Mum-shaming: It’s not about you, it’s about them

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Mum-shaming is a euphemism for bullying in my book. If you’ve not come across it, then odds are it was probably masked as ‘harmless’ unsolicited advice. You know, when that complete stranger (say a passerby in the park or a mother at the school gate) wags their finger in your face for a parenting choice you made for your child. 

Mum-shaming is not new, this horrible ability we have as humans to tear each other down has been around for generations. But, with screens making trolls more anonymous and braver than ever before, mum-shaming seems to be getting out of control. And I’m not here for it. The next time someone decides to pipe up, here’s what you can do.

Get rid of their power

When someone decides to impart their displaced wisdom on to you, you have a choice. A choice to let that comment land, sink in, and play on your mind. Or the choice to let it wash over you. And by choosing the latter, the mum-shamer no longer holds the cards. 

Let’s face it, they want to get under your skin. They want a reaction. They want to feel validated or get others to agree with their opinion. They say these things for you to nod along and tell them how wise they are or to scare you into doubting your maternal instinct. Whichever way you look at it, it comes down to power play. The mum-shamers want to have control. Learning how to remain unbothered or unphased by their comments, diminishes their power. 

It’s them. Not you.

Repeat this to yourself a million times. When someone starts critiquing your life choices, it says more about them and their life than it does about yours. 

My theory is that when someone decides to negate someone else’s birth experience, motherhood journey or parenting style, they do this to make themselves feel better about their own. 

So when that negative Nancy starts saying things like “A C-section? Oh, you had it easy”, maybe what she’s really saying is something along the lines of “my natural labour was so horrific and traumatising that I’m belittling your experience so that I can reframe mine as heroic and more valuable.” 

A classic projection. Someone who has bottled up their feelings, or afraid to confront something within themselves, and decides to throw their internal aggression at anyone else to feel better about their life. I can never fully understand why someone would want to actually do this and I would never justify it either, but by remembering that their actions and words reflect on them and not you, it can help remove the sting from their nasty comments. 

Choose your response wisely

Remember, you don’t even have to acknowledge or respond to mum-shaming. I know this is easier said than done, it might be trickier to straight up ignore someone in person, but know that you don’t have to retaliate. 

If you’re fighting anger with anger, it may only serve to escalate the situation and can give the mum-shamer even more things to rebut against. What they want is a reaction, giving it to them is like throwing fuel on the flames. Sometimes silence, walking away or shrug is all you need to do to stop a mum-shamer mid-flow.

You’ll never be ‘perfect’ 

If you’re a working mum, you’ve probably had people really concerned about how much time you’re spending away from your child. If you’re a stay at home mum, well don’t you have any drive or ambition? You can never get it right in the eyes of a mum-shamer. There is always something they think you should be doing in order to be a completely virtuous, perfect mama who can do no wrong. Motherhood is a perfectly imperfect journey, and that’s totally OK.

Open up the conversation

OK, if you don’t want to take the mum-shaming lying down and you can’t let it pass without a comment – kill them with kindness. Flip the shaming back on them and ask them why they feel compelled to ask you that. Or what led them to this point where they felt they needed to attack your decisions in life.
People love talking about themselves, so maybe what they’re really doing is trying to find a way to open up about their own personal trauma (I find this to be particularly accurate when mum-shaming is coming from people you actually know). Maybe that judgy comment slipped out as a reflex or a defence mechanism sparked by their own negative experiences. Maybe they just need a hug and to let it out, not let it out on you.