I am guilty of it. Most of us probably are.
I’ve had times when I’m out in public somewhere and witnessed a mom doing something that made my jaw drop/brain explode/entire body cringe, and my internal judgement system deemed her a bad mom.
It’s a subconscious determination that we don’t even register most of the time.
But you know what? We need to become hyper-aware of it, and we need to stop.
There is a difference between discerning whether a behavior is positive or negative, and passing judgment in the form of “good mom”/”bad mom.”
The truth is that MOST moms out there are trying really dang hard. And the truth is that many of them never feel good enough. Our evaluation that the stranger in the grocery store is a “bad mom,” subconscious or not, isn’t helping to make anyone better.
Moms are bombarded constantly by all of the things the world says they are doing wrong. As a result, we are always second-guessing our every action, and feeling guilty for decisions a ‘good’ mom wouldn’t have made.
The truth is that moms are terrified of being judged by other moms, moms who “have it more together.” And whether we have it together or not, what do we sit around doing but passing judgment on each other?
Google any forums or blog posts on a controversial “this vs. that” topic, and you’ll be blown away by the hateful things moms can find to say to or about each other.
We should be empowering other mamas, not tearing them down! We can have respectful differences of opinion, but deeming someone a good or bad mom is not constructive.
Table of Contents – Things That Don’t Make You a Bad Mom
9 Things We Need to Stop Judging Moms For
#1. Looking At Her Phone
When you see the mom sitting on a park bench, or pushing a stroller or a shopping cart, and wearing a far-off, zoned-out expression as she taps away at a phone screen, your natural inclination might be to think, “Well geez, can’t she do one thing without a phone in her face?” or “Why can’t she just be present with her kids?” or even, “What kind of example is she setting for her children?”
You might assume she’s addicted to her screen and spends her entire day glued to Instagram, or texting her friends about every annoying thing her kids are doing.
But honestly, you don’t know what she’s been doing the other 99.7% of the day.
For all you know, that’s the first chance she’s gotten to pull out her phone.
For all you know, she’s keeping tabs on a family emergency, or following up with her husband on an important subject, or checking her shopping list.
For all you know, she’s feeling completely overwhelmed and just needs a couple of minutes to mentally check out.
#2. Bottle/Formula Feeding
Mamas who feed their babies out of a bottle have to deal with a heck of a lot of crap.
Regardless of whether they exclusively pump and bottle feed, exclusively formula feed, or supplement with formula, people see a bottle come out of the diaper bag and immediately pass judgement.
And the mom holding the bottle absolutely feels it.
In our modern era, scientific research has revealed incredible benefits to breastfeeding, and in the process, drawn attention to the many ways manufactured formula falls short of a mother’s own milk. We’ve also learned a lot more about the process of attachment that comes with physical contact (like the intimate contact created through breastfeeding).
The fact is undeniable: breastmilk IS healthiest and most beneficial for babies, and is highly superior to any replications humans have attempted.
HOWEVER, much like other scientific findings, this fact is true in a controlled, vacuum-sealed environment. But there are so many other factors that contribute to and detract from the health of a baby, and the mother-child relationship.
- Not every mother is able to stay at home full time and nurse around the clock.
- Not every mother receives a naturally abundant supply of milk the second their baby leaves the uterus.
- Not every baby is born with the ability to latch like a Hoover.
- Not every mother WANTS to breastfeed.
When trying to follow the prescriptive process provided by society for raising the best baby and being the best mother actually begins to cause a rift between mother and baby, something needs to change.
Some mothers who struggle with breastfeeding are so determined to keep going, they find a way to push through the difficulties without damaging the relationship they have with their infant, and that’s GOOD.
Some mothers who struggle with breastfeeding recognize that it is causing them to resent their situation, or that their babies aren’t getting the nutrition they need, and so they make a change, and that is ALSO GOOD.
A mother is not defined by the type of nipple she uses to feed her baby.
No mother needs to feel guilty for exclusively pumping and bottle feeding.
