There’s no such thing as a perfect parent. And as new moms quickly learn, everybody has an opinion about how you should be raising your baby. The majority of millennial moms say they have experienced some kind of “mom-shaming” about nearly decision they make: whether or not they breastfeed, whether they’re stay-at-home moms or not, or even if they feed their children non-organic snacks. The problem has even inspired the hashtag #EndMommyWars, showing that this problem is bigger than just an occasional snide comment from a stranger.
According to researchers, though, strangers’ judgments aren’t the biggest issue here; the biggest mommy-shamers actually tend to be the people closest to you. Six in 10 mothers of young children report that they’ve been criticized about their parenting, according to a study published on Monday by the C.S. Mott Children's Hospital National Poll on Children's Health at the University of Michigan. The main shamers? Your parents and your partner, according to the 475 women surveyed from all around the country. Here is the shamer breakdown, by the numbers:
- 37 percent: Mom’s own parents
- 36 percent: Mom’s partner
- 31 percent: The in-laws
- 14 percent: Friends
- 12 percent: Strangers
Moms reported all sorts of criticisms they had fended off, most commonly how they disciplined their children. They indicated they were also judged based on their children's diets and sleep schedules, their choice of child care, their baby proofing, and whether they breastfed or bottle fed.
This constant barrage of criticism isn’t exactly difficult to shrug off, either. Around 42 percent of the criticized moms said that it made them feel more unsure and anxious about their parenting choices. Fifty percent of these moms reported that they spent less time around the people who were the most critical of them. Moms’ perceptions of who is or isn’t supportive can then impact how moms choose who can spend time with the child, the study says.
“Unsolicited advice — especially from the people closest to her child — can be perceived as meaning she’s not doing a good job as a mother,” says the poll’s co-director Sarah Clark, M.P.H, in a press release. “That can be hurtful.”
For a loved one who isn’t sure how to navigate conversations with new moms, the study provides some best practices.
- Leave most of the advice-giving to health care professionals. While moms report that unsolicited advice feels like criticism, guidance from their doctors feels much more helpful. Clark says that most mothers view their doctor as a source of accurate medical information, so they tend to seek out practical, professional advice to lower their anxiety about certain parenting decisions.
- Give credit for the child’s good behavior, not just blame. According to the poll, 56 percent of moms believe that they don’t get enough credit for what they do well; they only receive blame for temper tantrums or less-than-perfect behavior, they say. This focus on the negative can create a warped perception of their own parenting ability. Next time you see your loved one’s well-behaved child, make a point of commenting on that.
- Don’t dwell on what worked for you. Times (and federal guidelines) have changed, and so have best parenting practices. “Family members should respect that mothers of young children may have more updated information about child health and safety,” Clark says, “and ‘what we used to do’ may no longer be the best advice.”
- If you must give advice, be thoughtful about how you’re presenting it. Let’s face it: it’s hard to not give your best parenting tips to your loved one. So if you must say something about their parenting, Clark says to give the advice with “empathy and encouragement.” After all, it’s important to communicate to any new mom that you trust her ability to make her own decisions.