Mom Shaming Is The Worst
No one enjoys being the subject of mom shaming. And I think it's probably also true that most people don't intend to mom shame another mom. But it happens. We all have moments when we say something hurtful or opinionated without intending to inflict shame or pain on another person. It kind of comes with the territory of having a mouth. But being on the receiving end of mom shaming is awful, especially when it's done publically, either to your face or online.
It Happens To All Of Us Eventually
A few weeks back, while visiting the Japanese Gardens in Portland, Oregon, I was doing the responsible mom thing and applying sunscreen to my four- and five-year-old daughters prior to our ninety-degree walking tour. As I sprayed sunscreen on their arms, slightly away from the crowds (I'm not a monster), I heard a woman's voice. "Stand back, dear. Those spray sunscreens are filled with terrible chemicals. I don't want you breathing any of that." It wasn't even a badly masked whisper. Nope, full volume, baby. My husband was parking the car and my mother-in-law was chatting with another person in line. I might be the only one who really heard her, but I wouldn't really know either way. I didn't look up.
It was a careless comment from a complete stranger. One that wasn't even directed right at me. I tried not to let it get to me, but I still felt it. How could I not? She was complaining that I was dousing my kids in harmful chemicals. Read into that just a little bit and it becomes, "What kind of terrible mother poisons her children and all the innocent people around her?!" I wasn't about to let this woman ruin my day. I wasn't going to let that comment be the thing I obsessed about instead of enjoying the beauty of the gardens. So here's what I did.
What To Do When You're Being Mom Shamed
The first thing you need to do, or rather not do, is react. Keep cool. Don't look up. Don't engage the person passing judgment on you. You can't please them all and you don't have to. If your shamer is someone you don't know, then ignore them completely. Who cares what they think? If you do know your shamer, don't respond immediately. Give yourself time to calm down, let your cheeks stop burning and your face unclench. Breathe.
Gain Some Perspective
While you're busy not reacting, try to put yourself in their shoes. Did they mean to belittle you with their comment or were they just talking? Were they trying to be helpful and just accidentally came off sounding like a jerk? Sometimes people speak out of fear or ignorance and you just have to let it slide. And girl, if it was a comment online, just shake it off. Trolls don't give a rat's nasty backside how their comments make you feel so why should you care about that bully's opinion?
Whether they had good intentions or ill, you gain nothing by hanging onto the hurt. Let it go. Forgive them for their carelessness/tactlessness/stupidity/well-meaning-but-uninvited-advice/downright-cruelty. Whatever it was, it's not your problem. It's their heart issue and you can't change other people. You can only control you, girl.
Respond--ONLY IF It Benefits The Situation
Before you respond, ask yourself these three questions:
Is the shamer online or in person? If they're online, don't waste your time or energy. It will only leave you more frustrated and the chances of showing the troll the error of their ways are slim-to-none. Don't bother.
Is the shamer someone you know? If not, don't respond. Just walk away or continue with your day. You don't owe them anything.
Will a response encourage the shamer to do things differently next time? We don't respond in order to make sure they know how much their comments hurt us. We respond to address inaccuracies, encourage more gentleness in the future, or thank them for trying to help. Yeah, I said that. Sometimes, after we've had time to calm down and gain perspective, we realize they were right. It's okay to say "Thank you for pointing out how I could have done that differently/better. If you have the opportunity to share that info with another mom in the future, maybe you can try it this way instead."
Once you've done all this, it's time to move on. Remind yourself that you're doing your best, you're comfortable with your decisions as a mom, and no one knows your kids better than you. Brush off the whole experience. Talk to a good friend or your partner if you need to vent or get it all out of your head. Do something that makes you feel stronger, wiser, more grounded. That moment or that comment do not define you. You are a good mom. You are a great mom.
Remember Everything You're Doing Right
My kids were covered in sunscreen. I protected them from skin cancer that day. (And you know what? I've tried essential oil sunscreen and it made both my kids cry their eyes out because it smells so terrible. You do what you have to do.) I spent the day with them, touring gardens which emphasized another culture, talking about the differences and similarities. We laughed and played, we jumped over 'lava' rocks and sang and danced on the way, and we had a great time. Chemicals aside, I was a great mom that day. I gave my daughters a memorable, fun adventure. And I don't regret a thing.