No mother needs to feel ashamed for feeding her infant formula instead of breastmilk.
No mother should feel inadequate because she does what she needs to do to take care of her baby in the best way that she can.
#3. Raising Her Voice/Yelling At Her Kids
This is a controversial one.
Let me begin by clarifying what I mean by “yelling.” I’m talking about those times that a mom raises her voice to a perhaps inappropriate volume and harsher tone, rather than remaining calm and collected.
I am not talking about verbal abuse. While those mothers do need grace and support as well, it’s another subject for another day.
Here, I’m talking more about the moms who are at the end of their rope and fly off the handle a little bit.
It is not okay to yell at your kids. It is not healthy to yell at your kids.
But it is forgivable, and it does not make you a bad mom.
Few things provoke more guilt and shame in your run-of-the-mill mom than having yelled at her kids. She doesn’t need your critical glares as well.
Who among us don’t experience the same nerve-shattering mind-melting aggravation kids can inspire, at least once in a while?
We all have our own faults and weaknesses, and some are more visible (or audible) than others.
Her inability to effectively manage her emotions or calmly communicate 100% of the time does not make her a bad mom, and it does not (automatically) mean she loves her kids any less than you love yours.
#4. How Her Children Behave In Public
You can be the best mother on the planet and do every single thing right when it comes to parenting, and your kids will still act out in public.
We need to remember that kids are independent, autonomous human beings, just like us adults, and as such, all have their own temperaments, personalities, and faults.
Sometimes damage control is the best a mama can do.
We should not assume that the way her children behave is a direct reflection on her ability as a parent.
#5. Going back to work
Different women begin to grow their families at different seasons of life.
Some couples are further along in adulthood, have built up a comfortable little nest egg, and have a solid income with or without the mother’s contribution.
Some couples lack that same financial stability, but set such a high priority on the mother being at home with the children that they find a way to scrape by and make ends meet anyway.
Some couples DEPEND on the mother’s income.
Some couples swap traditional roles.
Some women are single mothers.
Some women just WANT to go back to work.
Whatever the situation, first of all, it’s frankly none of your business.
A working mother can love and value her children just as much as a stay-at-home-mother.
Different things work for different families. If your priority is to be at home with your kids (as mine is), that’s awesome! But that doesn’t mean she’s less of a mother if she doesn’t have the same goals.
Some mothers DESPERATELY want to be home with kids, and would do anything to have the SAHM life.
Being a mom is crazy demanding and hard. For a mom to ALSO work part-time or full-time is a LOT. She needs your support, not your judgement.
#6. Giving Her Kids Screen Time
Yes, research shows that kids are better off without screens. No surprise there. But you know what? Grown ups are better off without screen time, too. But I bet you still love a good Netflix binge.
We can objectively note that setting your kids in front of the TV for hours on end every single day is very much unhealthy. That’s not really what I mean here.
Moms are made to feel terribly guilty for using the TV as a “babysitter,” whether it’s to get a task done without a screeching spider monkey wrapped around her legs demanding cheese sticks and MNMs, or just to have a few minutes of peace and quiet to stare at a wall.
Yes, it would be wonderful for our kids to be able to entertain themselves for solid blocks of time at our command, but is that always realistic? Not hardly.
It’s a great goal to strive for over time to teach independent play and keep screen time to an absolute minimum, but screens can also be an useful tool for moms.
Children have different temperaments and go through different phases of development.
Some little ones are very high-need, and can’t stand to be left alone no matter what kind of creative, screen-free activities you pull together or how well you encourage them to be independent.
A mama’s sanity and peace of mind are JUST as important as a child’s mental and psychological development. Some days, it’s all a mom can do to plop her kid in front of a show for a little while to buy herself some time.
Right now, the only way I can take a shower (by myself) is to set my 1.5 year old down with an episode of Curious George. I know that she is SAFE and contained while I’m not able to see or hear her.
Again, moms should not have to feel guilty for doing what they need to do to survive!
