Parents are constantly shamed for their choices. From how we feed our children to how we educate them, everyone has an opinion. The result? Moms and dads feel endlessly judged for the choices they make — even if they have no other options. This week, families around the country are sharing their inspiring, funny, honest, and heartbreaking stories with Yahoo Parenting in an effort to spark conversations, a little compassion, and change in the way we think about parenting forever. Share your story with us — #NoShameParenting.
As soon as a woman gives birth, someone always says it — whether it’s on the day the baby arrives or the day that she admits she fears she’ll never sleep again, another mom will tell her: “Welcome to the club!” And what a club it is.
The universal experience of motherhood is so powerful that it instantly bonds women, despite their myriad points of view. Yahoo Parenting’s exclusive new survey of moms reveals much of what mothers think, do, and feel when it comes to parenting and their relationships, with much of it surprising. Twelve percent of moms, for example, admit to having a favorite kid, while 26 percent of millennial moms say they wish they’d waited longer before having children at all. And then take discipline: An even 50 percent of the mothers polled say they think spanking is OK — though 53 percent admit they’ve felt judged on their methods of discipline.
“There’s so much judgment heaped on moms from others, and from themselves, it makes them ask, ‘Are we being good enough parents?’” says Lauren Weinberg, Yahoo’s Vice President of Consumer Insights, about the findings from Yahoo Parenting’s August survey. Conducted by Ipsos, it queried 1,001 mothers between ages 25 and 50 nationwide, representing a mix of ethnicity, family size, kids’ ages, marital status, and employment status. The spanking statistic, Weisberg adds, “speaks to parents who were likely spanked growing up and may be thinking about bringing back what they feel worked for them as a kid, as we’re seeing a change in parenting tactics, especially with millennial moms.”
The data, gathered along with a series of in-depth interviews with 15 moms and academic experts by research firm Audience Theory, shows — as did Yahoo Parenting’s May investigation into the minds of millennial fathers — that spanking is just the tip of the iceberg when it comes to the areas in which parents are feeling judged. Nearly half of the moms surveyed (47 percent) confessed that they felt judged simply on the behavior of their children in public.
Discipline is a hot-button topic
Though Yahoo’s data shows differences in spanking approval along racial lines (39 percent of Asian moms say that spanking is OK, while 65 percent of black moms greenlight spanking, for example), one mom, for her part, says it’s a gender issue in her house. “My husband is more of an advocate for spanking than I am,” she notes. “The only time I use it is when she’s doing something dangerous that’s going to hurt her or someone else.”
Whether they’re advocates or opponents of spanking, 8 in 10 moms told Yahoo Parenting that they truly believe they are good moms. Half of the women surveyed, meanwhile, say they feel that their parenting skills need improvement, but that they’re working on them. “Parents just get fed up and don’t know what to do, so they spank and it works,” if only for the short-term, Peaceful Parent, Happy Kids author and psychologist Laura Markham tells Yahoo Parenting. “Wouldn’t it be great if we could all tell the truth, which is sometimes we lose control and get stuck and don’t know what else to do? This idea that everyone else has her act together is just a fantasy.”
What makes things worse, the surveyed moms agree — including the 55 percent who have felt judged in public places including malls and grocery stores — is jumping to conclusions. “Out in public, when my child acts up, most people stare and even comment on how I discipline the child without even knowing the problem,” laments one mom. Which brings us to the heart of the matter.
Shaming is rampant
Moms tell us they’ve felt shamed to varying degrees during different points of parenthood — during pregnancy (9 percent) and when their children were newborns (16 percent), 3 to 18 months old (32 percent), and toddlers (32 percent). They’ve also felt the harsh opinions of others about aspects of how they mother, from how they feed their babies (35 percent) to their employment status (48 percent).
A whopping 91 percent of moms say they’ve judged other mothers — 1 in 5 openly and in person. And according to Yahoo’s poll, women aren’t picky about what they decide to pick on — or where they wind up doing it. Moms say they are judged about pregnancy (47 percent felt judged about their diet and weight gain), baby feeding (35 percent), working (48 percent felt judged on their working status) and not working (22 percent of working moms think stay-at-home moms have it easy). It happens during family gatherings (45 percent), get-togethers with friends (33 percent), online (21 percent), and at the playground (18 percent). And these judgers aren’t random strangers. Forty-five percent of moms say they have mostly felt judged by their friends.
“Older moms are wiser,” insists one of the women polled. “They understand that everybody’s trying to find their own path to parenthood. I actually feel that younger moms can be more judgmental.” Facebook, Instagram, and the like only amplify the problem, another respondent says: “I think that it is a little harder to raise children [today] because people can post their opinions of you on social media.”
It’s no wonder then that nearly half of the moms surveyed agree that they feel stressed about trying to be a “perfect” mom, and 60 percent admit that they probably judge their parenting skills more harshly than anyone else — even while 63 percent insist that they are usually confident in their parenting skills. “I feel that there is more pressure on us as most of what is posted on Facebook appears to be evidence of how great other moms are,” gripes a frustrated mom. “Pictures of perfect school lunches, crafts, and creative family outings, for example, set a very high bar.”
Why can’t we all just cheer each other on? “Judgment is typically a result of a lack of confidence,” psychotherapist Andrea Nair tells Yahoo Parenting. “So people who criticize or examine others usually do it when they’re not 100 percent sure about what they’re doing, or if they feel powerless. It’s a bit of a control maneuver to try and feel better about yourself.” To try and stop the hurtful cycle, aim to turn a critique on its head. “Be aware that you feel judgmental, but don’t act on it,” advises Nair. “Instead, turn that thought into a question: ‘What can I do to be more confident as a parent about this?’”
Parenting partners are trying to help
Of course, teaming up can make many of the struggles of parenting easier. More than half of the moms Yahoo surveyed give credit where it is due and report that their spouse or partner is a help in the chaos of childrearing. Sixty-two percent even say they are in a “true partnership” with their significant other.
That jibes with the survey of millennial dads that Yahoo conducted in May. According to that data, 90 percent of fathers believe that parenting needs to be a “team effort.” Yet the mothers in Yahoo’s new survey say there’s still more that their partners can do.
A bit more than half (56 percent) say they think dads overestimate how much they do in the household. “I feel like the sacrifices he makes compared to the sacrifices I make are minimal,” laments one mom. Only 42 percent of moms, in fact, are truly happy with the balance of workload between themselves and their partner in parenting.
As for how their own relationships come into play, 38 percent of moms think their union got better after having kids. Even 30 percent of divorced mothers surveyed say that their relationship with their ex-husband has a positive impact on their parenting style (while 11 percent report that it’s had a negative impact).
Keeping the stresses of the moment in perspective has helped one of the mothers surveyed keep her relationship strong. “The kids are only this little for such a short period of time,” says the mother of two, ages 1 and 2. “Things have to be sacrificed, but it’s only for a few years.”
But even when the going gets tough, 41 percent of moms say they would never consider divorce. To prevent the conversation from even going there (and Yahoo’s survey found that 25 percent of moms say the idea of divorce does cross their minds, while 1 in 10 think about it a lot), Markham suggests checking in with yourself and your partner.
“Parents aren’t told that the secret of parenting is connection,” she says. “If moms, and dads, really worked on their connection — with their kids, their partner, and with their own feelings — they wouldn’t be as frustrated.” After all, “parenting is really hard,” she says, whether you’re pro-spanking, anti-spanking, “perfect,” struggling, judging, or judged. Because we’re all in the club together.