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Being a mom is amazing. You get to give birth to an amazing little person who you get to help raise into an amazing human being. But the choices you make along the way are often scrutinized by everybody you encounter, from the other moms at preschool to your friends and family, to complete strangers with whom you’ll never actually have a conversation. For some reason moms tend to let all of these judgments make them feel ashamed of their choices and feel the need to justify them to everyone they encounter.
While you shouldn’t feel ashamed of the choices you and your partner make for your family, here are eight things you should absolutely never feel ashamed about as a mom.
1. Having a Miscarriage
March of Dimes reports that between 10 to 15% of known pregnancies end in miscarriage. Recently, Nancy Kerrigan opened up about experiencing multiple miscarriages following the birth of her first child. She shared feelings many women experience. She said it made her “feel like a failure” and shameful because she couldn’t have more children on her own.
Something as tragic as miscarriage shouldn’t be stigmatized, but it is. With bills being introduced in state legislatures across the country like Utah’s “Criminal Miscarriage” law that sought to define miscarriage as an illegal abortion, bills in Kansas, North Carolina, and Maine that sought to require all miscarriages to be reported to the respective state’s Department of Health and Human Services, to an Iowa state Representative who asserted women who have miscarriages should be forced to carry a miscarried fetus until the mother’s life is in danger, women constantly receive the message that miscarriage is shameful and women who experience it must be to blame and should be punished.
As women, we often feel a responsibility for things that are out of our control. The causes of miscarriage vary, and most can’t be avoided or changed by anything done by an expectant mother. More than half of all miscarriages occur because of chromosomal abnormalities that develop during fertilization. Other causes of miscarriage that are out of a woman’s control include an egg that doesn’t properly implant in the uterus, hormonal imbalances, and complications from diabetes or autoimmune disorders. While there are things a woman can do that can contribute to an increased risk of miscarriage – like smoking, drinking alcohol, and using drugs – most instances are unavoidable and happen because of problems with the fertilized egg. You should never, ever feel ashamed for having a miscarriage. It’s already a difficult and traumatic experience to have to process without adding the extra burden of shame.
2. Breastfeeding… or Not
Breastfeeding can be an amazing experience. It offers a way for a mom to bond with her baby. It provides essential nutrients and has immunity-boosting benefits. And it offers the cost-saving perk of not having to buy formula. You’ve heard these things a million times.
But some women choose not to breastfeed – for lots of different reasons – that range from not being able to produce enough milk to not wanting to breastfeed. We’re probably all familiar with the shaming of moms who choose not to breastfeed, no matter what their reason. Moms are told that their formula-fed kids won’t be as healthy as breastfed babies. They’re called selfish. They’re frowned upon and given the evil eye by breastfeeding advocates. And they’re called bad moms.
More and more these days breastfeeding moms have also been thrust aboard the shame train. Moms are told not to breastfeed in public because it’s inappropriate. Feeding a baby has suddenly become offensive. Pictures of mothers breastfeeding have become controversial.
First, make sure you know your rights as a breastfeeding mom. Check out breastfeedlinglaw.com for a list of federal and state breastfeeding laws. And second, the choice to breastfeed your children or not is yours and yours alone. You don’t need to justify it to anyone. For some reason, moms feel like they do. But you don’t. Let the woman in the grocery store judge you for giving your infant a bottle. Or let that couple in the restaurant give you the evil eye when you whip out your nursing cover and feed your baby while waiting for your food. It’s none of their business what your choice is or why you’ve made it.
Moms, realize that women on both sides are being judged and shamed for their choice. Let’s support each other’s decisions on this one so we don’t feel like we have to constantly justify ourselves. We don’t need to add to the mixed messages society sends new moms.
