After years of public shaming for less-than-perfect parenting, moms are finally pushing back.
Parents may not agree on many things, but there’s little argument that the job of modern parenting is a tough one. From complex monitoring of children’s online lives, to navigating this age of constant information, it’s almost impossible to be a laissez-faire parent these days without criticism.
While Boomers get credit for being the first official helicopter parents (birthing those pesky Millennials), because they could financially afford to be, Gen-X perfected the art (though fewer of us have children than previous generations), driven by the conviction that we could do a better job than our parents.
Generation X is also, as Allison Slater Tate points out in the Washington Post, “among the first of the truly high-tech parents.” High-tech, unfortunately, equates with high scrutiny and pressure. Thanks to a constant stream of social media feeds, parenting in the public eye has transformed into a kind of blood sport.
For instance, the controversy over California mom Maria Kang, notorious as “What’s Your Excuse Mom.” She posted a photo of herself, clad in exercise gear showing off her washboard abs and perfectly coiffed hair, alongside her three young children with the words, “What’s your excuse?” This launched an Internet uproar where critics felt she was shaming other moms. Though Kang claimed she only meant to encourage other moms, her name—and image—still sends shivers of ire across the Internet.
This sort of public parent shaming also rises up in the strident voices of mommy bloggers seeking click-bait, who know an outraged headline will get more traffic than a gentle one. We’ve become an exquisitely navel-gazing culture of parents, so obsessed with doing it better that judgments spill over onto other parents like toxic sludge.
Author Kate Maruyama, author of the novel Harrowgate, and mother of two teens, recently wrote a piece for Role/Reboot about her fatigue over mothers tearing each other down. She suggests we “mother up,” taking a page from Elissa Bassist’s “woman up” approach of supporting fellow women. By phone from her home in Glendale, CA, she adds, “Someone will post an article online that says, I parent this way. And then immediately another angry article will go up that says, no, you have to do it this way. I can’t stand the angry mom brigade. I don’t think anyone can say, this is the right way to raise a child. We all have our own approach; it’s seat-of-the pants every day.”
Fortunately, there appears to be a slow backlash to the backtalk. Blogs like Mommyish, which ran a recent article titled “Mommyish’s Guide To The Best Wines To Go With Your Toddler’s Meltdowns” and Scary Mommy have evolved out of the judgmental fray to reassure mothers it’s okay to be imperfect.
Jodi Durr, a Seattle mother of three, maintains a popular blog called Meaningful Mama, and recently did a three-part series on why mothers should support each other. “A lot of what inspired me to write them was that people are seething with different opinions, and really think their ideas are the best and everyone else is crazy and wrong. The Internet breeds a lot of comparison and insecurity.”
Hillary Frank, a New York-based journalist and mother of one, produces a podcast called The Longest Shortest Time, a “3am bedside companion for parents” on WNYC. After a traumatic birth and difficult postpartum experience, she began her show four years ago as a way to feel less alone. It resonated loudly. She says, “When I first started interviewing people, complete strangers were spilling their guts in this intimate way, crying on the phone. When you’re a parent, the stakes are so high; you’re looking for answers.”
Parents with the power to use their voices to promote support offer hope for a shift away from the disturbing trend of policing one another’s parenting. As blogger Beth W said in a recent article at PopSugar, “[I]nstead of caring for the children and their well-being, the village attacks the parents for doing things differently.” This is evident in two recent stories of Maryland parents investigated for “crimes” such as allowing children to walk home alone and the South Carolina woman arrested for leaving her daughter unattended while she worked.
Hillary Frank tries to put herself in others’ shoes, saying, “If someone was judging me, I’d want to say—if you knew the full story and grew up the way that I did, shared the same beliefs and child I have, you would probably do the same thing.”
In other words: without knowing another parent’s experience, who are we to judge?
“Your kids are very different from my kids,” Durr says. “If you see a kid having a meltdown in the supermarket, you don’t know that child’s temperament, if he has special needs. You don’t know their story.”
Kate Maruyama, who has raised her kids in the competitive realm of Los Angeles, says, “It would be nice if people could understand that ‘How are you doing’ would be a much nicer thing to say than ‘You’re doing it wrong.’”