In Defense of “Mommy Shaming”
When I had a baby, I was prepared. I had researched everything from breastfeeding to Montessori school. I had bought everything from a crib to orthopedically-correct toddler shoes. My car seat was installed, and my husband had taken swaddling lessons. I was prepared.
I had been told all about the inevitable unsolicited advice that would be coming from the women that hadn’t birthed a child since the Eisenhower era. I was prepared to smile gracefully and forget any and all advice that involved using chicken bones as teethers (not making that one up, it’s real advice).
What I wasn’t prepared for was the onslaught of blogs, lists, status updates, and commenters that would pathologically spout the new company line: “her child, her choice.”
Facebook seems to have become the new neighborhood playground for swapping mommy stories about whose toddler throws the worst grocery store tantrums, asking for advice on funny-colored bowel movements (hopefully the child’s), and getting a sympathetic shoulder when you haven’t slept in three days and you’re seriously contemplating running away and joining the circus. I myself am a member of no less than four different mom groups, each with a different purpose, and all with a standing rule about being supportive. No matter what.
I was browsing Facebook recently, and a woman posted in one of these groups asking why her pediatrician was telling her to keep her 1 year old rear facing in her car seat. Many women came back with statistics, reports, scientific studies, and crash test videos enforcing a simple fact of physics: keeping children rear-facing is safer. By an approximate margin of 500%. This isn’t debatable. It’s fact. And when one woman came on and said that it was totally acceptable to turn your 11 month old around because it would make them happier, I jumped in with a little shame.
This was obviously a woman that had no interest in logic, reason, or avoiding potential death. She was making parenting decisions based on the same logic that the state of Kentucky used writing its motorcycle helmet laws. Hint: there aren’t any.
This wasn’t the time to sit back and remain quiet while a woman chose to raise her kids with an unnatural affinity for Bob Dylan. This was the time to make her feel terrible for making parenting decisions based on what was convenient, what was easy, and what made her infant smile like she’d just given him Cookie Crisp for dinner.
I stated that distributing that particular brand of parenting while ignoring every ounce of, you know, science, in the world was irresponsible. And I got immediately called out for “mommy shaming.”
There are studies on everything from public vs. private school, breastfeeding vs. formula feeding, and even what color of nightlight promotes the healthiest sleep. Most of these choices make a minimal impact at best. Putting your kid in Kindergarten at 6 instead of five gives them an educational advantage, but only until about the fourth grade. Breastfeeding has developmental and immunological benefits, but not as much previously touted. And by God, don’t buy a blue night light.
But then there are the opinions that can have potentially fatal consequences. For your own child, and even for other people’s.
Everyone has their own opinion, and you know what, sometimes those opinions are wrong. But according to every mom with access to a keyboard, you are only allowed to speak those opinions with all the love and acceptance of a Daniel Tiger episode. No hint of judgement. And God forbid you actually question the decision of another mom. That will get you thrown right into mommy jail, where Cailliou is stuck on repeat, and you’re forced to eat cold leftovers covered in toddler drool for all of eternity.
But you know what, shame is a powerful motivator. Shame is the foundation of the social contract. If no one ever felt bad about themselves and the consequences of their decisions, our world would be unlivable. Shame keeps us from indulging our every primal whim. Shame is what keeps (most) people from singing loudly to Abba with the windows down in rush hour traffic. Shame makes our society more livable.
And if shame will keep a child from contracting an infectious disease, or from getting paralyzed in a car crash, then I say bring on the stocks!
As a parent, you will run into this particular brand of molly-coddling in a couple of specific areas. It is also a rampant theme in the vaccination debate. The vaccinators have every piece of science, logic, and reason on their sides. But no matter how many time you present studies, or facts, or mortality rates, the anti-vaccinators just ignore it and bring up a new and more ridiculous argument.
The problem comes in when you’re dealing with people so overwhelmed with hormones, and love, and squishy baby thighs that they can’t listen to reason. They can only listen to the pieces of advice that make their tiny little monsters squeal and giggle with delight. This is an entirely natural reaction, and I understand it completely. But when that decision affects the health and safety of your child, or god forbid, the health and safety of MY child, then it’s no longer “your child, your choice.” It’s now my time to step in and call you out for being an idiot.
Because endangering your child is cause for concern, and a little ridicule. And endangering my child is with absolutely no valid reason is shameful.