Shame. Just the word conjures up all sorts of emotions for me, and I’ve been thinking a lot lately about how it impacts moms and our ability to connect with one another. There is a lot of talk about how moms shame each other in online forums or various other social media platforms. Let us take sleep for example, how many of us moms have been left hearing this message: “Your baby should be sleeping through the night at 3 months and if they aren’t you did something wrong. Sleep train and you will traumatize your sweet baby but co-sleep, and you’ll create a needy and insecure child.” So what’s a mom to do? Seems like you are damned if you do and damned if you don’t. The confusion starts to creep in, and you’ve already begun the treacherous journey into the world of mommy guilt and possibly spiraling into mommy shame.
Let’s differentiate between guilt and shame for a minute. Guilt is built off of behavior like “I did something bad” whereas shame is focused on the self, “I am bad.” Small doses of guilt can be healthy for keeping us on a moral path, but shame is always destructive. When we start to evaluate our parenting choices as wrong or bad, we are headed down the path of developing our own mommy shame. Brene Brown, the leading researcher on shame and vulnerability, says, “Shame needs 3 things to grow in our lives Secrecy, Silence, and Judgment.” These things are rampant not only in online mommy groups but among moms in our everyday life.
Think about the mom who shares her family doesn’t do screen time and her children don’t eat processed snacks. If I pass judgment and make catty remarks about her choices, it is because I am insecure about my use of screen time or the food I feed my children. It can feel like my shame voice is screaming, “You aren’t a good mom. Look at that mom over there, she is better than you.” But if I am rooted firmly in my parenting choices and embrace the imperfection of parenting, I say to myself “Wow, I really look forward to that hour of TV so I can get some me time. It makes me a better parent. But if it’s not for your family, I get that too.” These feelings of shame are going to inevitably creep up, but we always get to make a choice- buy into it or shoot it down.
How do we shoot down mom shame and stop it in its tracks? We do it by connecting with other moms and sharing our shame stories with those who have earned the right to hear them. Since our move in September, I’ve been trying to make new mom friends here in Indianapolis, and it has been pretty hard. I know these things take time and you can’t rush deep, authentic friendships, but it’s been one of the harder aspects of our cross-country move. I’ve met plenty of nice moms, but I’ve yet to find my mama tribe and truth be told I miss my old friends like crazy. I’ve asked myself what makes me feel so connected to these moms, and I really think its because we share our darkest and truest stories of motherhood. When my mama friend shares she is resentful of the way parenting has changed her life, I feel connected because I know what that stress feels like and how scary it can be to have that feeling. I know how painful it is to carry those feelings and I feel blessed she trusts me to share. It also then opens the door for me to share equally tough stuff with her. These relationships didn’t happen overnight, they were built by planting small seeds of vulnerability over time.
So here I am attempting to start over, and it’s clunky. I feel awkward at times because I know my parenting choices aren’t always mainstream and really so much of what we moms talk about is parenting. I often feel like I’m doing this dance of trying to connect by sharing but also not sharing TOO much because it could be judged or misinterpreted. I overheard some gossip not too long ago about another mom, and it felt tempting to join in or at the very least confirm it because that would facilitate some type of connection. But I remembered a lesson I learned in high school that still applies to my adult relationships. Those that gossip with you or to you will almost certainly gossip about you. And the thing I, unfortunately, didn’t learn until adulthood, is that you should choose wisely who you share your story with -the story that includes shame, vulnerability, and all your messy imperfections. So while I’m still searching for my mama crew, I do feel incredibly lucky that I have a husband, family members, and some long-distance friends that can hold those stories for me. I’m curious, who are your people? Who are the ones that keep your stories?