You know the scenario: someone says something critical about your child’s dreadlocked hair, or the fact that they’ve just hit another child, or that they can’t read fluently at age 9. Your child may, or may not be upset, but you’re devastated. Crushed. Hit by a ton of mum shame.
I felt the weight of that mum shame many, many times. It’s excruciating. What made things worse was what happened after that: I felt like shit and then I projected that onto my child. I passed the criticism on down the line by making some judgmental comment to my child like: “What you did was totally unacceptable. You’ve just caused a big problem.” or “I can’t bear to be around you when you look like that. It’s awful.” or “I wish you’d try harder to learn. You should be able to read that by now.”
If my child didn’t feel awful before, they do now. They’ve got the message, loud and clear, that they are not OK; that there’s something wrong with them.
When the mum shame is active there isn’t room for compassion, empathy or acceptance.
It’s so easy to pass the burden of judgement and shame on to the next generation, just like it was passed to us. We do it unconsciously, because it’s what we’re used to. We’ve been brought up on criticism and it’s become programmed into us. We’ve internalized all the criticism we’ve heard and it’s become a voice in our heads: the inner critic.