You are a great mom. Don't let anyone take that away from you. Be you. Mom on.
We All Know The Scenario
"Well hello, aren't you adorable! How old are you?"
"I'm three. Do you have a baby in your tummy?"
The 50-year-old man looks at you and chuckles uncomfortably. Meanwhile, you melt into a puddle on the floor.
Kids Say The Darndest Things
If you have kids, I guarantee this has happened or will happen to you at some point. Kids don't think about people's feelings before they speak. They just say what's on their mind. Their innocence is part of what makes them so adorable. So the next time you find yourself in this situation, remember these 3 steps.
How To Handle That Embarrassing Moment
Step 1: Smile and Take A Deep Breath
Didn't we just go over how every single parent ever has experienced this moment? That means even that overweight man your child just insulted has very likely been on your side of this situation. Smile at your child's victim in an apologetic sort of way and take a deep breath. Don't overreact. Heck, don't even react. Let the moment slide by and give your cheeks a few seconds to stop burning. Usually, the person your child's just slammed is every bit as embarrassed as you. No one wants to be called fat, even by a three-year-old.
Step 2: Say Something Nice
You can apologize briefly and quietly if you must, but don't make a big deal out of it and DON'T force your youngster to apologize. It will only embarrass her and make things more awkward. Instead, I like to change the course of the conversation by offering a genuine compliment or asking a question of the offended person. Something like, "I really like your hat. Is that your team?" This does three things: First, it takes the focus off that awkward, and usually true, thing your kid just said. Second, it provides that poor guy an opportunity to walk away from your encounter with something other than the embarrassment to remember you by. Third, it sets an example for your child about polite conversation starters. So they know. For future reference.
Step 3: Talk About It LATER
After you've left the grocery store/barbecue/funeral/etc. and you're in a place where you and your kid can have a comfortable and genuine face-to-face, bring up the comment. DO NOT attempt to have this conversation if you are still feeling at all embarrassed or upset. Using your I'm-not-mad-this-is-just-a-normal-conversation voice, you can gently explain to your child that we don't ask people if they have babies in their tummies or say they smell funny or ask if they just farted. Only use this conversation to go over your kid's current offense. There's no need to rehash old offenses unless they specifically ask you about them. This can be very simple: "Honey, it's not polite to ask if someone has a baby in their tummy. Maybe next time you can say/ask..." They'll have questions. Good Lord, will they have questions. Do your best to answer honestly and completely. "Why? Well, asking if they have a baby means you think their tummy is big and that can sometimes hurt people's feelings."
Remember, Your Child Will Grow Out Of It
Sometimes your kid will come up with more questions and that's great. Answer as they arise. My daughter went through a phase where she would whisper what she wanted to ask in my ear before saying it out loud (she's always been a total rule follower). I'd either nod or shake my head and she'd proceed accordingly. These scenarios are super common and don't have to be a big deal. Most of the time, the people your children talk to are going to be perfectly reasonable adults who've been where you're at and they'll give you loads of grace. If you run into someone whose feelings genuinely get hurt... well.... they're a grown-up. I'm not sure it's your job to help them work through that.
Things You Should NOT Do:
Don't make a scene by yelling at or hitting your child because of their comment and don't embarrass them in order to show them how it feels. That's just mean.
Don't force them to apologize for their innocent words
Don't try to explain away your child's actions to the other person. This only keeps the awkwardness going.
Don't run away. Stick around and show your child how grown-ups interact.
Don't discipline your child for their comment, at least not the first three times. If they keep saying rude things despite knowing very well that it's not okay, well then...
Don't try to deal with the situation while you're embarrassed. Wait until you get some separation and perspective to talk about it. I promise you will laugh it off eventually.
Forgive and Don't Forget
Kids are great because they're kids. Let them be little, for this time is so very short. Forgive them easily. I promise they don't mean to embarrass you or others, they're just genuinely curious about literally everything. The fact that your child feels comfortable enough to ask a stranger if they're pregnant is a sign that he's developing well. And don't you forget this moment (not that it's likely to happen) because someday the one gaining a few pounds or trying to quietly relieve some bloaty pressure may be you. And it will be up to you to laugh it off and smile knowingly at that young beet-red mama.
Care to share your stories? It's always great to know we're not alone in this Mama journey. Share with us in the comments!