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The cost of mother shaming

 The cost of mother shaming (Photo: iStock)

About two weeks ago, actress, singer, and social media personality Keke Palmer was trending after her boyfriend and father of her son, Darius Jackson, publicly castigated her on social media for dressing in a manner that he believed was not appropriate.

The actor had worn a sheer Givenchy dress with a black bodysuit during an Usher concert in Las Vegas. In the video, we see Keke dancing with the singer as he performs his hit There Goes My Baby.

Darius, who was not in attendance for the Usher show expressed his disapproval of her ensemble on Twitter.

"It is the outfit though... you a mum," he wrote.

Afterwards, Keke's fans came to her defence, claiming that Darius was publicly mum shaming the star. Others who have experienced mum shaming include Kenya Moore, Kim Kardashian, Cardi B, Gabriel Union, and Halle Berry.

Locally, mothers who have experienced mum shaming include Georgina Njenga, Nadia Mukami, and recently, Wahu.

Mum shaming occurs when someone judges or criticises a mother for her parenting style or how she chooses to conduct and carry herself as both a woman and a mother. Women have been mum-shamed for just about everything.

Mum-shaming usually touches on sleep training, mother-child time management, discipline, diet, and nutrition; whether to breastfeed or bottle-feed.

It also touches on the choice of activities for your child, career progression or lack of it, and your choice of clothes for you and your child.

Indeed, everyone seems to have an opinion on what being a good mother is. While this opinion (often unsolicited) can sometimes come from a place of care or even concern, it can result in more harm than good as it can make mothers struggle with self-doubt, anxiety, and insecurity.

Social media has not helped when it comes to mum-shaming; in fact, it has amplified it because everyone who has access to social media thinks they are experts and have the right to dole out unsolicited advice.

Jenipher Oduor, a tax manager and mother of two says that every mother has a story about mum shaming in one form or the other.

"I have two boys and I have experienced mum shaming in three ways: body shaming, my status as a single mother, and shaming because I intentionally make time for 'me time'. After I had one of my sons, I had diastasis recti. This is where your belly sticks out because the space between your left and right belly muscles has widened as a result of pregnancy. People who do not know any better would comment that my body had changed and a good number were men. It was hurtful and cruel," she says.

"Also, my eldest son was born chubby, and some people felt it was their business to point out that I was not feeding him correctly. Some people even made suggestions on the foods that I should feed him. People should stop giving unsolicited advice because it is often cruel. You do not know what someone is going through and the impact your words will have on them."

Jenipher says she does not understand why some people are offended when a mother makes time for 'me time'.

"I love exercise. I love the gym, running, and hiking. I am a fitness enthusiast. It bothers some people that I can go for a hike despite being a mother. This mum shaming completely confuses me because why are some people mad about how others spend their time? When I am fit, I am happy emotionally, mentally, and physically, which means I am a better mother. Fitness is a priority and so I have intentionally created a life where I can exercise and still have quality time with my boys," she says.

When it comes to being a single mother, Jenipher says she does not allow people's opinions to get to her. "This is where I am, I will not hide or cower. I love my boys and being a mother," she says.

Jenipher says you should not take people's negative views about your choices when it comes to being a mother or when playing another role to heart.

"A lot of times people who are openly mean and cruel in the name of giving advice are often projecting their pain, and insecurities onto you. It is never about you. Live your life and be the best mother you can be, but also do not forget to feed the individual. Also, understand the season you are in; be kind and gracious to yourself, and ask for help where necessary."

Lucy Njenga, Executive Director of Positive Young Women Voices and author of Hope Made A Way, says mum shaming is common, and unfortunately, people who do the mum shaming are not even aware of their actions, and instead believe they are giving good advice.

"My mum-shaming experience happened in 2019, at a time I was travelling a lot. I think I was home for two months only but was in and out of the country during the other months of the year. People kept asking me who was taking care of my daughter when I was busy globe-trotting. Interestingly enough, the person who could have complained, my daughter's father had no issue with it and gave me his blessing," says Lucy.

Lucy says that although she tried not to let people's opinions about her choices affect her, they did.

"I believe it is the reason why I chose not to pursue a Master's degree even when I had the desire for it. I should have trusted my instinct and pursued it because my daughter will be eight years soon and she can barely remember that year when I was travelling because I was intentional about putting in place a support system, she says.

"I still have the dream to do my Masters, but now my daughter is at an important stage as she is close to her preteens and I am intentional about being present in this stage. If I decided to do my Master's abroad, I would go with my whole family, or I would do it online, or simply wait until she is older."

Lucy, also believes that it is important for a woman to note that before they were a wife or mother, they were an individual with purpose, a dream, and needs, and they should not forget the individual because when the individual is whole then that is when she can effectively be a good mother and wife.

"Even as you pursue motherhood, you should not betray yourself because of that. As much as being a mother is wonderful, it should not be the only thing we are defined by. Do everything with moderation and understand your seasons and what you should prioritise in different seasons without killing your dreams. I have come to value having balance in the different roles I play, and I have concluded that I can do the things I need to do. I just need to figure out a way to do it without betraying me or without it costing me another area in my life," says Lucy.

She says one should be careful not to become bitter, blaming their child(ren) because they sacrificed so much of themselves for them to the point where they metaphorically died.

"I am a mother and I want to be there for my daughter, but I must also nurture Lucy too. Because if Lucy is happy and thriving then she can be a good mother and wife."

And Mary Munene, a mother and wife, defines mum shaming as the act of criticising women. "Unfortunately, it is the women who criticise their fellow women, of course, because there is a tenacious orientation to self that resides in every heart, overt or subtly. In other words, mum shaming says, my style is better than yours," she says.

The blogger (Facebook page: Marriage Chronicles by John & Mary Munene) says mum shaming touches on everything.

"Those remarks are always marked with undertones of disapproval. For instance, a mother can be criticised for choosing to be a stay-at-home mum instead of being a career woman; or for choosing to use a bottle instead of breastfeeding. It can get so petty that choosing a particular type of diaper instead of another can cause a mum a backlash. It can encompass choices about parenting, education, diet, and screen time," she says.

Mary says mum-shaming is often done through in-person conversations and on social media, especially on Facebook and WhatsApp.

"I have been a victim of mum shaming for choosing to co-sleep our child. I happened to share my experience with a particular group and the remarks were captious. How could co-sleeping be that evil?" she poses.

She adds, "Who decides that this is good for a child and this isn't? Do choices matter? I believe that choices matter but to the degree that they affect the character and development of the child. It is that simple. For instance, if one mother chooses a cloth diaper for her child, and another, disposable diapers, does that choice affect the child's development or character? The answer is a resounding no."

Mary believes the right actions done for the wrong reason cannot build virtues. She says character is everything in a child's life, and that every parent should have space to groom their children "how best they think they should, to birth a child with impeccable character."

"At the end of the day, if a diaper affects a child's character, by all means, address it. If screen time affects their growth and development, by all means, address it. We should be more judicious and less fussy about passing externalities. This is where I refer to the Good Book, about everything is permissible but not all is beneficial," she says.

Mary says mothers should be happy for each other since their goal is to have wholesome families.

"Find joy when a fellow mother's flower blooms with a different shade. Femininity and motherhood are all about inviting and nurturing in and out into the world. It is a world of sensitivity and nourishment. Instructions should benefit the other, not tear down. Keep the vision in scope, and the choices made will align with it," she says.

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