Poll: Your Worst Mommy Shamer May Be in the Family



Some mommy-shaming wars are more public that others. 

Actress Reese Witherspoon was once food-shamed for feeding her toddler cinnamon buns for breakfast. Critics were quick to judge model Coco Rocho for giving her baby formula. And former pop star Jessica Simpson recently started a frenzy after posting a photo of her 5-year-old daughter in a mermaid costume some felt was too revealing.

Such shaming is all too familiar for many moms out of the limelight too. Six in 10 mothers of children ages 0-5 say they have been criticized about parenting, on everything from discipline to breast feeding, according to today’s report from the C.S. Mott Children’s Hospital National Poll on Children’s Health at the University of Michigan.

But unlike some celebrities, everyday moms seem to feel that their greatest critics don’t come from social media – but rather, their own family.

Moms most frequently felt second guessed by a spouse or their child’s other parent (36 percent), in-laws (31 percent), or their own mother or father (37 percent.) Mothers report far less criticism from friends, other mothers they encounter in public, social media commenters, their child’s doctor or childcare provider.

“Our findings tap into the tensions moms face when parenting advice leads to more stress than reassurance and makes them feel more criticized than supported,” says poll co-director Sarah Clark, M.P.H. 

“Mothers can get overwhelmed by so many conflicting views on the ‘best’ way to raise a child,” she adds. “Unsolicited advice – especially from the people closest to her child – can be perceived as meaning she’s not doing a good job as a mother. That can be hurtful.” 

The Mott poll report is based on responses from a national sample of 475 mothers with at least one child between ages 0-5.

Discipline is the most frequent topic of criticism, reported by 70 percent of criticized mothers. Other common topics are diet/nutrition (52 percent), sleep (46 percent), breast- vs bottle-feeding (39 percent), safety (20 percent), and childcare (16 percent).

Clark notes that the topic of discipline is especially rife with opposing views and cultural differences, such as spanking versus time-outs, or strict adherence to rules versus allowing space for a child to explore.  

New information about child health and safety also often challenge long-held parenting practices that other family members used themselves or grew up with.

Many mothers in the Mott Poll responded to criticism by researching the topic and consulting with a healthcare provider. In some cases, new information prompted mothers to make a change in their parenting but other times, research validated a parenting choice.

“Family members should respect that mothers of young children may have more updated information about child health and safety, and “what we used to do” may no longer be the best advice,” Clark says.

Mothers in the Mott Poll were much less likely to report being criticized by their child’s health care provider than by family members. 

“This indicates that most mothers view their child’s health care provider as a trusted source of accurate information and advice, not as a critic,” says Clark. 

Some 42 percent of criticized mothers go further to say the criticism has made them feel unsure about their parenting choices. 
“Child health providers can help by encouraging mothers to ask questions about any parenting uncertainties, and offer reassurance and practical advice that helps boost mothers’ confidence and reduce anxiety around choices.”

Sixty-two percent of moms say they get a lot of unhelpful advice from other people, while 56 percent believe moms get too much blame and not enough credit for their children’s behavior. And half of criticized moms say they avoid people who are too critical.

“It’s unfortunate when a mother feels criticized to the point where she limits the amount of time she and her child will spend with a family member or friend. To guard against that situation, advice to mothers of young children should be given with empathy and encouragement.”