Though some might disagree, I like to think I’m part of the solution. I usually pretend to be immune to mom-shame, and I’m always passionately opposed to it — I try my best not to do it, whether deliberately or inadvertently. But the truth is it used to be a whole lot easier to not mom-shame. Pre-pandemic, the trick was to just keep your mouth shut.
“If two moms are sitting on a bench with their babies and one is breastfeeding while the other’s bottle-feeding, those are not mutually exclusive,” said New York–based reproductive psychiatrist Alexandra Sacks. Whatever either’s thinking, they can both subscribe to a laxer “You Do You” parenting philosophy. “Not so when it comes to issues of [coronavirus] exposure,” she added.
When one parent’s actions directly affect the health of the other’s child, when it’s not exaggerating in the least to say that our children’s lives are on the line, it’s no wonder that polite tolerance has gone the way of crowded music festivals. “For so many parents, these are the highest stakes they’ve felt in their whole lives,” said Sacks.
This fall, too many American moms (and I’m deliberately saying moms, not dads or parents or families, because 80 percent of moms say they’re managing the majority of home-schooling) face an impossible decision. Not a vague ideological position, an actual check-your-preferred-box-and-sign-at-the-bottom choice: Will you be sending your child back into the classroom? Committing to virtual learning? Withdrawing them entirely?
Your decision can feel rife with meaning. “Taking care of children is not just a thing we do anymore but a representation of who we are,” said Kim Brooks, author of 2018’s “Small Animals: Parenthood in the Age of Fear.” In 2020, it’s like someone cranked the dial on a simmering pot. “When everybody is scared and nobody feels supported, they find a scapegoat or blame someone else. These are primitive defense mechanisms,” she added.
Sacks sees a common psychological trapping. “Competition and criticism of others is so often a projection of insecurity and instability,” she said. The pandemic is a perfect storm of both: Internally, people lack confidence to navigate a novel and unpredictable situation; externally, they lack the social and structural support systems they desperately need. Put those two things together and one can manifest as a mom-shamer.
Now check your box but also read the subtext: Are you an exhausted mom desperate for normalcy? Are you a supermom who’ll frantically juggle your kids’ online curriculum atop your day job? A privileged mom with a pricey nanny or a private learning pod? A traditional mom willing to toss your career under the bus to home-school?