At my moms’ group last year, the topic of “unwanted” parenting advice came up in the discussion. I was shocked to hear that so many other moms had stories of mothers-in-law, aunts, or even strangers offering judgments on their parenting decisions. It might be the food they feed their kids, how long they breastfeed, or even the choice to cut or not cut their toddler’s hair. While many of the moms just sloughed off these comments with a laugh, many felt judged or even disrespected by this intrusion.

I am fortunate that the most judgment I’ve ever really faced is a few sideways glances at my misbehaving kids at Target or maybe a glare at a restaurant. Here are some things I learned from our discussion.

You’re not the only one

Turns out, I may be in the minority when it comes to receiving a minimal amount of unsolicited parenting “advice” from family members. Many moms, in fact, feel shamed by family members and others in regards to their parenting decisions.

In a recent study, two-thirds of moms of young children said that they’d felt criticized about parenting decisions. We see this all the time with celebrities – if it’s not Mila Kunis being shamed for breastfeeding in public, it’s Reese Witherspoon being criticized for her son’s meal choices.

Among moms who reported feeling criticized about parenting decisions, the most common shamers were their own parents (or in-laws) and the other parent of their child. (Of course, frequently that is their own spouse!)

The real effects of mom-shaming

What’s the real problem with mom-shaming? Didn’t our moms experience this from their moms too? Well, perhaps that is true. We don’t have good data on the amount of parenting criticism faced in past generations.

I think one key here is to understand the effects mom-shaming can have on a mother’s mental health. Raising young children is stressful enough. On a daily basis, you face a multitude of decisions about health, safety, nutrition, etc. As mothers, it undermines our confidence to have other people standing over our shoulders, questioning our decisions. If you’re like most mothers I know, you’ve already questioned those decisions about a thousand times in your head. The anxiety and uncertainty that mom-shaming provokes are real and unhealthy for a newly-developed parent-child relationship.

In what other jobs in the world are you criticized by your boss or co-workers everyday? How do you think your job performance would suffer if this was your situation? Although parenting is more than a job, I think the comparison is eye-opening.

A change in perspective

The real answer to ending mom-shaming is to develop a new perspective on the issue. Consider for a moment how mom-shaming affects all of us, even if we aren’t the immediate perpetrators or victims of the shaming. That mom that was criticized at a store or glared at during soccer practice might be:

  • the future mother-in-law of your son
  • the mom of your toddler’s best friend
  • your neighbor that you haven’t met yet
  • your child’s teacher

Put into this perspective, we can see how mom-shaming undermines the confidence and decision-making of women all around us. If we want the world to be a safer, happier, more meaningful place for our kids, then all moms deserve the opportunity to face parenting decisions with thoughtfulness and confidence, not shame or anxiety.

Moms are usually just trying to do the best they can in a given situation. When stress, sleep-deprivation, frazzled nerves, and screaming toddlers get the best of us, we are all prone to making mistakes. This does not make you a bad mom, it makes you human.

If we truly want to raise empathetic kids, the example has to start with us. Our kind words to a fellow mom speak volumes to our children. They see what empathy looks like in a real-life example. Those words might just make the difference between that mom blaming herself or having the strength to carry on with dignity.

So the next time you see a mom struggling through a tantrum at Target, let’s all try to offer a word of support (or at least a smile) instead of a judgmental stare. Who knows, it might just give her the strength to react in a calm way instead of losing her patience.

We are all in this motherhood thing together.

This was originally published here.