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The Sad and Unlikely Source of Most Mom-Shaming

Photograph by Twenty20

No matter how many parenting and safety articles moms read, or how closely moms follow the pediatrician's advice, there is usually someone around to point out real (or perceived) mistakes. Juding moms, in fact, is something of an American pasttime.

But this constant criticism, or "shaming," as the shorthand goes, isn't just an Internet thing. Unsolicited advice isn't the exclusive activity of an older generation of strangers, unhelpfully leaning over your shopping cart to make pronouncements about healthy eating "back in my day."

When it comes to parenting, the bulk of criticism aimed at moms comes from their own families, their closest inner circles, the very people they turn to as a support system. And they're stirring up insecurities moms didn't know they even had.

In a recent article, "Why Mom Shaming—on Social Media and In Person—Needs to Stop," Anna Kauffman, a mother and the woman responsible for digital media related to the monthly C.S. Mott Children's Hospital National Poll on Children's Health at the University of Michigan addresses the effect that frequent criticisms have on mothers and what they can do to protect themselves.

According to a recent census of 475 mothers with at least one child newborn to 5 years old, 31 percent of respondents reported feeling second-guessed by their own loving parents. Another 31 percent said they got that same feeling from their in-laws, while 36 percent admitted to feeling criticized by the child's other parent.

Mom shaming is hitting really close to home.

So what, exactly, is the biggest complaint regarding the health and welfare of kids?

Not so much.

The survey showed discipline was the most common topic of intra-family criticism, with 70 percent of the mothers saying they'd been criticized for their own approach to it (e.g., spanking vs. time-outs, being too strict and not allowing children to explore).

In the end, most agreed that there was considerably less criticism coming from friends, other mothers encountered in public, social media commenters and medical/child-care professionals.

Other areas of concern include diet and nutrition (52 percent), sleep (46 percent), breastfeeding vs. bottle-feeding (39 percent), safety (20 percent), and childcare (16 percent).

"Our findings tap into the tensions moms face when parenting advice leads to more stress than reassurance and makes them feel more criticized than supported," poll co-director Sarah Clark, M.P.H., said. "Mothers can get overwhelmed by so many conflicting views on the 'best' way to raise a child. 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. That can be hurtful."

Though 42 percent of the respondents say that criticism has made them feel unsure about their parenting choices, some admit that it has made them more proactive.

If you’re wondering how judgment leads to progress, here’s your answer:

Half of those surveyed said they simply avoid those who are too critical.

"It's unfortunate when a mother feels criticized to the point where she limits the amount of time she and her child will spend with a family member or friend," Clark said. "To guard against that situation, advice to mothers of young children should be given with empathy and encouragement."

In the end, most agreed that there was considerably less criticism coming from friends, other mothers encountered in public, social media commenters and medical/child-care professionals.

Sadly, statistics like these only makes us wonder what motherhood would be like if we could choose our families.

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