Shame Shame Shame has no place in parenting
The path to end parent shaming was an interesting one for me. With my goal of helping create a society that doesn’t condemn every parent for every mistake they make, I have forged a message and a voice that feels so far removed from the emotionally abused girl I once was. Growing up in the type of home that I did, with the history I have, makes it almost impossible to believe that I am here – as a professional, as a healing voice for parents, and as a sane woman capable of love (both giving and receiving). But, alas, here I am, on a mission to create a shame-proof parenting framework that will change the way we think about parenting.
One of the first things I’ve learned about parenting is this: becoming a parent doesn’t change you in the ways that all parents proclaim. Yes, your life changes; your priorities change; your goals change; your body changes. But, the essence of who you are is still brewing and influencing under the guide of your new role as caregiver to another human. This can be a tough concept to hold as you witness everything else in your life change with the all-encompassing experience that is caring for a child. However, understanding this is the foundation for recognizing how shame infiltrates this identity as much as it does all of your other identities. And yes, I do view parenting as an identity – much like your career, your sexuality, your gender, and other pieces of yourself that develop as a result of living in any state of being. When we notice the ways in which our children are humans themselves, on a journey to experience life just as you have as their caregiver, we also open up the door to understanding how being shame-proof (as opposed to shame-free) helps us be more aware and healthy humans too.
But, let’s define shame-proof parenting – since I’ve already started using the term in this article. Shame-proof parenting is a framework to understand how shame influences a parent, their parenting identity, and their relationship with their children. This framework also asserts that the harder it is for external forces to penetrate your family, the easier it will be for you and your family to find solutions to your unique issues. In essence, when you can recognize your own narrative, the ways in which shame has shaped you, and the ways being shamed in your parenting identity influences your parenting choices, you develop a resilience that mirrors the process of becoming metaphorically bullet-proof (or, shame-proof). It’s not that shame no longer exists, or that it no longer influences you, but rather that you recognize what shame looks like for you and can combat it with skills to support your parenting and your relationship with your child.
Now, you remember that abused girl I mentioned before: she would have loved to have a shame-proof parent. My mom, who genealogically is my step-grandmother, was raised on the old Black mom rhetoric of a child is seen not heard, you ain’t got nothing to be upset about, and you better do as I say or else! The tactics she used are often criticized in our educated world of child development research and trauma informed understandings. We judge her methods as emotionally damaging, horribly misguided, and downright abusive. And while I actually share a lot of those sentiments, my approach to arguing her point goes beyond she was doing the best she could. When I hear that “doing the best” retort, I think it dismisses both the strict and old school parent as well as the feelings of the child who was raised under those strategies. It labels and shames both parties, and makes it hard for either to heal or grow. Black mothers who are bombarded with research and “this is how we do things now” speeches recoil in defense at the fact that they were raised with similar tactics and came out aright. While children who respect and love their parents for using these strategies to raise them feel unjustly attacked for not condemning their parents (I stand in that group).
But, there is hurt and pain from these parenting strategies – for both the parent and the child. And, it’s this truth that furthers my point on ending parent shaming as well as truly understanding a parent’s identity before you condemn them. For my mom, and many other Black women in their parenting role, there was never a rule book for how to care for the whole child – just as there was no self-help book for how they could take of their whole selves in a world that idolizes mothers and praises them from raising “good kids”. In that sentence alone, you can see why shaming and judging lay the wrong foundation for healing those wounds and creating a new road to raising children who are not just able to manage themselves behaviorally, but are also emotionally healthy too. It’s not an excuse, as you may be thinking. But, we have to stop seeing parenting as a one-dimensional experience that can be remedied with a good parenting class and reading the latest child development/parenting/trauma research. It’s a deeper experience that encompasses the parent’s who outlook on life as a human – essentially as I stated earlier, parenting is an identity that deserves the space to develop, heal, fail, succeed, and rebuild as the child ages and as the parent learns more about their unique parenting voice. Overall, the idea of shame-proof parenting is not to tell a parent what to do, but to give a parent space to figure who they are, how they came to understand the parenting role, and what do they want to do with this information.
The girl who was emotionally and physically abused by her mother had to heal her own wounds and remake herself as she believed she could exist in the world to fully understand what her mother must have experienced as a woman coming into her motherhood. It’s this journey that helped pave the way for the shame-proof parenting framework, the idea of parenting as an identity, and the mission to end parent shaming. Realizing that hurt, pain, success, goals, life experiences, ideas learned, and narratives held on to are what make us who we are – and none of that goes away just because we make the choice to take on the parenting role. If anything, these aspects of ourselves get magnified as we are constantly called to make sense of these pieces for a human is learning how to human from us.
The biggest message I have for the shame-proof parenting world that I hope to create is that we all look within before we look out; that we all realize that parenting is not something anyone of us knows how to do; and that our development into the caregiver/parent that we want to be is a journey fraught with ups and downs and triumphs and successes. The moment we as a society understand this, we can begin to prepare humans for their parenting journey in healing, empathetic, and authentic ways. And, that girl, she’s still healing even as she continues to help parents and families heal. That’s the true mark of a shame-proof experience.
Mercedes Samudio, LCSW
is a parent coach, speaker, and bestselling author who helps parents and children communicate with each other, manage emotional trauma, navigate social media and technology together, and develop healthy parent-child relationships. Mercedes started the #EndParentShaming movement as well as coined the term Shame-Proof Parenting – using both to bring awareness to ending parent shame. You can read more about her parenting expertise at http://shameproofparenting.com.