Through social media and popular culture, we’ve found a hip and trendy way to blame and shame mothers in the 21st century. And while we think this is a new “thing,” that is far from the truth.
Let’s take a look back. Sigmund Freud, a psychologist who studied psychoanalysis in the 19th and 20th century, was one of the first to suggest that early childhood experiences were the cause of poor brain development and led to diagnoses such as autism. Mothers were often blamed for causing autism in their children during this time and were known as “refrigerator moms” due to their inability to show emotion and displayed cold parenting. Thank goodness these thoughts and attitudes were debunked. However this notion that the mother is to blame continued throughout the sciences of psychology and medicine.
Not to get too scientific here, but epigenetics is the study of how external and environmental factors influence gene expression. Even in the 21st century scientists continue to have various thoughts. It’s very similar to the old debate of nature versus nurture. Let’s use the example of a mom who lets her child eat pizza for breakfast to avoid the morning power struggle. Is it really that bad? Could be. Some scientists may say that by doing so, the mom may be altering the eating habits of that future generation. Other scientists may say that one less argument may have a profound impact. But unless you are a scientist, nutritionist, or gym teacher, why do you care? Why are you judging this mother?
How often have you (primarily women, though men have too) been in public and witnessed a mother doing the unthinkable to her child? Was she breastfeeding him, scolding the child, allowing the child run all over the store, letting the child talk back? Did the child have her mother’s electronic device? Did the child have snacks with high fructose syrup or was the mom late in picking her child up from practice? These are things that we judge other parents about. We call them names, roll our eyes in disgust, talk about them behind their back, and put them down.
That is Mommy shaming.
Yes, we Mommy shame! So why is that? We put down other mothers for doing something that we disagree with or think is appalling. But who are we to say what is appalling or not? There is no perfect parent. The Parent Police do not exist. But what does start to exist is a need to be the perfect parent.
As parents, we try to keep up with the latest information that will help our child succeed. We may overschedule our child with several extracurricular activities and tutoring sessions. We give our children the newest electronic gadgets. We grow our own garden and prepare all the meals from scratch to avoid pesticides and GMO foods (genetically modified organisms). It becomes too much and too stressful to keep up with.
Now there may be some times when safety is a concern and you feel the need to say something to a mother. Think twice about this, then think again and wonder how you would prefer to be approached. For example, if a child isn’t being supervised and you’re concerned about safety or a kidnapping, you might say, “I saw an unattended child on aisle eight,” in a pleasant and polite tone. Avoid saying, “You need to go get your kid and do a better job of watching her,” in a disapproving judgmental tone.
By now you should know if you are one of those women who shame other mothers. If this is the case, it is a definite sign that you may need more balance in your life. We could all use a bit more balance in our lives. If we have to put others down so that we can justify our own neurotic behaviors, then we know we are too close to the edge! Besides what does our mommy shaming behavior teach our kids? We wouldn’t dare want our daughters and sons to be known as “the mean girl” or “classroom bully” would we? What would the neighbors say!
– Carnigee Truesdale-Howard, PsyD, ABPP, Pediatric Psychologist with Beaumont Children’s Divisions of Hematology/Oncology & Gastroenterology