Mommy Shame & Measuring Up

What is it about women that causes us to forever be comparing ourselves to each other?  During girlhood, the competition centers around who is the prettiest, most fashionable, or most popular.  Once we become mothers this dynamic remains, but the focus shifts to who has the “best” children, whether they are the cutest, smartest, happiest, most talented, most athletic, or even most Christ-like.

To make things worse, social media has amped up the emphasis on appearances so that today’s mothers often feel pressured to make each moment Facebook-worthy.  Is it any wonder that so many mommies find themselves obsessing about whether their children (and by extension, they themselves) are measuring up?  May we never doubt or dismiss the reality of Mommy Shame– it can be a cruel taskmaster.

Since the days of Dr. Freud, we’ve been in the habit of blaming children’s shortcomings on the parents, specifically female parents. Now perhaps you don’t put much stock in Freudian psychology.  But when was the last time you traveled by plane with a toddler?  What happens when the change in air pressure affects her ears?  Other passengers (the childless ones) start thinking, if not saying aloud, “Why don’t you stop that crying?!”  Never mind that the only foolproof way to stop the crying is to shake the baby, which may cause brain damage or death.

Other times, when others reach out to offer encouragement, their compliments can backfire.  Let’s say Mrs. Jones congratulates you on Junior’s Science Fair prize:  “You’re doing such a fine job with him!  Just look how it’s paying off!”  Meanwhile, Junior comes home to a bedroom that looks like a bomb went off, complains about your dinner, then argues with you at bedtime over something urgent, like screen-time limits.  Does this mean you’re not doing such a fine job after all?  What would Mrs. Jones say?

In a culture where libraries, bookstores, and yes, blog sites devote a good chunk of space to parenting, perhaps one of the most dangerous yet commonly held assumptions we bring to the table is this:  Good parenting makes good kids.  We also tend to assume that the converse is true:  Good kids come from good parents. 

I would like to refute both of these notions. I work as a clinical child psychologist and parenting coach. This means I earn my living helping parents tweak what they’re doing in hopes of seeing better behavior.  So you might think I’d be arguing on behalf of these ideas rather than against them.  After all, the science of psychology is rooted in observing human behavior in order to better predict and control it.

So why would I say that Good Parenting doesn’t always make Good Kids, and that Good Kids don’t always come from Good Parents?

First, simply put, over decades of experience I have found it to be true.  Second, I want to say so on behalf of the good parents who come to me with Mommy Shame. Sometimes, for complicated reasons that aren’t anyone’s fault, families just have problems.  (Remember Christ’s answer to the question in John 9:2, “Who sinned, this man or his parents, that he should be born blind?”)  Fortunately, today we have excellent ways to help manage, reduce, and sometimes eliminate the problems, so no one should be ashamed about seeking professional help.

Our children do need for us to give them our best efforts as parents so that they might have their very best chance of growing into the unique persons God has designed them to be.  But even the best, professionally-assisted parenting does not always produce the desired outcome, and none of us will ever have a perfect child.

To combat Mommy Shame, I suggest we adopt different yardsticks:

  • First, for ourselves: Are we giving our own best efforts to the privilege of parenting?
  • Have we truly endeavored at home to become what Dr. Jim Wilder and Dr. Marcus Warner call RARE Leaders? [1]
  • And finally, for our children, let us compare each one not to where others are, but to where this one might otherwise be.

A careful look at the family tree and the surrounding culture can help us to find grace, both for our child and for ourselves.


Special Thanks to Guest Blogger is Dr. Karen Struble, Clinical Child Psychologist & Parenting Coach.


[1] RARE leaders are those who Remain relational, act like their best selves, return to joy from upsetting emotions, and Endure hardship well.  See Wilder & Warner’s Book RARE Leadership for more details.


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