do you let your baby sleep with you or alone? Do you let them cry it out or rush to their aid? Basinet or crib? Blanket or no blanket? Breastfeed or bottle-feed? If you breastfeed, when should you stop?

You get the picture. Sorry if I just stressed you out.

The point is, there’s already enough for new parents to think about without having to weigh a lot of unwelcome advice. But that’s what a lot of parents—especially moms—are having to do. And while social media can be a great place for new parents to find support, it also makes it easier for concern trolls to do their work. Look at the comments on any celebrity mom’s photos on Instagram and you’ll have all the evidence you need. Pink even made a post shaming her shamers after commenters got on her case about her child’s seatbelt in an Instagram photo.

Parent-Shame pbs rewireCelebrity dad John Legend famously pointed out that while his wife, Chrissy Teigen, was shamed on Twitter for going out to dinner (gasp) with Legend soon after the birth of their child, he didn’t catch any guff for it. Because both of them are parents, he said, shame both of them or neither at all. The majority of the burden of being a perfect parent is placed on moms’ shoulders, rather than dads’, he argued. However, as Andrea Frazier pointed out on parenting website Romper, new dads receive their own brand of criticism.

But famous people are far from the only ones targeted. A new report from the C.S. Mott Children’s Hospital National Poll on Children’s Health at the University of Michigan shows that 6 in 10 moms with children between the ages of 0 and 5 have felt criticized or shamed for their parenting skills. Fifty-six percent of mothers feel moms get too much blame and not enough credit for their children’s behavior.

Plot twist, or maybe not

However, even though new mom groups on Facebook are full of people quick to criticize another’s parenting decisions, moms report most of the shaming they’re experiencing isn’t coming from strangers on the internet. On the contrary—it’s coming from people they know very well.

Thirty-seven percent of moms have been criticized by their own parents—the grandparents of the new baby—for parenting choices. The in-laws were also high on the list—31 percent of moms had experienced critiques from them.

The most commonly criticized decisions? Those surrounding discipline.

This might stem from grandparents not being up to date on best practices for raising a child, according to the survey’s co-director Sarah Clark. Discipline is an especially charged topic and schools of thought vary greatly depending on generation and culture—from spanking and other forms of corporal punishment to taking away privileges to sticking to time-outs only.

What’s acceptable has changed over time. New information about child development challenges old beliefs and can cause intergenerational parenting clashes.

Interestingly, the child’s other parent is the second-most common person moms receive critiques from. Far less flack comes from friends, other moms, social media commenters, their pediatricians and their child care providers, according to the survey.

Other parenting areas moms are feeling outside pressure about are:

  • Nutrition (52 percent)
  • Sleep (46 percent)
  • Breast- vs. bottle-feeding (39 percent)
  • Safety (20 percent)
  • Child care (16 percent)

Feeling shamed? Here’s what other parents do

The survey findings suggest that this kind of “advice” makes moms feel criticized rather than helped or supported. Forty-two percent of moms said criticism has made them feel unsure about how to parent their child.

Parent-Shame pbs rewireIf you’re feeling that way, you can learn from what these parents did. Moms said they became more proactive when they felt shamed for their decisions, responding to critics by talking with health professionals about the best things to do for their child. Moms feel much less criticized by health care providers than close family members.

Sometimes, by talking with a doctor, the moms learned they should change their parenting practices, but in other cases they were validated in what they thought was right to begin with.

Another bit of advice: Avoid the haters. That’s what a lot of moms end up doing. If your biggest critics are your own mom and dad, find a way to tell them their advice makes you feel criticized rather than supported, and talk about what would be a better way to communicate about parenting techniques.

“Decisions about where to spend holidays or who babysits the child may hinge upon the mother’s perception of whether a family member or friend is supportive vs overly critical,” the report states. “Those who wish to spend time with a young child may want to present their advice in a positive tone, or risk having that time abbreviated.”

Katie Moritz

Katie Moritz is Rewire’s senior editor and a Pisces who enjoys thrift stores, rock concerts and pho. She covered politics for a newspaper in Juneau, Alaska, before driving down to balmy Minnesota to help produce long-standing public affairs show “Almanac” at Twin Cities PBS. Now she works on this here website. Reach her via email at [email protected] Follow her on Twitter @katecmoritz and on Instagram @yepilikeit.