It can be the harshest of judgments and the most isolating of circumstances, just at the time you need support the most. Nothing stings a mom like the judgment or criticism of another mother.
Or worse, mothers — plural. A sort of Lululemon-clad gang mentality can take over in the parenting space.
“I’ll never forget this. We were new to town and I had just had my second baby. I was desperate for someone to talk to, just casual chitchat,” one Brooklyn mom of two told LifeZette. “I struck up a conversation with a group of moms on the playground, and they asked me if I was breastfeeding. When I said no, it was like I had grown warts all over my face — they were horrified, and quickly ended the conversation.”
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That event happened years ago, but the sting of instant judgment and rejection still burns. Any parenting topic — nursing, feeding, napping, vaccinations, discipline, educational choices — these all can be fertile ground for derision and hurt (or acceptance and support).
Why do we judge other mothers?
“Judgmental people come from all walks of life,” New York clinical psychologist Shoshana Bennett told LifeZette. “If that person is judgmental with other moms, she is judgmental in other areas of her life. Being judgmental actually comes from a place of underlying insecurity. All that flag-waving, that need to validate that ‘my way is the only way,’ is a priority for the judgmental person.”
Parenting is like creating a sandcastle — you’ll never create something perfect, but your contribution will have a uniqueness all its own.
“I judge parents’ choices less now that I am a parent,” mom Kate Steilen wrote in an article for website PopSugar. “I see there is a lot more variety to children. I see that each parent interacts with kids differently. Each relationship is unique and more complicated than one parenting style can satisfy. The toolkit? You need a giant one to be a parent. Also, I give people passes because I know what it’s like to parent while tired, or stressed, or just hungry. And I see kids — my own and other people’s — as individuals, not something to push around or control.”
One Malibu, California, mother said the judgment she felt contributed to her postpartum depression.
“After my first child was born, I was depressed and anxious,” she told LifeZette. “I had heard how much I was going to love being a mom — and the exact opposite emotion had swept over me, and I was in therapy, but struggling. One day I met a mom in my pediatrician’s waiting room who asked if I was using cloth diapers, and when I said no, she went into this whole environmental rap, telling me I was harming the environment. I went home and didn’t go out again for weeks except to therapy appointments.”
Mirroring society in general, moms are now focused on their smartphones and iPads — and can miss multiple opportunities to connect with each other in a positive way .
“I am probably too critical of others, and I know I am even harder on myself. It is so much easier to be quiet and unassuming,” mom Jennifer Swartvagher told Today.com. “If I don’t put myself out there, there is little chance of getting hurt. These days, we are standing in the back of the gym, our eyes focused on our iPhones while we wait to pick up our kids from an activity.”
So is judging and criticizing other mothers just a way of life for American mothers?
“The moms I met in Thailand and Burma shared their experiences with bottle feeding or breasts, going back to work or even bringing the kid along for the ride,” Briana De Marco Pearl wrote on aperfectwedding.com’s parenting page of her time in Southeast Asia. “That I might not have fed, clothed, or cared for my own kid in different ways remained mostly irrelevant.”
“As many parenting books as there are, that’s how many ways there are to parent. Moms should support one another. It’s hard enough with support — but without, it’s that much harder.”
“The simple fact that I was also a mom served as impetus enough for a friendly interaction,” De Marco Pearl continued. “Back at home [Los Angeles], it’s harder to talk about these supposedly ubiquitous parenting dilemmas while I’m also doing my best not to offend or judge, or to be judged in return.”
As Americans, “we often have strong convictions about things we believe in, and a lot of passion,” said Bennett. “That said, you can find judgmental moms everywhere who need to convince someone, ‘I am right.’ But it’s silly — as many parenting books as there are, that’s how many ways there are to parent. Moms should support one another. It’s hard enough with support, but without, it’s just that much harder.”
A Woburn, Massachusetts, mother of three echoed this sentiment. “One of my best friends for life started out as someone I guess I judged; I didn’t talk to her for months at preschool pickup because she always looked so pulled-together — in an on-trend dress and heels — while I was always in sweats. One day, our little boys came out holding hands. We looked at one another and smiled. And one of the most important friendships of my life began.”
Dr. Bennett says we need to change our foundational thinking about the choices of others when it comes to being a mom.
“Whatever is right for you and your family is right for you and your family. So we need to throw out the concept that there is a right way to raise our kids, begin really hearing each other — and authentically support each other.”