Reframing ‘Mommy Shaming’: How to Build a United Mothering Community
“Everything changes when you become a mother.” This is what the other moms told me toward the end of my pregnancy. “You’ll see”, they said. I also heard a lot that, “Pregnancy is the easy part. Just wait until the baby comes!” And a whole lot of, “Say goodbye to sleep!”
Four months in as a new mom of a beautiful baby girl, I can assure you that in my experience, while many things have changed, the best parts of my life have stayed the same. Pregnancy was by no means the easy part. Is there an “easy” part in growing, and birthinga child? My sleep pattern, though perhaps less continuous than it once was, is still better now than it was as a grad student pulling all-nighters and living off a caffeine drip.
Why do we do this?
Why, when we become mothers, do we feel compelled to “warn” those who are becoming mothers about what their, admittedly more complex, futures may hold? Why do we take a process like mothering, that is actually beautiful and unique to us as women and use it to weaponize our opinions against other women? Why do we feel compelled to take the worst parts of our experiences as mothers and project them onto women who are just beginning to curate their own identities as parents – when what we truly need at that time is love, support, and encouragement?
I gave birth to my first daughter Louise just 16 weeks ago, and in that short time I’ve already experienced my first few tastes of so-called “mommy shaming” from other moms both online and among a few of my friends and acquaintances. I never realized that adding the title “mother” to my preexisting social identities as sister, daughter, and wife, would automatically open me up for an immediate measure of fierce scrutiny at a level the other terms didn’t nearly incur.
An example: I am a personal trainer and own my own personal training business, Peak Health Consultancy. So I decided to post my postpartum workout routines on my personal Instagram account. These posts served as a record for me to refer to in subsequent pregnancies, as well as a resource for other fit moms looking to regain health and fitness after baby.
Yet every time I added a workout to my story, whether it was strength training, or running, or a group class, I got similar comments: “My doctor wouldn’t let me do [X] at [X] weeks postpartum! Are you sure that’s safe?” or “I was always told you shouldn’t do any core work until 12 weeks after a C-section, did your OB-GYN not tell you that?” or “I wanted to lift weights and run after my baby but it killed my milk supply – are you not breastfeeding?”
Again, my question, Why do we do this?
I think one of the hardest parts of growing up as a female is enduring the societal pressure of what it means to be a girl, and eventually a woman, against the backdrop of a heavily patriarchal culture that leaves us continually fighting for equality with boys and men. However, one of the most insidious parts of growing up as a female is working hard to build a strong community with women who should be in your corner, only to be met with criticism, judgment, and exclusion.
When we take a once-in-a-lifetime role like motherhood and use it either to martyr ourselves (“I haven’t taken a shower in four days!”) or to criticize other women (“I would never feed my baby formula, doesn’t she know how bad it is?”), we are missing a rare opportunity to both transform ourselves and connect with each other on a level that goes deeper than just friendship or companionship. We have become mothers together, and we now share an identity that goes beyond words to the deepest core of who we are as women.
So let’s change the question a bit to, What can we do instead of this?
Fellow moms, we are on the same team. Just like as fellow fementrepreneurs, we should lift each other up with earnest and constructive communication about our individual journeys as mothers, celebrating each other instead of clamoring to break one another down for her choices. Or to justify our own. We must create communities in person and online that are dedicated to sharing all the amazing things about being mothers, helping each other get through our struggles without demanding that others must suffer along with us. We have a responsibility to our own kids, daughters and sons alike, to demonstrate that myriad ways of mothering reflect a diversity of thought that strengthens, rather than discredits, our shared experiences of parenting.
The rally cry is simple, Let’s end the “mommy shaming” and the thinly veiled judgments framed as “advice.” Let’s choose to share our experiences in a more positive way, giving current mothers and those yet to be a sense of hope and promise in their roles. Becoming a mother, they say, is like watching your heart walk around outside your body. Remembering that we are all doing the best we can to raise our tethered little hearts is a powerful way to reconnect our community as mothers united.