If you’re reading this, I’ll bet that during your stint in parenthood so far, you’ve either been “parent shamed,” you’ve shamed another parent, or both.
It’s actually quite a normal thing to judge others, assessing others’ behaviors as a gauge and reflection of our own.
This is one way we connect with others. When we see someone behaving similarly to us, our choices seem validated, we feel like they get us. And, when we see someone who is behaving differently from us, our choices feel challenged, so we tend to judge or shame them. It’s in our nature, you might say!
We judge others as a survival tactic to determine if our environment is safe and viable. When we see a fellow parent not adequately creating safety for their child physically or emotionally, we interpret that as a threat to us and to the safety of our own child … and in response, we either get defensive, lean towards shaming, or we detach from the incident all together.
Whether it’s glaring at the frazzled mom snapping at her child in Target or making snarky comments on social media about the latest “bad parent” viral video being shared online, judging, and criticizing fellow parents takes many forms.
But, no matter how good it feels in the moment to proudly (read: self-righteously) declare yourself better than “that” parent, does it really help those parent (or their kids) when we shame them? The simple answer is, “No.”
With that in mind, let’s take an honest look at the four reasons we love judging, shaming, and criticizing other parents so much:
1. We fear for a child’s safety.
When we see a parent swat the bottom of a kid in the store or hear a dad yelling at her kid in the parking lot, we feel scared for the kid and what might come next for them. It’s easy to think that this parent is “abusive” and doesn’t know how to control their child. However, we could also take the perspective that this stressed parent might need some help and empathy from us.
2. We’re insecure about our own parenting.
In our culture of super moms and Pinterest fanatics, competition is fierce. To make ourselves look better, we shame parents who don’t share our strengths. Is that mom really “a bad mom” because she didn’t host a DIY, Frozen-themed birthday party extravaganza for her child … like you did for yours?
Here’s the deal: every parent has different priorities and different strengths. If your strength is being creative, good for you! But if not, that’s fine, too. Combat this type of petty parent shaming by owning your version of awesome and allowing other families their own.
3. We refuse to validate any style of parenting but our own.
Parenting fads come and go with each generation. Our generation has its own brand new “right” way to raise healthy children. With all the amazing research that backs some of these trends up, it’s easy to feel justified in shaming another parent for not doing things the “obviously” right way.
But, research down the road will likely debunk some of the ideas we’re so certain about now, just like we debunked our parents’ approach. We’re all just doing the best we can with the wisdom we have at the moment.
4. It’s “fun” to feel superior.
Of the many ugly co-conspirators to shame, smugness and superiority lead the pack.
It’s so easy to say “I’d never … (insert egregious parenting behavior of choice).” But before you let your “smug flag” fly, pause and remember the times you felt one hair away from throwing out the baby with the bath water.
I promise you, every parent makes mistakes, including you. Maybe show others the mercy and compassion you’d want fellow parents to show you.
Although shaming is a natural human instinct it is harmful and hurtful.
It’s time to embrace our own flaws and show empathy for the hard task of raising a healthy family.
When you think about it, that’s all we want for ourselves and others: We all just want to raise healthy children, create safety in our families, and be great parents! So let’s lift each other instead of tearing each other down.
Mercedes Samudio, LCSW, is a licensed psychotherapist, bestselling author, international speaker, and visionary entrepreneur.