3. Not Being the “Perfect Mom”
Society makes women think they have to be the perfect mom. You’re supposed to look put together. Your kids should wear coordinating outfits that look like they came straight out of the pages of a Gap catalog. You should serve homemade organic dinners and limit screen time to 30 minutes a day. You should love playing My Little Pony, Power Rangers, and Doc McStuffins for hours on end. You should enroll your kids in an array of extracurricular activities like soccer and dance and music lessons and swimming and art classes and karate and gymnastics on top of an endless schedule of play dates. And you should always, always drop your kids off at school and show up to these activities on time (preferably five to ten minutes early).
But let’s be honest. Most regular, everyday moms hate those “perfect moms” because we’re pretty sure they’re cyborgs à la Stepford Wives. That’s because this idea of being a perfect mom is ludacris. Most days we’re lucky to get our kids out the door with brushed teeth and matching socks. And that’s okay.
There’s nothing wrong with dropping your kids off in the car pool line while rocking an unbrushed ponytail and yoga pants. Or realizing it’s been a month since you invited your daughter’s best friend over for a play date. Or letting your kids watch four hours of cartoons on a Saturday so you can clean the house, run on the treadmill, and get the laundry folded and put away (or whatever is on your do-to list!).
Everyone has their vices. Some moms hate playing pretend with their kids. Some moms yell too much when their kids don’t listen. Some moms can’t get anywhere on time to save their lives. And some moms aren’t good cooks, so their kids are going to have to settle for frozen pizza and spaghetti sauce out of a jar. It’s okay. So don’t let that mom with the perfect hair whose kids are probably Gap models make you feel bad about yourself. Good for you for doing your best, whatever that means for your family. Your kids love you for it. And good for her for looking like she has it together. You never know. She might be making frozen pizza for dinner, and that’s ok.
4. Being a Working Mom… or a SAHM
Every working mom has that nagging little affliction people so lovingly refer to as “mom guilt.” It never gets easier dropping your kids off at day care or preschool or elementary school. It stinks to miss awards ceremonies and class presentations or spending an afternoon helping out in your daughter’s 2nd grade classroom. You beat yourself up for not being there for all of those things. Some moms feel selfish for wanting to work and others feel guilty even though they don’t have the choice to stay home. Do you know how many times working moms with small children hear things like, “Can you not afford to stay home?” or “I couldn’t stand to be away from my kids like that” and “Don’t you wish you could be at home?”.
It doesn’t help that society both expects moms to go back to work and then judges them for it. Recently-appointed Supreme Court Justice Neil Gorsuch is alleged to have said to a room full of law students that women manipulate employers by getting pregnant, taking maternity leave, and then not returning to work. Comments like those tell women that they should either not have children or they need to push that kid out and get right back to work. But then SAHM’s (stay at home moms) hear things like, “It must be nice that you get to stay home all day,” and “I wish my partner made enough money that I could’ve stayed home with my kids,” and “What do you do all day?” and “I bet you’ll be glad to go back to work once your kids are older.”
Your choice to stay home or not can only be decided by your family’s situation. If you went back to work after six or eight weeks because you love your job or because your family can’t afford to only have one income, that’s for you to decide. And if you stay home because it makes more sense financially than putting two kids in day care or because you can afford it and want to, that’s awesome. Either way, it’s no one else’s business.
5. Not Being a Size 4
Just recently, a story went viral about a new mom being approached by a woman in a department store who made some small talk before handing over a flyer for the weight loss product she sells. Moms often feel pressure to lose pregnancy weight and get back into their pre-pregnancy jeans in record time. It doesn’t help that nearly every mom in Hollywood seems to be photographed in a bikini with washboard abs like four months after giving birth.
Look at it this way. It took nine months to put on that weight (while your body was busy making a tiny human by the way). It’s not going to disappear over night. Pile on the fact that now you have a newborn baby, so you’re exhausted. And we all know what happens to our eating habits when we get tired – hello chocolate cake for dinner! It’s important to be healthy and active, but new moms need to give themselves a break. You’re not always going to feel pretty, and sometimes you’re going to be angry at your body. You just brought a baby into the world! That’s a huge accomplishment, and not an easy one.
