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Parents, beware of the ‘reverse-sanctimommy’ — coming to a playground near you

Claire Zulkey wonders when she'll ever get used to the idea that she has two boys. She is the author of two books for young people, An Off Year and Best Frenemies. She and her filmmaker husband live in Evanston, IL. You can find out more...

What happens when another mom makes you feel like you’re holier-than-thou — when you’re totally not?

Being a mother who has access to the internet, I’ve seen my fair share of sanctimommying. Sanctimommying, in case you aren’t familiar with it, is a term popularized by STFU, Parents’ Blair Koenig to describe a parent whose “good intentions meet condescension.” They’re the type of sanctimonious parents who post social media updates stating things like:

“I can’t relate to people who don’t have kids anymore.”

Or:

“Sitting at a museum and this little boy has been strapped into his stroller for at least an hour… makes me so sad”

Or:

“You have NO CLUE what 'exhausted' really is. You will when you’re a mom.”

Or:

“Labor Day has a new meaning for us moms. If you labored bringing your children into the world, today is for you. Bonus points for no epidural or home birth.”

Or:

“Colic is bullshit. There is no such thing. Stop looking for things to fix babydom. Keep nursing and remain engaged. You will miss this time.”

More: Dear mom who didn't have a home birth: Stop judging me

Essentially, sanctimommies (and daddies) believe that parenting is a competition and want you to know that they are winning and you are losing.

I personally take pride in not considering myself a sanctimommy. I got an epidural. I formula-fed. I have my kids in day care and I probably rely too heavily upon Trader Joe’s dehydrated fruit to feed my kids. I cannot cast the first or even the 15th stone.

So imagine my surprise when, last week, I’m pretty sure I was reverse-sanctimommied at the playground. What’s the reverse-sanctimommy? When another mom makes you feel like your parental choices are overly crunchy and cuckoo.

Here’s what happened: Another exhausted mom and I were sitting at a picnic table while my 4-year-old ran around in his beloved new astronaut costume.

“That’s a cool costume,” the mom noted. “Where’d you get it?”

“Amazon,” I said. “Although, I feel kinda bad. I try not to buy too much stuff on Amazon.” As we spoke, we were two blocks away from an independent brick-and-mortar toy store. We live in a town that’s full of brick-and-mortar independent stores, and I’m a work-from-home mom, so when I can, I try to support the little guys.

“Really?” she said, incredulously. “I love Amazon. I buy everything there.”

Suddenly, I felt ashamed, like I was being a crunchy sanctimonious mommy who had just been called out for making this other lady feel bad. We ended the rest of our impromptu playdate in awkward silence.

“Was I crazy?” I asked my husband, who had been there. “Was I being a jerk?” I went over what I said in my head. I didn’t say anything about how I think everyone who shops at Amazon is selfish and lazy or that I make my kids’ own costumes.

“No, she was weird,” my husband said in that matter-of-fact guy way that’s both not helpful at all and yet utterly reassuring.

So I decided that by accident, this mom had invented an ingenious new technique — the reverse-sanctimommy.

More: Little boy has perfect response to strangers judging his mom

The next time another parent reveals that they do something differently than you do, don’t just let it be. Point it out to her and make her choices feel crazy, even if she’s not implying that her way is the best way. Next time a mom says she’s a vegetarian, say, “I couldn’t live without meat!” If she home-schools, laugh and say she probably has too much time on her hands. There are so many great ways to play this.

It is possible, of course, that she was just tired or having a bad day or was socially awkward, but in this day and age, when the chips are down, better to try to coin a new mom-against-mom parenting term than just give a lady the benefit of the doubt, right?

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