Bad Mommy: On Mom-Shame

3 Painful Consequences of Internal Mom-Shame, and How to Move Forward

Mom-Shame Title

Let’s talk about 3 painful consequences of leaning into our internal messages of mom-shame, and the one practice to get unstuck.

"I sought the Lord and he answered me and delivered me from all my fears. Those who look to him are radiant, and their faces shall never be ashamed." Psalm 34:4-5

I asked on Instagram the other day how many moms had ever felt like they were a “bad mom,” and the result was astounding. When I pressed for the “behaviors” that triggered this mom-shame statement, they ranged from signs and symptoms of Postpartum Depression to burnout and even just regular human frailty. 

In recent personal experience, parenting toddlers has stretched me to new places, namely the very complete end of myself. I have been shocked, discouraged, and defeated by my own sin and shortcomings more times in the last 6 months than ever before in my life.

And I can’t tell you how many times I’ve sat wondering if I’m a bad mom, affirmed the answer to that question to be “yes,” and wallowed in a pit of shame and despair as I drifted off to sleep.

If you Google the term “mom-shame,” you’ll find a myriad of articles calling out mom-shame as a phenomenon that comes from others. Other moms, husbands, society, etc. are being encouraged to stop this practice of mom-shaming and come alongside mothers in solidarity and encouragement. 

And these encouragements are valid, good, and important when we consider how we might mom-shame other moms, or maybe even stand up to the mom-shamers out in the real-life world.

But I have found that the biggest source of this mom-shame comes not from unnamed strangers in the Target parking lot, but instead from the confines of our own psyche.

Our expectations, ideals, pride, and desires rise up and greet us with the most wicked of mom-shame. We tell ourselves we are bad mothers, that we’re ruining our kids, and wonder why in the world God gave us these children in the first place. 

In her 2012 book, Daring Greatly, Brene Brown affirms this internal seat of shame. She differentiates between shame and humiliation by outlining humiliation as something that happens outside of ourselves (someone scolding me for the state of my house or children), and shame to be the internalized messages of unworthiness (I’m a bad mom because I can’t keep my house clean). 

When we consider these messages of shame and unworthiness, it’s important to recognize that the source of these statements is not God.

Because it’s often our ideals of mothering stemming from our understanding of God and how we are meant to walk with him that drives our internal mom-shame, it’s easy to translate these as messages from God confirming our weaknesses and wagging his finger at us in staunch disapproval.

Instead, though, I find the scriptures to be full of examples of our God caring for, gently guiding, and lifting up those who stumble.

If you’re struggling with how God sees you in your deepest mom-shame moments, I encourage you to check out the scriptures at the bottom of this post. Examine each response by God to the humanness of those he interacts with, and see how it might inform your own shame messages.

It’s also important, though, to examine what the responses to this shame are like in the public circle.

There are those that affirm our unworthiness as mothers, confirm our mom-shame messages, and are genuinely harmful in their responses to our insecurities. However, if you Google mom-shame or even pay attention to the mom accounts on Instagram, there’s an alternative message rising up that says, you’re free to engage in any parenting behavior that feels good to you.

You do you, Mama. 

I wanted to mention this line of messaging because though it feels good on the surface, it is certainly not a Biblical message to cling to for life. When we yell at our kids in a fit of rage, ignore them for far too long as we scroll through Instagram, or any other behavior that doesn’t promote the love and grace of God in our home we do need to do the uncomfortable work of acknowledging that we do not want those things to define our mothering life. 

The problem is not that we need to grow as mothers, it’s that our usual method of internal mom-shame is ineffective at actually fostering that growth.

It’s OK to have high ideals as a mother. We are raising future light-bearers in the kingdom of God. It is important to parent from love, acknowledge our shortcomings, and grow. 

But mom-shame isn’t the source of that growth. Let’s chat about the actual fruit of mom-shame, and one thing you can do to foster real growth in our mothering life.

First, mom-shame stunts our growth.

Think about your most recent mom-shame spiral… I’ll share mine here:

First, I did the thing that made me feel like a “bad mom.” In this case, it was yelling at my daughter for, you know, being a toddler. 

I instantly regret my behavior, suddenly void of the anger that I was feeling toward her and seeing her strong will as a gift instead of a nuisance. Then, I welcome the pit in my stomach, wanting to take back the yelling I had just done. Wondering if she would remember it. Agonizing over how to make up for it. Spiraling down into assurance that I am, in fact, a bad mom and finding myself stuck inside my own head. 

Meanwhile, my daughter is moving on from the moment, wanting now to read, play, or nurse… I oblige out of guilt, but am only partially present because of the cacophony of shame-messages swirling in my brain. My lack of presence frustrates her, and she is soon doing the toddler attention-seeking behaviors, and I am again yelling at her. 

Do you notice how shame kept me stuck?

Shame doesn’t allow us to unpack the behavior, find what’s underneath, be curious about growth. Instead, shame captivates us, binds hands and feet to the mental shame spiral, and keeps us locked in the pit we are desperate to climb out of. Mom-shame only begets mom-shame.

If we want to grow as mothers into the women that will guide our kids into true and lasting faith, berating ourselves for the times our mothering doesn’t meet our own standards will only perpetuate the cycle. Mom-shame is often the source of the cyclical behaviors that keep us feeling stuck as moms and unable to move forward.

Mom-Shame Pin

Mom-shame also keeps us isolated.

