What makes mom-shamers mom shame? As often as we wish they would just fall off the face of the earth, we don’t spend much time thinking about their motivation. Without understanding that, we probably can’t hope to put a stop to the criticism and unsolicited, condescending advice people think they need to provide mothers. On this week’s Red Table Talk, Jada Pinkett Smith, along with frequently mom-shamed guests Ashley Graham, Jessica Alba, and psychologist Dr. Ramani Durvasula started to get to the bottom of this question.
“Mommy shamers are just mean girls who grew up to be mothers,” Graham quipped at one point during the Facebook Live show. That’s one way to sum up the problem, but they did discuss it with a little more depth.
Mom shaming has so many ugly forms. For Graham, the shaming has been twofold — some have criticized her for breastfeeding and pumping in public, some for her parenting choices, such as not having sleep-trained him by 3 months old. Alba said she’s been attacked for breastfeeding and for bottle-feeding, and then discussed the guilt she was made to feel over being a working mom. Pinkett Smith related how she received harsh words for home-schooling her kids so they could come with her to work on location, as well as for the ways she let Willow and Jaden Smith express themselves through their hairstyles and fashion choices. Ramani told how moms at her daughter’s school said the girl had been acting up because her mother was always working.
No matter how strong these amazing women seem on the outside, those words really hurt them, sometimes reducing them to tears.
“You’re being judged on your momness and the mom part feels primal. I can’t get that one wrong,” Ramani said of why this criticism feels worse than anything else.
But this episode really stands out in giving us the tools to cope with mom-shaming. For example, Pinkett Smith shared the way she refocused her attention on her kids’ happiness.
“When people were like, ‘Oh my god, I can’t believe you shaved Willow’s head!’ — if they could have seen this child’s expression of freedom, looking at her hair falling to the ground,” she said. “So me as a mom looking at that, experiencing that with her, there is nothing that anyone could say to me to tell me that it was wrong.”
Alba said she got a little help in dealing with those outside opinions.
“I’ve had to do a lot of therapy and certainly now that I’m almost 40, I’ve come to this place where I realize that most people who have something to say, it’s because they’re so insecure, and it’s more of them being ashamed of themselves, them being overly critical,” Alba said. “And for whatever reason, the natural reaction is to pull other people apart for them to feel justified or them to feel OK.”
Ramani co-signed that theory during a segment of the show in which other women shared their mom-shaming experiences. Her expert advice was for parents not to dignify hateful insults with their attention.
“You are triggering their insecurities,” she told one mom who works as a professor while her husband stays home with their four children. “Don’t make their insecurity your problem. … Put forth the power and the beauty of your story and what you and your husband have created with your kids.”
All of the moms, including Pinkett Smith’s mother Adrienne Banfield-Jones (a.k.a. Gammy), admitted that they are not entirely innocent of the sin of mom-shaming. They all took in one more piece of advice about how to speak to fellow moms, especially if they sense the mom might need help.
“The fact is we’ve got to stop and we’ve got to pay attention and look at every mother through a lens of compassion,” Ramani said. “If you see a mother struggling, go up to them … [ask], ‘Is there anything I can do to help? Do you want to talk?’ Set the pace to allow someone to open up.”