#7. Having the epidural
Ladies, it’s not a contest to see who can bear the most pain during childbirth. (We all know the real test of pain comes later anyway, and there’s no epidural for parenting a toddler).
We all have different goals and priorities, and honestly, I personally think it’s more important that a mother have a positive birth experience than grit through a traumatic “natural” labor just to earn some kind of badge of honor.
If having a natural birth gives you a positive birth experience, then more power to ya.
But if you get into the thick of things and just need some relief to put you in the right frame of mind to meet one of the most important people in your life, then there is NO SHAME in having the epidural, even if it wasn’t your plan.
Exclusively preaching the glories of natural birth can make new mamas feel as if they’ve failed by having an epidural or needing a C-section.
What could have been a positive and healthy birth experience becomes tarnished because she went in wanting a natural birth and ended up with something else.
Not to mention the fact that the way you give birth is only a tiny sliver of the bigger picture of motherhood. Perhaps instead of focusing so much energy on birth, we should put a little more emphasis on preparing women for life with a new baby.
#8. What She Feeds Her Kids
How many times can I say it? Moms should not be made to feel guilty for doing what they need to do to get by.
What she feeds her kids is one of those thing.
Sometimes meals are not glamorous.
You can feed your kids grass-fed, organic, fair trade, from-scratch, home-cooked meals 3 times a day for 18 years and still not be a good mom.
You can feed your kids boxed mac and cheese and fish sticks on the regular and be a phenomenal mom.
It’s not about the food.
Yeah, we need to be responsible about our kids’ nutrition. It is important.
What I’m saying is that everyone has different abilities, priorities, and BUDGETS.
The mom microwaving frozen chicken nuggets for the third day in a row might have a very picky eater and just be relieved to have found something her child will eat.
The mom buying 14 boxes of instant pasta with powdered cheese at the grocery store might be solo parenting while her husband is deployed.
You just don’t know what season of life someone is in, and just because you have budgeted for and prioritized a certain lifestyle doesn’t mean that she has or even should.
#9. Nursing Or Rocking Her Baby To Sleep
I’ve said a few times now that moms shouldn’t feel bad about surviving. However, this goes well beyond survival.
We need to stop thinking of sleep props as lazy parenting.
Many parents–myself included–believe that babies should be comforted to sleep.
Many parents choose not to sleep train, not because they are lazy or too anxious to hear their babies cry, but because they believe that is what’s best for their child and family.
Telling moms that they are only making life harder for themselves later, or that they are spoiling their babies is not helpful. It only serves to make a mother doubt her own instincts and lose trust in her baby.
Besides that, not all babies CAN just be laid in their crib to go to sleep.
The parenting books all tend to describe one type of baby, but the truth is, every single baby is its own person with its own unique temperament and different levels of needs.
Some babies are more chill, and are content to be laid down sleepy to drift off in their crib. Other babies are more high-need, and require more physical contact, more movement, more feedings, more everything.
If a mama is dealing with a high-need baby, or a baby whose temperament/needs are different from your baby’s, then you may be offering well-meant advice on a situation that you genuinely don’t understand.
Related: What is a High-Need Baby?
If that mother is doing what her instincts tell her is best for her baby, and it’s working for them, no one else needs to come along and tell her she’s doing it wrong.
Final thoughts on mom guilt
No one is harder on a mom than she is on herself.
Yes, we absolutely all have faults and failings that should be addressed and improved upon.
But condemning another mom for her shortcomings just because they’re different from our own is counterproductive (and frankly, hypocritical).
We can recognize in each other the ways we fall short and respond by building each other up, rather than tearing each other down.
I want to challenge you:
When you see a mom having a hard day or doing something that makes your internal momself frown, make a point of interacting positively with her.
You don’t even have to say anything. Just be intentional about making eye contact and smiling genuinely. A smile that says, “I see you. I feel you. You’ve got this.”
Short of serious extremes, whatever a mom’s imperfections, she is still the best mom for her kids.
YOU are the best mom for your kids.
What are some things you feel guilty for or ashamed of as a mom? Let’s talk about it in the comments!
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