The Mom Shame Game

I was at the nail salon indulging in a little pedicure love with my almost four year old daughter last weekend. All was going great until my nail technician asked if my daughter was my only child. “She is!” I replied cheerfully. Conversation over, right? Wrong! My nail technician went on for five minutes about all of the reasons why my daughter being an only child is wrong (She’ll be so lonely! She’ll have to take care of you all by herself when you’re old! It’s not fair to make an only child!) and at that point I pointed out to her, through clenched teeth, that our family size is our business and that in our house we happen to believe that all families of all sizes and makeups are wonderful. And I asked her to please stop trying to shame me in front of my daughter for something that was none of her business in the first place.

A roll of her eyes later she thankfully stopped talking. Honestly, any more words out of her and I probably would have been in tears. Not because her opinions hurt me, but because she thought it was her right to ask personal questions about our family and then, when she didn’t agree with our choices, to attempt to publicly shame me in front of my child for something that was in no way her business. It was hurtful to me that my daughter could be witnessing another woman belittling her mother for making the right choices for herself, her family and her body. Thankfully, my daughter was engrossed in her own toe painting and didn’t see the hurt on my face or the shame in my eyes. Unfortunately, one day she won’t be so distracted, and she’ll see it.

A few weeks ago my husband and I took our daughter to the birthday party she was invited to. We didn’t know any of the few parents who were there but we smiled and said hello and tended to our daughter until the kids were ushered out to the activity, and we waited in the party room. No one really made any attempts to talk to us, although my husband did talk to the two other dads who were there for a little while. The other moms ignored me, and I sat quietly watching my daughter have fun with some friends.

When the kids came back  and present opening commenced, my daughter was so excited for her friend to open the gift she had picked out. “Oh, goody, more stickers to get stuck to the floors and ruin the furniture” the birthday girl’s mom drawled with a roll of her eyes, as her friends snickered. It was like a ton of mean girl bricks hit me in the stomach. As I was standing directly next to the mother, and my daughter was enthusiastically telling me how much her friend liked the gift (a Melissa and Doug reusable sticker book and scenes), I glanced over at Mean Girl Mom and stammered out a response “They’re reusable and only stick to scenes in the book. We really enjoy our sets so my daughter thought her friend might, too” I muttered lamely. I looked around for my husband to share a “WTF, am I really being present shamed at the birthday party of a child I’ve never met for giving a gift my own child loves?” but he wasn’t paying attention to the exchange. Thankfully our daughter wasn’t either. It would have been so hurtful for her to see other moms making fun of the gift she had chosen, and shaming her own mama for giving it.

That’s shame, friends. It’s that overwhelming need some Mean Girl Moms have to make sure other far less superior moms know they are right, and you are wrong. Shamers enjoy holding over the heads of their victims anything they can, loudly and publicly. Have the “wrong” kind of family? Shame on that mom for believing a family size and shape that works for her is sufficient, I’m going to make sure she and everyone else around knows that’s wrong and she should feel terrible about herself for it. Give the “wrong” gift at a birthday party? You betcha the shame game is going to be out in full force. I mean, Mean Girl Mom has to make sure her friends all know that such a draconian and uncool gift as a sticker set cannot be socially accepted without as many snide comments as possible.

See a mom doing/saying/acting in a way you would never (while clutching your pearls)? Off with her (metaphorical) head, the louder and more martyrish the better, especially if there are lots of other parents around to hear and see your great act of shaming. You know what mom-shaming does? It makes someone with very little self-esteem and confidence feel like a big tough guy for making someone else feel terrible about themselves in a public forum. It makes a real life mom who is out in the world trying her best and giving all that she can give question and second guess every decision she makes because feeling like you’re failing your child(ren)  isn’t enough for someone, and they’re willing to make that very publicly know.

Moms are bragging on social media and in person about how they’ve shamed other moms, loudly and in person, to make sure everyone on the playground/in the pool/at the birthday party knows that this woman deserves scorn and contempt for her choices and the shamer believes they should be heaped with praise and adulations. Not the case here, friends. You can be judgmental to yourself about other parents’ choices. It happens to all of us. That doesn’t mean you have to vocalize these judgments. And when you take it one million steps further to heap shame onto another mother for making choices you wouldn’t, you’re saying to all of us moms out here that while the struggle might be real for you, for me I only struggle with who my next victim will be and what kind of accolades the other Mean Girl Moms will bestow upon me with I brag about my shaming to them.

Why are we so quick to hurt each other? Why is shaming our peers acceptable in our society, even cheered on by so many? I don’t have the answers to that, but I wish I did. As a mom who recently was publicly mom-shamed the only answer I have is be kind. To each other, to yourself, to the stranger at the birthday party or the nail salon or the park. Show Kindness Moms are so much cooler than the Mean Girl Moms!

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