Let’s Stop Parent-Shaming

Nearly every mother I know has described herself as a terrible mother.

I find that disconcerting.

Not that these mothers actually are terrible mothers – oh dear, you finally caved to your crazy toddler’s demands and let them watch tv so you could get a moment of rest? – rather, I find it concerning that so many mothers have the self-perception of failing.

To be clear, I imagine there’s a similar phenomenon for fathers, though I don’t have the personal experience to validate that. I also get the sense that this is a gendered issue which disproportionally effects women.

Interestingly, when I tried to find data on this, I mostly found self-help articles geared towards helping women be better mothers. So, that’s telling. Also, there’s an interesting study from the UK that found “70% of mothers are left feeling like the ‘bad cop’ while fathers become the centre of attention and known as the ‘fun one’ in family.”

But while some of the sense of “terribleness” may arise from such inner family dynamics. I don’t think that’s the only source of this phenomenon.

I cringe a little when I read one of those stories about a family handing out goodie bags before a flight with their infant.

Let’s be clear: you are rearing a small person; you don’t have to apologize to me.

I imagine much of this “bad parent” anxiety comes from idealized images of the 50s. After all, we all know that everything was just hunky-dory then.

But I’m not convinced that challenge gets the rest of us off the hook.

That is to say – imagine a parent: she thinks she’s a terrible mother because she thought it would be possible to “have it all” if she was good enough. She thought she would never get mad at her child whom she loves so much. She thought with a little patience and care, she could easily raise a child who was always polite and reasonable.

Even a woman has this misguided and idealized vision of what parenthood should be – why are the rest of us playing into that?

Shouldn’t we all be working to dispel those myths?

I’m impressed by any person who takes on the challenge of raising a child. It is hard, exhausting, and trying work. There will be food in your hair and too many sleepless nights. I am amazed by anyone who can handle all that and still get out of bed in the morning. …Even if you only got up because your child, who insisted on sleeping with you, somehow kicked you in the face.

So parents, don’t feel guilty when your kids cries on the train or throws groceries around in the store. You are doing something harder than anything I will ever do, and you are amazing at it.

I just wish there was some universal hand sign that could convey all that to the next frazzled mother I see nearing the point of break down because her toddler refuses to listen to reason.

Don’t worry: you’re doing great.


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