If I could meet any one author for dinner, dead or alive, my guest would hands-down be Brene Brown. If you aren’t familiar with her work, she is a researcher and storyteller. She studies people’s stories and extrapolates emotions and feelings to boil them down to their essence and find the inner motivating factors that tie us all together. She calls our common life goal “wholehearted living”, and our common life pitfall “shame”. Wholehearted living is what drives us to be good people who succeed in life and love and relationships, and shame is what drives us to do less savory things out of fear of loss, betrayal, or hurt.
I’ve read every book she’s written, and will continue to do so with every word this woman puts out into the universe. She takes emotions and inner feelings and all the “woo” and approaches it scientifically and quantitatively and qualitatively. Definitely up my alley. She is literally the first author that made me want to write in a book, and I have since given myself permission to mark up, annotate, and underline every non-fiction book I’ve read since “Daring Greatly”.
One of the themes she researches and writes about is shame, in which we act and react out of fear, feelings of exclusion, and feelings of worthlessness. I’m starting to apply her research to the all-to-present mommy shaming that takes place on social media, and it hits the nail on the head every time.
Mom A shames Mom B for doing x. Insists that Mom B should be doing y instead. Unbeknownst to Mom B, Mom A struggles with feelings of inadequacy about q, and shaming Mom B about x makes her feel better about q.
Kind of convoluted, so let’s be more specific. These people and this entire scenario is fictional, but ask any mom in any online mom’s group, and it rings true.
Lily wanted to breastfeed her daughter Quinoa, but was unable to do so, and formula fed her baby instead, choosing only the most expensive organic formula from Australia. She notices one day that Seraphina feeds her son Kale McDonald’s Happy Meals a lot, per social media posts. She decides that fast food is not appropriate nutrition for a growing toddler and says so in a not-so-subtle public message on her own Facebook wall. She doesn’t know that Seraphina only buys Kale McDonald’s after his brutal biweekly physical therapy appointments, to make the tough day a little bit brighter. But instead of explaining this she counters that she breastfed Kale till he was two and a half, so he’s had plenty of “superior” nutrition, directly implying that Lily’s choice of giving Quinoa formula was a worse decision. Neither woman gives the benefit of the doubt to the other, and are motivated to attack by their own shame and feelings of inferiority, all in an effort to make themselves feel better.
“When we experience shame, we feel disconnected and desperate for belonging and recognition. It’s when we feel shame or the fear of shame that we are more likely to engage in self-destructive behaviors, to attack or humiliate others, or to stay quiet when we see someone who needs our help.” -Brene Brown
It’s easy to see in other people and be turned off by it. But it’s harder to see in ourselves. When we act out of fear, shame, or feelings of worthlessness, our goals to make ourselves feel better and more worthwhile often eclipse our ability to filter our words and actions. Being self-aware when you start to shame spiral is not an easy feat, but it’s an endeavor with major dividends in your relationships and pursuit of wholehearted living.
Recently I found my own shame button. Up until this point, I prided myself in being very nonjudgemental of other moms. I am firmly in the attachment parenting camp with breastfeeding until or past one year old, baby wearing, co-sleeping, and not allowing a baby to cry it out. But a lot of my friends and even family members are not. And I was and still am completely fine with that. I didn’t care if another mom used formula, it means I can feed their baby! I didn’t judge mamas who put their babies in their own cribs from day one- I was actually a little jealous they were getting more sleep than me! I have my reasons for my decisions, and other moms have theirs. And no one way or reason is right. It’s between you and your family to decide what works best for you. And that was my stance in all areas of parenting, and assumed I was above the mommy shaming.
I realized recently that I typically find myself very irritated with dear friends who’s kids don’t leave us alone to have a conversation in peace. I was sure that if I mattered to them, if our friendship was special, they would tell their kids to go play in the other room with the other kids. Letting their kids butt in and steal their attention is cutting in on MY quality time with MY friend, and made me feel like I wasn’t worth 10 minutes of their time without interruption.
And then I had dinner with a friend on Sunday, and brought my kids and Husbeast, and did the exact same thing to her. Even though it was not my intention and I did everything I could to devote my focus to her and our conversation. And then last night, as I thought about our time together and all the things I wished we had talked about it, it hit me. I did what I judged other moms for– what I judged my closest friends for.
It all stems from two things. I grew up in an Air Force family that moved a lot and never got to have close friends for long periods of my life, and my top love language is quality time. So you see, I’m a veritable catch-22 when it comes to “lifelong friendships”, because I never lived anywhere long enough to have such a thing, but those are the deep relationships I crave. So I put a lot of emphasis on quality time with friends, to the detriment of the relationship when my expectations for undivided attention from a fellow mom leads me to feelings of irritation and judgement. Because in my head, not getting quality time equates to not being worthy of love or attention from that person, and thus there must be something unworthy or unlovable about me.
But you know what? Moms don’t get to take a break from being moms just because a friend is over for coffee or we’re at a table in a restaurant together. Toddlers need help cutting up their food and wiping their spills, pre-schoolers need reminders to sit down and use inside voices and to not interrupt, and even older kids need our attention. It’s not realistic to expect a mom to tell her beloved offspring that she needs them to leave her alone and be autonomous for 10 minutes. And that’s normal. It’s our jobs as moms to create fully-functioning adults out of tiny halflings, and that takes enormous energy and effort and attention. And it has nothing to do with my value in the relationship, but everything to do with my place of priority in the other mom’s life. Which should and always will be lower than that of her own children.
This is not a reflection of myself or a veritable cause of shame.
Clearly this post is for my own benefit, a processing of thoughts and feelings as well as a public apology to all the friends who have born my judgement, even if they didn’t know it. Truly, I am sorry, and will have more grace and understanding and kindness in our future hangs. Promise.
Most people probably don’t struggle with this kind of thing, but I know for a fact that everybody struggles with something. And I guess the whole point of this post being public is this: what can you be more self-aware about in your own head and heart? What are your shame triggers that lead you to a place of judgement and harshness? Even if you aren’t a mom, I’m sure you’ve witnessed or been involved in public shaming, and hopefully can find ways to not be dragged into it in the future.
YOU ARE WORTHY, and you are making the best decisions you can for yourself and your people. Do not allow others to shame you, and don’t let yourself shame others for things you don’t fully understand or comprehend. Give yourself and others grace, it really does go a long way.
Here’s to finding our own worthiness in our own stories, and playing our own parts in not letting shame be a part of our relationships. Online or IRL.
Grace and Peace,