Science Says *This* Is Why Mom Shaming Exists

Dasha Burobina/Getty Images

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.

“It’s very rarely productive to judge others, especially in the parenting sphere, where there is clearly no manual or how-to in terms of the best thing to do for a child,” Mitchells says. After all, if you’re on the receiving end of judgment, it feels terrible and raises your defenses in a way that can be harmful for your kids. A judged parent often goes into fight or flight mode, causing the child to bear the brunt. The parent will think: “OK, I need to make these uncomfortable feelings go away now, so you, kid, are doing XYZ or else!” Sound familiar?

On the flip side, if you’re the one casting the judgment, you may initially feel a boost, but ultimately regret saying anything at all, remembering a time you were in the judged seat. “Before you cast a judgment, it’s far better to pause and get curious,” Mitchell says. “Consider why a fellow parent is making the decision they are before you throw stones.”

And if you really feel that you can’t hold back (and it’s a close enough relationship where you feel you’re in a position to advise), Mitchell says to come from a place of compassion and affirmation. “You could say, ‘This is really hard, we’ve all had these days,’ or ‘You’re such a loving parent and I want to offer an insight that could be helpful.’” (Never say but!)

Bottom line: Judgments happen instinctually, but before we mom shame, it’s important to remember our humanness and assume best intentions on all sides.

Rachel Bowie

Royal family expert, a cappella alum, mom

Rachel Bowie is Senior Director of Special Projects & Royals at PureWow, where she covers parenting, fashion, wellness and money in addition to overseeing initiatives within...
read full bio

Why You Should Trust Us

PureWow's editors and writers have spent more than a decade shopping online, digging through sales and putting our home goods, beauty finds, wellness picks and more through the wringer—all to help you determine which are actually worth your hard-earned cash. From our PureWow100 series (where we rank items on a 100-point scale) to our painstakingly curated lists of fashion, beauty, cooking, home and family picks, you can trust that our recommendations have been thoroughly vetted for function, aesthetics and innovation. Whether you're looking for travel-size hair dryers you can take on-the-go or women’s walking shoes that won’t hurt your feet, we’ve got you covered.