Have you been 'mom shamed'?

Poll finds six in ten moms have been criticized for their parenting choices

By Sarah Mayberry, M.P.H. - Producer

ANN ARBOR, Mich. - When I shared it on Facebook, I thought it was a cute story about my then-three-year-old daughter.

"Addy is cooking in her toy kitchen.   She just said, 'Time's up!  Step away from your plates!'  Perhaps we are watching a little too much Food Network...  :)"

I never expected it to make me the target of "mom shaming," but in a matter of minutes, a relative had posted a long comment that his children draw their inspiration from nature, books and their own imaginations, not television.   And on, and on.

I felt like I had been slapped.  I took a deep breath and replied that our home had more books than a children's library and reminded him that television is, in fact, my family's 'family business.'  But years later, the comment still stings.

Turns out, I'm far from alone.

According to the latest National Poll on Children's Health from the University of Michigan's C.S. Mott Children's Hospital, the majority of mothers with children age five and under have been criticized about their parenting.

"About 60 percent said they had felt criticized for their parenting choices, and the most common sources of criticism were people in their own family -- their spouse, their own parents, or their in-laws," said poll co-director Sarah Clark.

The poll also found discipline was the most frequent topic of criticism, reported by 70 percent of criticized mothers.  Other common topics were diet and nutrition at 52 percent, sleep practices at 46 percent and breast- vs bottle-feeding at 39 percent.  Mothers also felt criticized for safety issues and childcare choices.

Only 12 percent of moms said they felt criticized by other moms in public.  And while it's not unusual to see celebrities being "mom shamed" on social media, that wasn't a major source of criticism for the moms in this poll.

"About 8 percent of our moms said that they had felt criticized by other people on social media which is a little bit lower than we would have expected," said Clark.  "Our moms weren't celebrity moms, so maybe they get a little less of it, and maybe moms are becoming a little savvier on how to turn off that kind of noise, turn off the Twitter or only include people on Facebook who don't give you that kind of negative feedback or negative perception."

Most moms also did not feel criticized by their child's doctor or childcare provider.

"We go into a doctor's visit expecting to hear from the pediatrician, that they're going to give us a little advice and guidance about the way we're parenting our child," said Clark.  "When we go to a parent-teacher conference at preschool, we expect to hear from the teacher a little bit of information and advice about our child."

Criticism from family members can be especially tricky, particularly when it concerns parenting advice that may be outdated, such as safe sleep practices.

"When grandma is giving advice that mom knows is incorrect, that can really create a touchy situation," said Clark.  "If it's a family member, I would just say be careful.  One of the things we found in the survey was about half of our criticized moms, or about half of moms who reported being criticized, said that they avoid a person that is too critical.   You don't want to be cut out of that kid's life.  You don't want to be the in-laws that never get a Christmas visit."

Anna Kauffman is the web administrator for the poll.  Her own experiences as a mom with two young children helped inspire this month's survey. You can read Kauffman’s blogpost here.

"When you have really young kids, that's a really special time in life, and it's a really hard time in life," said Kauffman.  "Stress is high, and especially with newborns, there's just a lot going on.   And you never know when a comment that you think might have been helpful can really be perceived as something hurtful to the mom, especially when it calls into question her ability to make good choices for her kids."

Kauffman herself has experienced "mom shaming" over her childcare decisions.

"My one-year-old was sick a lot this winter, and I was really tired from taking care of my sick daughter and instead of helpful comments, I did get a lot of comments, 'Well if she wasn't in daycare, she wouldn't be sick so often.'   When you hear that and you haven't slept and you're worried about your sick kid, it just hurts so much to hear a comment like that," said Kauffman.

Even when advice is well-intentioned, it can have a big impact on moms and their confidence.

"About 42 percent of our mothers who reported being criticized said that it made them feel less sure about themselves as parents," said Clark.  "We're a little bit worried about that because maternal anxiety and uncertainty doesn't tend to be helpful for raising strong, and happy and healthy kids."

The poll looked only at "mom shaming," but researchers say dads can also face criticism from inside and outside of the family.

"About a third of the moms said they felt criticized by the dads, but I bet if we turned this around, we'd find quite a few dads that maybe get an earful from mom when it's their turn to take over the parenting duties," said Clark.

Researchers were encouraged by how most mothers responded to criticism.  Sixty percent researched the topic, and 53 percent asked their child's doctor about it.   Clark said 37 percent made a change in how they parented because of what they learned.  In other cases, their research reinforced their choices.

Other mothers changed their own behavior.

"One of the things that is a little bit hopeful and optimistic about this poll is that a lot of moms that experienced criticism said, 'You know what, I'm not going to criticize any other moms.  I'm going to check myself now,'" said Kauffman.  "If as moms we can stop hurting each other, that's a great thing to do.  It's really important to support each other and to offer an empathetic word.  And a kind smile goes a really long way."

Clark agrees.

"Sometimes you have to just disregard the noise that is coming at you.   We have all been there.  You can do this.  Ask for help when you need it, but otherwise, feel good that you're doing your best as a mom."

For complete results from the poll, click here.

You can hear Clark discuss the results of the poll in the video below.

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