Social media is a platform for connection—and as many people have discovered, that connection is not always positive. Moms seem to feel the brunt of online criticism. If you get mom-shamed on Facebook or Instagram, how do you deal? We chatted with Katie Sardone, Ph.D., psychologist and founder of Behavioral Health Dallas, for advice.
DFWChild: When someone makes a snarky comment or is outright critical on social media, what’s the best way to respond?
Katie Sardone, Ph.D.: First off, think about where you are seeing this criticism and ask yourself if continued contact with this group or person is more helpful or more harmful to you. More specifically, when someone is saying negative things on social media, they are likely expecting some pushback or to engage in an argument. Before responding, pause and think through a few key questions:
- What is my goal here? Do I feel the need to stand up for myself? Change this person’s mind? Most people do not change their mind in the context of an argument, especially on social media.
- What are the possible outcomes of saying what I want to say? Am I actually okay with those?
- Would I feel comfortable with my kids, my friends, my family and my boss seeing my comment back?
- Does that comment back speak to who I want to be and how I want to engage in the world?
When people really think about these things, often they decide not to respond at all.
C: How should moms deal with feeling bad or guilty about criticism? Let’s say a mom posted a picture of their child swimming in a mermaid tail, which a study found increased drowning risk.
KS: I think [criticism in general] is a good opportunity to practice perspective-taking and remember that the right decision for your family may not be the right decision for another family and vice versa.
It’s always an option to ignore these comments on social media. If you do want to respond, a short-and-sweet response, without a defense, is more likely to shut things down. For example, “Thank you for the heads up!”
Remember that a picture does not tell the full story. Maybe your daughter was swimming in the mermaid tail with you right by her side the whole time. Who knows, but one thing is for sure, if you are confident in the safety choices you are making, don’t let someone else’s quick judgement of a post bring you down.
C: Plus, it’s not always easy to gauge tone on social media—maybe a “critical” comment was actually meant to be funny.
KS: Yes, definitely! In that moment, remember that we do not actually know what that person’s intentions were or what headspace they were in. Keep some perspective that maybe the person didn’t mean it that way, or if they did, maybe they’ve had a bad day or experienced some personal issue with the topic.
C: What’s an example of mom-shaming you hear about?
KS: A very common concern is feeling pressured around breastfeeding choices and guilt if they choose to formula feed. I work with women to remember that everyone’s situation is different, and what’s best for you and your baby may not be the best thing for another mother.
C: What are your recommendations about what to share on social media versus what to keep private, especially to head off mom-shaming?
KS: I have some [clients] who have completely gotten off of social media and found it to be incredibly freeing. Others are on the opposite end of the spectrum and utilize social media to connect with other moms dealing with similar stressors or other working mothers and find it quite helpful.
I would recommend that each mom take a thoughtful approach and notice how their mood and behaviors might change with and without social media use. Be aware that the more you share, the more you are inviting others to comment and engage with you. Make sure that whatever you share, you think about the potential positive and negative consequences and that you’re OK with both of those.
One of the best ways to prevent mom-shaming is to not do it yourself! Don’t be the mom who makes a definitive claim about one way of doing things as being superior to all others. Be the mom who trusts other moms to make the right decisions for their families and support a diversity of experiences.
I think the most important thing to remember is that you do not need to engage with social media the same way your friend does. Be mindful and aware of what benefits and drawbacks there are for you and be quick to make changes accordingly.