What are parents being shamed for?
“Parents are being held responsible for children’s behaviour in the moment when you don’t have any context about that behaviour,” says Dr Conley Wright.
“You don’t know if that child has an invisible disability or a development delay of some kind, and you don’t know if that child is hungry, or had a bad day, or didn’t sleep well.
“People may see a child’s behaviour, like a tantrum at a grocery store, and people will hold that parent responsible for that behaviour in that moment and it’s not really fair.”
The study found that parents are often shamed for their approach to discipline (44 per cent), their child’s behaviour (43 per cent), their child’s amount of screen time (34 per cent) or being a working parent (29 per cent).
For new parents, the study found they were most likely to be shamed for breastfeeding in public, their use of child care and their diet during pregnancy.
In a 2017 US study, which examined the impact of parent shaming on mothers with children under the age of five, the findings were consistent.
Discipline was the most frequent parenting criticism (70 per cent), followed by diet/nutrition (52 per cent), sleep (46 per cent), breast vs bottle feeding (39 per cent), safety (20 per cent) and childcare (16 per cent).
An interesting finding from the Australian study, is that mothers were more likely to have felt shamed than fathers.
“Even though the amount of time fathers spend parenting their children is increasing, there is still a societal expectation that the mother is the primary parent and that the father is the ‘nice to have’,” explains Dr Conley Wright.
The impact of parent shaming
While the study found that those critiquing parents mostly had the best intentions, for example wanting to support new parents or to share words of wisdom based on experience, judgement and unrealistic expectations can negatively impact a parent’s mental health.
Dr Conley Wright says having ideals of perfect parenting, can lead to a loss of confidence in our own skills.
“So, if a parent tells themselves things like they aren’t good at supporting their child, or they aren’t reading to them every day when they feel they should be, the belief in themselves as capable parents can diminish.
“It can undermine their parenting by believing they aren’t good enough.
“For example, if you have a bad day, you can either say, ‘it was a bad day, tomorrow will be better, we are going through a rough patch’, or you can say, ‘I’m not a good parent’.”
A third of parents in the study admitted to questioning their own abilities as a parent and reported having increased anxiety levels.
Nearly one in ten sought professional support for their mental health due to being shamed.
Dr Conley Wright recommends the concept of ‘good enough’ parenting.
“Parents don’t need to beat themselves up if they aren’t giving their children the maximum every day,” she advises.
“If you are doing ‘good enough’ parenting, so you are looking after them, they are being fed, sleeping, you are attune to their needs, you are listening to them, it’s good enough.
“You don’t need a gold star in everything, every day.”