Are You Guilty of Mommy Shaming?
- Anne Peterson Poet and Author
- 2018 1 Feb
and when he is old he will not depart from it” (Proverbs 22:6).
I was twelve or thirteen at the time.
My mom had just given me directions for the second time. With my little brother, Steve, I was to take one bus and transfer to another. Then, after I did the errand, I was to return home. She was certain I could do it. I, on the other hand, was not.
Everything went smoothly. We got there and did the errand. But when it was time to return, my mind started questioning.
What side of the street was I on to get the bus? The longer I looked at the four corners, the more confused I became. Simply put, we got lost. So I turned to my brother and begged him,
“Whatever you do, please don’t tell mom we got lost.”
“Okay,” he agreed. I sighed. At least she wouldn’t make fun of me, again.
And Steve kept his word—kind of. We had barely walked in when he blurted out, “We took six buses!”
My face became warm and I wanted to disappear. No sooner had Steve finished his sentence when I heard Mom’s voice.
“Terese, you’re not gonna believe what Anne did this time…”
And there I stood blanketed in shame.
Mom would give me the list for the grocery store six blocks away. She’d also hand me coupons with explicit instructions of what to do with them. Surely I could do this, right?
I’d start out fine, but somewhere along the line, I would lose my confidence and start telling myself that I was going to get it wrong. I was very convincing. Eventually I’d get confused, so I’d go to the payphone and call mom.
“Great! Now you’ve wasted the 10 cents I was trying to save!” she said.
And I’d walk in with the groceries never feeling good. Shame does that to you.
What is Shame?
Shame is defined as “A painful feeling of humiliation or distress caused by the consciousness of wrong or foolish behavior” (Oxford Dictionaries).
Guilt and shame are different. Guilt says, I made a mistake. Shame says, I am a mistake.
I have a confession: I am directionally deficient. I’m not proud of it, but it’s just something I’ve come to accept about myself.
One time, on my way to a speaking engagement, I started having doubts.
Although I was five minutes from my destination, I told myself, “This can’t possibly be right. You’d better turn around.”
So I turned around, which resulted in me walking in one hour late. Fortunately, the people there were wonderful. In a few moments, I was ready to speak with no trace of shame.
An Important Fact about Shame
In a video of Brené Brown and Oprah, Brené, a research professor who has studied the subject of shame extensively, explains what makes it grow:
“If you were to take shame and put it in a petri dish and add silence to it, shame would grow exponentially. But if you were to take shame and put it in a petri dish and add empathy, shame could not grow. Shame cannot exist when there is empathy.”
What Does Empathy Involve?
Over and over in Scripture, we are instructed to be kind. In Ephesians 4:32, we are told that it’s because we have been treated with kindness and we have been forgiven.
If we remember how God has treated us, it will be easier for us to extend those gifts He has blessed us with to our children.
God tells us we are to comfort (Isaiah 66:13). God even likens comfort to a mother; comfort involves understanding.
In Matthew 19:14, the disciples refused to let the children close to see Jesus. Jesus was clear—nothing was to hinder them from coming to him. It is the same for us. We can encourage our children to draw close to the Master, or we can hinder them by painting a false image of who God is.
While our children are little, we are their first picture of God.
When instruction or correction is needed as we parent, 1 Timothy 3:4, tells us how we’re to do this.
The key word is dignity. That means we make sure our children still feel respected. Shame robs others of respect, and replaces it with humiliation.
When parents have God in the center of their home, their values line up with what Scripture teaches. Each member of the family feels that they are accepted, and a vital part of the family. Values are caught just by being around others.
If we want our children to grow into kind adults, we need to model that for them. We do that by being kind ourselves.
Grace is another important ingredient. It is acceptance of another person, and it makes allowances for mistakes. If you give someone grace, there is no room for shame.
And even if we grew up without godly models, we can still teach our children how to be godly. We choose to model what God wants instead of what we saw.
A Glass of Water
We all sat around the table waiting for our food to be served. It was a special night and we were celebrating.
I smiled looking at our two children, thankful.
Just then our daughter, Jessica, who was about six, reached across the table and accidentally knocked over her water glass. Immediately, we all quietly grabbed napkins and sopped up the water.
“It’s okay, Jessica,” I told her, “Accidents happen.”
There was no blaming. There was no shame.
I thought of how the scenario would have played out in my family of origin. Someone would have been shamed for spilling the water, and others would have joined in, making the person feel so small.
I cannot tell you that I have never shamed my child. But I can tell you this: God has helped me to learn another way—a way to instruct and teach with empathy so my children retain their dignity.
What about you? Are there areas where you need to grow? That’s okay. Each day is another chance to show our families Jesus.
We pray that you will give us wisdom as we raise these children you have given us. If we’ve not had good examples in our own lives, we pray you would provide help. Father, these children are gifts from you. And we want them to grow up to follow you. Help us each day, we pray this in your Son’s precious and Holy name.
Photo credit: ©Thinkstock
Anne Peterson is a regular contributor to Crosswalk. She is a poet, speaker and published author of fourteen books. One of which is her memoir, Broken: A Story of Abuse and Survival. While Anne enjoys being a poet, speaker and published author, her favorite title is still ‘Grandma’ to her three grandchildren here, and one in heaven.