I am a horrible housekeeper. I can blame the mess of my house on my kids (and surely they drive the magnitude of the mess), but if I’m honest my corners of the world have never been neatly organized for long (just ask my mom about my bedroom growing up). 

So, when my friend invited me over and spent the entire time of my visit apologizing for the state of her house, I was confused. She confessed that it had taken her weeks to be OK with inviting someone over for fear that the mess would make some negative commentary on her value as a woman, mother, and friend.

I’ve heard this story so many times, with different variables driving the insecurity about inviting other people into our lives. 

When we are internalizing mom-shame about some behavior we are doing (or not doing), we are apt to project those messages of shame on those around us and we expect that everyone else feels the same way about us that we do. 

Why would I invite someone over to my house, to the park for a playdate, or even out for a rare moment alone at the coffee shop, when I’m fearful that the person across the table might think of me the way I think of myself? 

So, in a season where community is so important for lifting the burdens of motherhood, finding joy and peace, encouraging spiritual growth, we instead find ourselves alone and maybe even resentful of other people for opinions that they may or may not even hold-hesitant to reach out for fear that it won’t be safe when people learn about our real lives.

Finally, silence about our mom-shame gives it power.

Shame gives a signal to our brain that things aren’t safe.

God hardwired us for survival, and mom-shame is not a survival mindset. So, when we internalize and ruminate on messages of mom-shame, we actually shut down the prefrontal cortex of our brain which is responsible for making rational decisions, accurately unpacking cause and effect, and discerning truth. 

Instead, mom-shame awakens the lower parts of the brain hardwired to keep us safe. The reptilian brain, or the part of the brain that is closest to the brain stem, comes alive when we feel attacked or unsafe. You may have heard of fight or flight, and researchers have now added a third response: freeze. 

Practically, this means that as we attack our own psyche with internal messages of mom-shame, we awaken the part of our brain that drives us to fight (yell at our kids, again), run away (desperately seek time away from our children, possibly leaving them unattended for too long or in not-so-safe situations), or freeze (encourage all household members to stare at the TV for the better part of the day). 

In Daring Greatly, Brene Brown simply states, “Not talking about shame gives it power over our lives.”

Most of the time our messages of mom-shame fly under the radar of our conscious brain. We might entertain the occasional voicing of it, haphazardly commenting to our friends that we’re probably a bad mom because our children are eating Chick-fil-a for dinner for the fourth time that week.

But we don’t really speak it.

We keep it quiet, and therefore give it strength and power over our mothering life. When it’s been a good day, we lower our defenses and welcome a day of feeling good about the mom-life. But, on the off days, we shut down our rational decision making process and mother from a place of survival, never having the words or cognitive capacity to find a new way forward.

So, what is one thing we can do to stop the mom-shame spiral? Name it.

When we give a name to the internal experience of mom-shame over our shortcomings, struggles, and sinfulness as mothers, we are inviting curiosity that leads to growth, we disarm the survival mechanisms of our brain, we have the opportunity to access truth, and also to connect with others who hear it named. 

When I name my mom-shame, usually there is a resounding voice somewhere in my circle saying, “me too.” Whether it’s in the safety of a church small group, as I follow my toddler around at the park, or even in a Voxer chat, when we name our mom-shame we realize that we are not alone.

And we realize that the validation, love, and acceptance we receive in the face of our named mom-shame doesn’t crush us as we fear it might.

It inspires us.

It drives us forward. 

Jesus was a namer. He affirmed Peter’s shortcomings as he prepared for the cross,

“Simon, Simon, pay attention! Satan has demanded to have you all, to sift you like wheat, but I have prayed for you, Simon, that your faith may not faith. When you have turned back, strengthen your brothers.” Luke 22:31-32

Peter didn’t want to name his shortcomings. He wanted to muscle it, knew he could remain faithful if he just tried hard enough, relying on his ideals and eagerness for the kingdom. 

But Jesus knew Peter’s flesh, and wasn’t afraid to name it out loud. In fact, just after naming it, he voiced a message of hope.

If we want to move forward in our mothering life, to grow and impact our children with a life of love, we cannot keep shoving our experiences of mom-shame, leaning into our muscle, and just simply “trying harder to do better.”

Naming the mom-shame is the first step forward.

Are you ready to do the work of naming your mom-shame? Are you ready to stop wondering if you’re a bad mom, and instead lean into the grace of God to find a new way forward?

The last week of March, I’ll be releasing a 5-day guided journal reflection called Lay Down Your Burdens.

You can grab just the journal, or get a spot in my limited-space Zoom call where I will guide a small group of women through the journal. Together we will name the mom-shame and move forward into a more grace-filled growth path that God intended.

Our time together will end on Good Friday, and together we’ll lay our sin at the foot of the cross and prepare for a joyous Easter celebration free from the burden of our mom-shame.

Want to make sure you’re the first to know when it launches? Sign up below to get on the list:

I’m so excited to move forward from mom-shame with you, friend. Here are some scriptures if you want to marinate in the grace of God:

-Psalm 107

-Genesis 3

-Luke 8:43-48

As always, in the thick of it with you,

Mothering by Faith Signature

(1) Comment

  1. What an important topic and a great post! I love this quote especially:

    “The problem is not that we need to grow as mothers, it’s that our usual method of internal mom-shame is ineffective at actually fostering that growth. It’s OK to have high ideals as a mother. We are raising future light-bearers in the kingdom of God. It is important to parent from love, acknowledge our shortcomings, and grow. But mom-shame isn’t the source of that growth.”

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