Parenting is not a one-size-fits-all experience, yet so many of us judge the parenting choices of others if they differ from ours, or those we aspire to if we are not yet parents. Armed with images from the media and advice from so-called parenting experts, many of us think we know the “right” way to parent even when this advice is conflicting and leads us to question our own choices. This leads many mothers to become polarized from each other with an “us vs. them” mentality. One such polarization that seems to get mothers heated is the working moms vs. stay-at-home moms debate.
Working Moms vs. Stay-at-Home Moms and Why There is Judgement
Why do moms judge each other? Everyone seems to have their own opinion on what a good mom is supposed to look like. She either gives up her career to tend to her family’s needs or she outsources help so she can tackle her dreams. Alternatively, she might attempt to do both, committing to a “supermom” juggle that leaves her depleted, though she must never complain about it because others might think she doesn’t love her kids.
Because there are conflicting messages on what it means to be a good mother, many of us rush to judgement because we decide one way is “right” and Google our way to the evidence that backs us up. We might even decide on an idea of what it means to be a good mom before we have children like one stay-at-home mom admitted in a teary Facebook post that went viral.1 In the post, she says that before she became one, she judged stay-at-home moms, believing they were “lazy” or “lucky to be able to not have to work,” which subscribes to the harmful idea that domestic work is not real work. Now that she’s a stay-at-home mom, she understands how “overwhelming” the job really is, and how lonely it can be as well.
But mothers who work for pay are not immune to judgement either. Working moms are criticized for not giving all of their time and energy to their children by those who see paid work as a selfish choice that hurts the family. It’s clear then that nobody wins this debate.2
How Judgement Hurts Us
Whether we keep our judgements to ourselves or share them, criticism doesn’t just hurt other moms. It also has the potential of harming us by robbing us of connections and confidence as mothers. When we shame other mothers, we give up our ability to bond with them, something we desperately need today with loneliness at an all-time high.3 And when we are socially isolated, we are more likely to suffer from low self-esteem and low confidence.4 It’s also likely that if we are chronically critical of others, we are probably just as critical of ourselves.
How this Judgement Can Trickle Down to the Kids
When we shame other moms, we tend to focus on the adults in the scenario, not the kids. But mom-shaming hurts kids as much as it hurts their moms. Children model their parents’ behavior and when our children see us mouthing off about other peoples’ decisions, they may feel justified in judging others just as harshly. Even more, if our criticisms get back to the moms we’re judging, our shame might hurt their confidence, something her own kids will notice and potentially mirror. Though we might fantasize about how we might parent her kids better, our judgements will be creating an opposite effect. Isn’t modeling praise and acceptance healthier and more loving?
Changing Our Perspective
The truth is that motherhood is proving to be stressful for all mothers, especially in America where the lack of supportive public policy means mothers get less paid maternal leave and less childcare support.5 Add an unfair division of labor amongst the sexes,6 and it’s no wonder that mothers are at a breaking point, seemingly more stressed than ever before.7
Until we have more support systems in place to help mothers, we must change our perspective and become more lax about what being a good mother means. It’s the only way to build the village we so long for, the kind our ancestors depended on to thrive.8 Instead of pitting one kind of parent against another, maybe it’s time we rebuild the village. With help from others and healthier lifestyle choices, we might move away from judgement and towards acceptance, including acceptance of ourselves.