When I had my first kid, I was terrified. Being in my twenties, I had never had to care for anyone but myself, and then here was this tiny human who, from his first breath on this earth, needed me for everything. I had complications during childbirth so everything happened very fast while I drifted in and out of consciousness in an epidural-induced haze. The nurses wrapped my baby up and whisked him out of the room into the NICU. I cried, wondering what I had done wrong.
Most people don’t realize that, as a mother, I am constantly judging myself. I ask myself hundreds of torturous questions a day, but most of them center around the central theme of “Am I good enough?” I am tragically aware of my humanity, and humans are flawed. My biggest fear is that my all too human flaws will somehow rub off on my children.
Every mother I’ve ever spoken to shares these fears. Warding off this kind of self-deprecating thinking is finally made easier when we see our kids go out into the world, healthy and happy. That’s why mommy-shaming is so detrimental. I already occasionally question my abilities as a parent; most sound mothers do. Having someone else, especially a stranger, call into question my ability as a mom, only deepens that insecurity. It has the potential to do more damage than good.
“I already occasionally question my abilities as a parent; most sound mothers do.”
Meghan Markle is no stranger to this kind of criticism. In May 2019, the duchess gave birth to her first child, Archie, with her husband, Prince Harry of the British royal family. Recently, she brought her infant son along with her to a charity polo game, and photos of Markle embracing her baby as she entered the venue quickly began circulating online. Social media was quick to criticize the new mom on everything from her post-baby body to the way she held her child. Even though her supporters were quick to rally to her defense, the negative comments painted an ugly picture of the criticism that outside observers levy onto moms—especially new ones—who are doing their very best to get by.
The truth is that there is no such thing as a perfect mother, simply because there is no such thing as a perfect person. However, there are good mothers, and even great mothers, among us. That being said, it’s impossible to judge what kind of a mother a person is from being an outside observer of one incident. Children’s behavior can be curated, but not controlled. For example, my kids are very respectful children. They’re curious, polite, and kind, as noted by anyone who knows them in some kind of longterm capacity. However, the woman who watched me fish my flailing 2-year-old out from under the waiting room couch while we were at urgent care because of my 7-year-old’s most recent asthma attack? She might not have a similar assessment.
Mommy-shaming doesn’t help anyone. Not the person levying judgment, not the mother, and certainly not the kids. Imagine how damaging it would be for an upset child to see another adult challenging the authority of their parents? If this stranger doesn’t respect their mother, why should they?
For moms, being shamed in any capacity only adds to the stress of our already very emotionally and mentally taxing job. We have plenty to worry about without adding public opinion to the list of things to stress over. Shaming a mother has the potential to distract that mom from doing what she needs to do, which is raise her child to the best of her abilities. If I had a dime for every time someone challenged my parenting skills, I’d put CoinStar out of business. If I tried to correct everything I’ve ever been shamed for as a mother, I’d spend more time changing myself for the sake of others than I would raising my children.
“Being shamed in any capacity only adds to the stress of our already very emotionally and mentally taxing job.”
So here I am, happy, dimeless, flawed, and human with two great kids. I hope that our society gets to a point where normal people like myself, or extraordinary people like Meghan Markle, Duchess of Sussex, can love our children, and ourselves, in peace.