I’ll be the first to admit it: Sometimes I judge other parents. (Ask me about a recent vacation with my husband’s family and all the times I had thoughts about their kids’ sleep routines.) It’s certainly not a desirable trait, but is there a biological reason we do it? According to Yvette Mitchell, LCSW for Monarch Wellness, yes.
In a nutshell, judgment really does harken back to basic survival instincts. It’s not a good thing, but casting doubt on others’ parental choices—which often materializes as mom shaming—is a natural impulse that we use to topple feelings of insecurity and bolster confidence in our own instincts. (In the Stone Age, this might have helped to navigate less familiar animals and tribes; for modern parents, it helps us figure out what to feed our littles, or if we really need to sign them up for three-times-a-week soccer.)
There’s even a physiological response. “Judgement can feel like a knee-jerk reaction—and it is,” Mitchell says. “There’s actually a part of our brain in our pre-frontal cortex that automatically activates our gut feelings and intuition if we see something we don’t agree with that sets us into alarm mode. That propels us into a very confident mode of moral judgment.”
The problem: The validation we feel from judgment is incredibly short-lived.