You don't have to look very far (or for very long) before you see something on your news feed relating to mom-shaming. Yet, the more I read about mom-shaming posts going viral, the more I get a mix of emotions.
Firstly, I'm thankful there are people in the world who are reading between the lines and who urge others to stop judging parents. Yet another part of me feels guilt and frustration because although I hate being mom-shamed, I do (shamefully and oftentimes unknowingly) partake in it myself. The more I read about mom-shaming, the more I remember that shamers are out there, "doin' their thang." And honestly, the less likely I am to share with other parents my stories, for fear of being perceived as a parent who lacks proper judgement. Mom-shaming is not my problem, but a lack of esteem is and community is.
I became a mom of four instantly. When I was off on maternity leave, I resumed the position of full-time caregiver to my three stepchildren and my newborn son. I always doubted my abilities, my "qualifications"; this was perpetuated by how I was relying on others to validate how I was doing at my job.
I would thrive on positive comments, like the ones by the paediatricians, who said, "these girls used to be so rambunctious before you came along." Other people would later admit (once they got to know me) that they originally thought, "what type of a person would marry someone and be a step-parent to three kids?" and, "she must be so desperate," she would add. What others thought of me was still more important than what I thought of myself. Until I realized, I don't have to care about what others think of what I'm doing or who I am.
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The truth is, nobody is a perfect parent. My truth is, I love those kids and I relate to them, and my truth is, I will do anything for them. Before my revelation, my frame of mind was to judge those who were judging me: I was shaming the shamers. Listening to them and retaliating that way was stunting me as a person, preventing me from being the best version of myself. Also realizing that those who "bully"(shame) have likely been "bullied" (shamed) themselves — they likely need a little love too.
What should we do to combat mom-shaming, other than trying to shut shamers up or shame them back? I believe the secret to growing within a world of shamers is learning to tune out the noise, empower ourselves and share our stories. To accept criticism when it leads to self-improvement and to leave behind the comments that are degrading. When we embrace ourselves and share our voice, other people surely benefit.
We as parents would benefit a great deal by building our own confidence in a world of nay-sayers.
Hero moms like the widowed Sarah Keast found her voice despite knowing that other people would judge her family. She decided to talk about something extraordinarily hard to talk about: that her family had a dark secret involving her husband and heroine. Keast was nearly stunted to tell her story because of feelings of shame. On the outside her family looked normal, but on the inside her husband was battling mental health issues.
Keast's husband died from an overdose and she admits she felt relief when she opened up and talked about what her family went through. There are so many other families who are facing similar situations, who likely felt suffocated by shame and who were likely too afraid to speak up. Addiction is a disease and her family was struggling with it, as well as so many other families. The fact is that many moms would choose to stay silent for fear of what others would think, despite the many people who may benefit from opening the conversation.
We as parents would benefit a great deal by building our own confidence in a world of naysayers. We do the world a disservice by listening to bad-talkers. The world needs our diversity, our amplified voices and opinions and we need to repel negative comments directed at our parenting styles in order to keep doing what we believe is best for our children. We, moms, empower shamers by listening to them, prioritizing them and internalizing their negativity. So, while building our own sense of self can help us achieve a greater sense of clarity and esteem in our own parenting choices, how do we help build-up other parents too, instead of shame them (back to basics here: two wrongs don't make a right)?
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Here are some useful ideas to start building a community of confident parents who embrace their differences: invite other parents/kids for a tea and play-date. Listen. Reserve judgement or advice. Prioritize community. Compliment and look for the good in them and help them shake off negative comments and, if you feel you must, articulate feedback in a way that is geared towards their betterment, not their destruction. Allow yourself to be vulnerable with your friends as you build your relationship. Seems pretty simple, yet it takes perseverance and dedication.
To recap: "Sticks and stones may break my bones but words will never hurt me," is a theme that many moms and dads alike would benefit from listening to — I know I did. Not letting others' negative, harmful opinions influence us or prevent us from achieving greatness (as a parent, a parent-professional and a leader — we parents are leaders). If you want to combat the negative effects of mom-shaming in others as well, allow others to be vulnerable with you and help them see their inner hero.
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