According to a study published in fall 2016, the average woman is now a size 16. Don’t let that Hollywood mama in her bikini make you feel bad about your body. She’s not trying to shame you. It’s literally her job to be a size 4. Don’t let anyone else make you feel ashamed of your body either. It’s yours. It’s done a lot. Don’t put it through the ringer any more than it already has been.
6. Having Postpartum Depression
According to the Centers for Disease Control, somewhere between 11 and 20% of women experience symptoms of postpartum depression. Only around 15% of those women seek professional help. Why? Largely in part because new moms are ashamed about how they feel. They don’t want to admit that they’re not feeling elated over their new baby and what’s supposed to be their happy new family. For the longest time, moms have been suffering from postpartum depression in silence. Thankfully, women are more frequently coming forward and talking about their struggle with the disorder. With celebrities like Brooke Shields, Hayden Panettiere, and more recently Chrissy Teigen putting a spotlight on what it’s like to live with postpartum depression, maybe the stigma that stops people from asking for help can start to be erased.
It’s important to remember that postpartum depression isn’t caused by something a new mom does or doesn’t do. If you’re a new mom and you’re struggling, know that you’re a good mother. And you love your kids. There’s nothing wrong with asking for help when you need it. You can’t take care of your family if you don’t take care of yourself.
7. Putting Yourself First
Being a mom is hard work. It’s rewarding, but it’s also exhausting. With anything else in life, moms are generally pretty willing to take a break when they need it. You take a day off of work after a big project. You take a week’s vacation to the beach for a little rest and relaxation. You even take breaks from those friends in your life who suck the life out of you. But moms are constantly overwhelmed with that mom guilt. There’s this idea embedded deep inside a mom’s core telling them that they’re selfish if they take time for themselves. Well, that’s absolute rubbish. It’s an archaic idea leftover from when a woman’s place was inside the home taking care of children and cooking dinner. Those days are long gone!
There’s nothing wrong with putting your family and your children first most of the time. You are, in fact, responsible for their well-being, so it’s only logical to put them pretty high on the priority list. But you can’t live for other people 100% of the time. You’d lose your mind if you did. Taking an hour for yourself – or even just a quick trip to the store to pick up some groceries by yourself once in awhile – doesn’t make you selfish. It makes you human. And it’ll probably make you a better mom because everyone needs a break and time to recharge. A cup of coffee, a manicure, 30 minutes to take a run or go to the gym, or dinner with your girlfriends aren’t things to be ashamed about doing. No one judges a dad who goes out for a drink or a round of golf with his buddies, so why do moms judge themselves for doing the same thing?
We’re so quick to make excuses about how we just don’t have time or someone to watch the kids. Make time. The laundry will get done later. The dishes can sit there for the afternoon. And you know at least one person (probably a lot more) who wouldn’t mind watching after your kids for just a little bit. You take great care of your kids. Make yourself a priority and take good care of yourself too.
8. Asking for Help
There’s a reason the saying “It takes a village to raise a child” exists. No one can do everything all the time (even though we like to pretend that we can). Moms are really good at taking on a million things – cooking, cleaning, doing the laundry, keeping up with everyone’s appointments, making sure the dog gets fed, planning birthday parties, buying school supplies, making costumes, going grocery shopping, planning vacations, and helping our kids with their homework. Most of the time it’s too much for one person to handle, but you do it because you love your family and want to take care of them. Sometimes you have to let other people help you. But they’re not going to help if you don’t ask. And they’re not going to judge you for asking.
Asking for help isn’t a sign of weakness, so it’s time for moms to stop trying to be a village all by themselves. Without shame.
Women get mixed signals on just about everything related to motherhood. Either you’re doing something that’s bad for your kids or you’re not doing something else that’s good for them. Moral of the story here: being a mom, period, is not something to feel ashamed about. Your choices are nothing to be ashamed over. Those choices are nobody’s business. And just because someone asks you a personal question about your family doesn’t mean you have to answer it.
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