Mom shaming. We’ve heard of it, read about it, experienced it, and vented about it. I devoured stories on blogs and forums about mom-shaming. Most of those stories were moms telling stories about how they had been accosted by strangers. But I wondered what to do when it comes from your own family?
Often I read stories about overwhelming, overbearing, or downright rude mothers-in-law, but as a sole single parent, I don’t have to deal with a mother-in-law. And yet, I don’t recall reading any tips about how to deal with your own mother, grandmother, closest auntie, father, or even, in my case, great-grandmothers offering parenting opinions.
It can take a toll on your mental health, especially when you’ve also just become a new mom yourself. Your hormones are out of whack, potentially causing all kinds of different mood swings; from sad crying fits to angry fits of rage. We know our closest family means well, but being a mom is hard enough without the extra people inside our heads.
We know our closest family means well, but being a mom is hard enough without the extra people inside our heads.
As a new mom, I had an especially hard time. New babies change so much in the first days, weeks, and months. Just when you think you know them inside and out, they reach another milestone and change! Sometimes I felt so unprepared. I’m extremely tough on myself—some would say I’m a perfectionist. I also experienced my previously-controlled anxiety disorder kicking into high gear after giving birth.
But experiencing mom-shaming from family is something I’ve talked about with many moms. They agreed that critiques from family often felt the hardest as we expect our families to be our allies or biggest supporters. Here are some of the tips I’ve learned from handling all the “advice” the family throws at you while still keeping the peace.
Remember you’re all adjusting to new roles
As a girl, I dreamed of the closer bond my mom and I would share when I had children. I remember for years telling friends that my mom would be the perfect person to watch my child as I worked. I didn’t realize that, in a way, I had made my mother (and her parenting skills) into an idol. I attributed perfection to my mother and, in the process, wasn’t being fair to myself or my own abilities.
Keep in mind they are learning their new role as a grandparent and your new role as a mother.
I didn’t account for how the times would change or how I would change when I became a mother. Remember: it’s second nature for the adults in your life to fall into their old roles of leadership; once a parent, always a parent. Keep in mind they are learning their new role as a grandparent and seeing your new role as a mother.
A recent tiff with my mother illustrates this perfectly. Recently, my son wanted to play with a pink toy, and my mother said he couldn’t play with it because pink is a girl’s color. It was a good reminder that times have changed since she was a parent. I don’t believe in boy colors or girl colors, so if he likes the pink toy, he can play with the pink toy.
Lead with how their feedback makes you feel
For at least nine months, I was preparing to be the superhero mom–to do it all. I read every book and blog, leaned on my mom-friends, and bought all the stuff. So much of this preparation became moot when a family member would give feedback; good or bad.
It wasn’t that I didn’t need or want the help; I just needed feedback provided differently. Sometimes, it’s all in the tone. I don’t do well when something sounds demanding. So, I finally expressed how I was feeling to my family.
In turn, my grandmother was great at making suggestions. She often starts sentences, “Why don’t you try …“ These gentle suggestions make me feel seen and heard as the parent, and I hope the rest of my family follows her lead.
But still set your boundaries
The change from being an adolescent child to an adult child is both hard for you and your family. Many of us always want to protect the parent-child relationship by maintaining respect, but often we mistake setting boundaries as disrespect.
Remember: this precious baby was entrusted to you because you are the best mother for them. And you should feel empowered to make choices and set boundaries based on your own feelings and intuition. It’s perfectly OK for your answer to be, “This is the way we do it here.”
My grandmother once told me if anyone else could protect my son better than I could, he’d have been their child. I was chosen to be my son’s mom just as you were chosen to be the parent for your child.