Working in the field of child sleep and being involved in several parenting Facebook groups, I am sure you can imagine the types of comments I see that revolve around the sleep of young children. If you're someone within any parenting group, you know exactly what I am talking about.
When I first started this profession, I started to get very anxious when I would respond to someone within one of those groups. I became terrified to answer anyone's questions regarding how to help their child sleep because of the possible back lash. And I don't even have children! I can only imagine how a mother reaching out for help feels when making such a post.
Eventually, I noticed that this was causing a snowball effect within myself. One small comment would cause my heart to race and my blood to boil. This would then take over my entire focus for the rest of the day. I eventually decided that I needed to remove myself from these situations for a a while.
Although I was specifically experiencing this with posts related to child sleep, child sleep is only one of the major parenting categories that are often debated and considered sensitive topics.
My most recent encounter regarding sleep, which lead me to writing this piece went a little bit like this...
A parent was celebrating the fact that her child was sleeping through the night within a parenting forum. She never mentioned how she got her child to that point. She just was celebrating, expressing how good it feels to get some rest. Some rest she hadn't had for a long time.
Although several comments were supportive and congratulating her, several others consisted of phrases like "I don't believe in CIO" or "I can't imagine letting my child cry."
I was flabbergasted!
This woman was celebrating SLEEP for both her child and herself! And these people who have no idea how she got to that point made assumptions and used words that could tear a mother down in seconds.
I refer to this as parent shaming, and I am so sick of seeing it. Parent shaming is, what I would consider, a social epidemic.
I found within the thread that people often do not really understand what parent shaming is.
When the mother was standing up for herself and others supporting her, the initial person who commented on the thread with parent shaming replied with something like this, "It's not parent shaming. It's just my opinion." OR "I wasn't putting her down. I was just saying that I could never do that."
So, to make sure that we are all on the same page, let's break it down.
Here is the definition of shame according to Webster Dictionary:
1 a : a painful emotion caused by consciousness of guilt, shortcoming, or impropriety
b : the susceptibility to such emotion
2 : a condition of humiliating disgrace or disrepute
3 a : a cause of feeling shame
b : something that brings censure or reproach also : something to be regretted
1: to bring shame to
2: to put to shame by outdoing
3: to cause to feel shame
4: to force by causing to feel guilty
I am going to focus on the definition of shame being a verb that means to cause to feel shame with the noun shame being a painful emotion caused by consciousness of guilt, shortcoming, or impropriety.
Now when you think of this with the word parent attached to it, we can reword it to mean "to cause a parent to feel painful emotion by consciousness of guilt, shortcoming, or impropriety." Using sleep an example - making a parent feel guilty or as if she is not doing enough because she wants to help her child get rest for either her child's sake or for her own sake.
Through social media, we expose our lives, reach out for guidance, and connect with others. Unfortunately, with this form of connection, it is much easier for people to hide behind a computer or phone while shaming a person for the choices she makes.
We have got to stop talking to each other this way. We need to be more supportive of one another regardless if we choose to do things the same way or not.
Are you on the receiving end of parent shaming?
Surround yourself with people who are uplifting and influence you in a positive way. Unfollow those Facebook groups that make you feel like crap. Trust me, there are enough parenting groups to go around! And you can find one that suits your parenting style.
Are you possibly the one doing the shaming?
This might be the case without you even realizing it! I will admit it. I catch myself starting to respond to a post and, before hitting that enter button, realize that I might cause that person guilt or negativity without that being my intention.
When discussing parenting philosophies or choices, stop using words like "I don't believe..." Stop telling parents that they are damaging their children. If you are going to debate about a topic, make sure that you are showing up with valid and reliable evidence-based material. Even when doing that? Make sure to choose kind words and open your mind to all perspectives.
Before making a comment, I suggest you ask yourself the following questions:
1. Am I responding out of compassion?
2. Could this be read and perceived by others with a negative tone?
3. Will this benefit others reading it?
When it comes to communicating with others through social media, I ask you to keep in mind that there is a human being on the other side of that screen. And if this is a mother, that human being is reaching out because she needs support. She is being vulnerable. She needs other women telling her she is doing an awesome job at being a mom. She does not need someone tearing her down.
Let's stop parent shaming. Let's support one another. If you choose to parent a way that another does not, guess what? That is ok! We do not have to all be the same. In fact, being different and having choices are some of the many blessings we have in this life.