We’ve all experienced it; and let’s be honest—we’ve all done it too. It’s called Parent Shaming.

The judgmental eye-roll came well before my child was born. I confess; I drank a cup of coffee every day of my pregnancy. The shaming eye-rolling came in its literal form; it also came in the forms of “sweet” little pieces of advice and copies of research studies telling me I was going to stunt my child’s growth. 

We’ve all experienced it—the eye rolling and unsolicited opinions that come from others when we’re parenting in a way that might be controversial, progressive, absent-minded, culturally based or just different. All aspects of parenting surrounding nutrition, sleep, potty-training, screen time, internet use, academics, tutors, driving and sports (just to name a few) can get parents riled up, putting friends and family on the defensive. 

Eye rolling becomes an argument or a debate and sometimes a harsh opinion that gets posted on social media for all to see. We’ve all experienced it; and let’s be honest—we’ve all done it too. It’s called Parent Shaming. 

So why do we do it? How is this impacting our kids? And how can be a more supportive friend?

 

The Faces of Parent Shamers

 

The “Expert” Parent

You know the experts—the unfamiliar faces in the market who have an opinion on your groceries and your child’s behavior. They have well-meaning advice for you but their timing is off and their relationship with you might be non-existent. And, they might not even have kids of their own. Many sentences begin with “you know” or “you should” and may not consider that you have a whole lifetime of history with your child.

The “Expert” is often someone who might mean well but not know how to express it. They are, perhaps, interested in engaging in your parenting difficulty by giving you their thoughts, opinions, and advice—sometimes with judgement and sometimes with care.

Your task is to receive it with thanks and then move on. In the event that your “expert” is a close friend, find a way to tell them that your situation feels a different from their experience, that you appreciate their care and concern, and that you’ll figure it out from here.

 

The “Winner” Parent

Winners are those parents who are often seeking to put their kids on top, over and above others, by letting you know that you “should” have gotten the right academic counselor, tutor, coach, or recruiter. The “Winner” parent will slip in comments that remind you that you didn’t do enough for your child!

Competitive and eager to get ahead, these parents may shame your child in order to promote their child by comparison. Perhaps they tout their child’s statistics in weight, height, GPA or academic prowess. Or, sadly, they may “coach” you on what coaching you might need to attain for your child’s success, lest they be left behind. 

The “Winner” often shames you into believing that your child is less capable because of what you didn’t do for them. In the end, remember that you know your child’s goal and strengths and that you can help them find many alternative paths for their future success.

 

The “Poster” Parent

The “Poster’s” kid is tall and successful. Smart and beautiful. Surrounded by terrific friends and experiences. The “Poster” is a parent who needs to remind the world around them that THEIR CHILD IS GREAT!!!! And, perhaps this is about an issue of impulse control—and the lack thereof. 

Think before you post, as shaming by posting might say that “your child is not as good as mine.” The “Poster” parent may really want to be included or feel that they are compensating for other things not going so well. 

Try not to take their posts personally, but understand that their life might not be as great as they suggest. Their kid thrives on social media because of their parent’s posts, oftentimes serving as a shaming experience to other children and families.

 

The Faces of Kids who are Impacted by Shamers

 

The “OMG Mom Stop It” Kid

When parents attack one another, whether online or in person, kids feel embarrassed. Many of us have seen parents attacking one another at youth sporting events—an attack that begins because of a missed play, a poor tackle, or a botched ball. And then the parents launch into one another. Racial and political slurs cross home plate. Family insults are thrown across court. These Shamer-parents leave our kids with the sense of humiliation and the “OMG—just stop it!”  The kids have the sane response. Just stop it and play on.

 

The “I Can’t Help It” Kid

When we as parents “go after” another parent or family, we model poor impulse control with our words and our actions. We’ve all seen the parent who marches out of a game with “I can’t stand seeing these kids play so badly.” Muttering under their breath, the parent creates an example of intolerance and poor impulse control to their kids. Patience and support go a long way to a kid, regardless of their struggle. When parents can’t tolerate difficulty, kids begin to think they don’t need to tolerate it either. Help your kids weather the storm of the turbulent times of growing up—whether those turbulent times happen on the playground, the sport court, with relationships or at home. We all can help it if we access our tools.

 

The “Perfect and Compliant” Kid

We convey to them that there is only one way to do things and one way to do it right! In our need for perfection, we have a need for control. If our kids are “perfect” then we don’t need to be anxious about our own flaws. And maybe it’s out of our flaws that we shame others, try and elevate our kids above another, and fail miserably. In this journey, it’s important to embrace the idea that our “perfect and compliant” kid just might not be perfect and compliant in our mind. Help them attain what is good for them and right for them and to spend time understanding their dreams. And while you’re at it with them, try and think about it for yourself as well. Being “good enough” might just be the perfect thing.

 

Alternatives to Parent Shaming

 

Be Safe and Confidential

Your friends will tell you sensitive things; they will be vulnerable with you in difficult times. You have two choices—shame them and tell them what they should do differently or tell them you understand their difficulty and that their difficulty is safe with you. Demonstrating safety and confidentiality is an important skill with our friend who entrust us and in modeling this with our kids. Kids can take awful and vulnerable situations and post them to the online world. Being a supportive friend means being able to hold a confidence, keeping things private, withholding judgment, not posting concerns to the online world. Be a safe friend.

 

Be Empathic and Sensitive

Empathy means putting yourself in their shoes. What would it feel like if you were experiencing the same difficulty? This exercise in empathy is important to dialogue out loud with your kids so they can learn how to empathize with other kids who are going through difficult times. Learning how to be sensitive involves remembering not to boast or to promote oneself. When one kid gets a bad grade, it’s not great timing to let them know how well you did on the exam. Understanding another’s disappointment is a tool that will go far in life.

 

Be a Good Communicator

Giving people advice about their dilemmas is easy. Posting our opinions about others is easy—it’s immediate and not face-to-face. We like to tell people what to do. We have a harder time engaging in a conversation about their difficulty, their sadness, or their dilemma. Try and spend time understanding what their feelings are and what there are trying to decide. Reflect back to them what you hear them feeling and help them explore their options. Putting your opinions aside is an important step in connecting with their difficulty. Consider a face-to-face conversation or at least a positive and supportive post.

 

At the end of the day, we are all flawed individuals trying to do the best we can to raise another generation of pretty great kids. Along the way, we may find the temptation to diminish others in an effort to build ourselves (and our kids up.) Boasting in a social media post does not make many feel much better. Roasting in a post doesn’t either.

Well-meaning advice will continue to come our way, whether you want it or not. Perhaps it’s helpful to remember that the giver of this advice might need to belong to your world, might have difficulties of their own, or might just be talking to you face-to-face in order to resist posting it to the online world. Reply with a gracious “thank you” and move on, find your village of supporters, and embrace that you’re doing the best that you can.  

By the way, my “caffeine-exposed” baby grew to be inches taller than I and infinitely smarter (and hopefully kinder) than I. But thanks for the advice. I believe you cared about me and my little one.



About Charlene Underhill Miller, PhD

Charlene Underhill Miller, PhD is a psychotherapist in Southern California with private practices in Santa Monica and Malibu. She helps parents, children, couples and individuals. A graduate of UCLA and Fuller School of Psychology, Dr. Miller also is involved in school-based education and consultation, an adjunct faculty member of the Pepperdine University Graduate School of Psychology, a wife, mother, and stepmother. 

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