The Fine Art of Mama Shaming
One day, in the rush before Christmas, I walked through an archway at the same time as two older women. Partly to give them more room, and partly just from being tired, I moved to the left while I was walking under the arch and roughly bumped my arm into the pole. This happened while I was wearing Sweet Baby in his baby bjorn carrier. He got a little jolt when I bumped into the arch. He often does. Between my poor depth perception (an eyesight flaw) and not having had a full night’s sleep for 9 months, I often seem to bump into things. Sweet Baby couldn’t care less, remained his sweet, smiling self as usual. But the two women cared. I was chastised for not being careful, for being a bad mother, and for “choking” the baby. I would go on and tell you about the other situations in which I was mama shamed, but they are equally dumb.
It takes a village to raise a child.
That’s the saying, right? And as someone who occasionally feels isolated in a foreign country, I keenly feel the value in that. But what value are mother shamers adding to the world of parenting? In my 9 months of being a mother, I’ve been mama shamed 4 times. This doesn’t seem to be such a high number, especially considering that for every mother shamer I encounter, there are at least a dozen kind, encouraging strangers, usually with children of their own, who stop to say that my baby is beautiful, or to ask about our day, or to exchange parenting tips and sometimes phone numbers, telling me, in more or less words, that I’m doing a good job at this parenting thing. So why do I care about the exceptions to the rule (who, I might add, never have any children)?
It’s the same reason why bullies always get to me: the women who do the mother shaming are just so mean. They shout at me their disapproval of whatever arbitrary parenting decision I’ve made that, in their eyes, is all sorts of wrong. If you, a stranger reading this, want to help ensure my child is getting a good upbringing and you notice that I’m doing it wrong, all so very wrong, here are a few ideas on how you can become involved in helping to parent my child. For instance, you could say:
1. “Oh, you look exhausted. And your baby is 9 months old? Why, that’s a common time for sleep regression. Let’s go back to your place and I can watch him for a few hours while you take a nap.”
2. “What developmental stage is your little boy at? Oh, between quickly crawling and falteringly attempting to walk? I bet you don’t have any time to yourself, much less to keep up with basic household chores. I’ll bring my mop and bucket to your apartment so that I can clean your floors while you chase after your baby.”
3. “Excuse me, is that milk vomit in your hair? Gloopy! Please, let me use my handkerchief to help sop that up for you. Afterwards, we can go home and I’ll bounce the baby while you give yourself a shampoo and rinse.”
4. “Look, I know this isn’t any of my business, but I just LOVE children and I couldn’t help but feel concerned when X happened.” (X = anything you, as a mother, might do, but most particularly anything that doesn’t have any actual bearing on the welfare of your child.) “Look, I know this isn’t any of my business, but I just LOVE children and I couldn’t help but feel concerned when you opened that umbrella inside the cafe. Opening umbrellas indoors causes bad luck, and I don’t want you to bring bad luck to your child. He’s so darling!”
5. “YOU CAN’T DO THAT!!! YOU’RE A MOTHER NOW; YOU CAN’T JUST THINK OF YOURSELF.YOU NEED TO BE CAREFUL!!! YOU’RE SETTING A BAD EXAMPLE TO YOUR CHILD. THAT’S BAD PARENTING!!!”
Guess which one all of the women who mother shamed me chose to use? Ding, ding, ding. Number 5 across the board! And always yelled, never spoken. It’s hard to really convey the contempt and hatred with which these women say these words — more than one has used the same phrases — to shame me. And the thing that really gets me is that every single time, just before these women yelled at me, I SMILED AT THEM. It’s my Midwestern/Ohio background; my people are like golden retrievers. If we notice anyone looking at us, we assume they want to be friends.
I don’t know how to close this. I don’t know what to do when the mama shamers suddenly emerge to stomp out my shaky self-confidence with the vigour of their anger. The only thing I can do is tell myself the truth: these people don’t care a thing about my child, or any child. They’re just hateful people who need easy prey, and a mother carrying her baby can’t move away fast enough.