Last Modified: June 16, 2023 | Published: August 23, 2022
Reframe the “Bad Mom” Story
Mothers are often first in line to hear judgments and criticisms about how they’re doing with their children. You know the feeling — if the negativity builds up, you might just start to get that sinking, “bad mom” feeling.
You’re not a bad mom, though. You want the best for your unique child, and this kind of parent-child relationship just isn’t cut-and-dry. We’re here to help you reframe the “bad mom” story once and for all so you can feel good about your relationship with your child and about your efforts as a mom.
Read on as we dive into three types of “bad mom” stories that actually illustrate good mom behavior. See if these stories resonate with you and learn what you can do to change the story.
The three “Bad Mom” Types
1. The “bad mom” in public
Although the mom is most regularly blamed, other caregivers or parents may struggle in public as well. The “bad mom” in public is the mom who struggles to take their children in public because they fear a meltdown or rude behavior. These mothers want to lead some semblance of a normal life with their child. They want to go to the shopping mall, the park, the playground or the zoo.
To learn step-by-step strategies to help your child through meltdowns, see the emotional regulation course.
These moms love their children unconditionally. It causes guilt and pain to see their child given the evil eye on the playground by another parent because he is not waiting his turn. This child may be impulsive, act like a bull in a china shop, be loud or say rude things. In public, this is often blamed on “bad parenting.” Whether her child has a disability or not, this mom feels the stares and hears the comments about her own parenting. She is blamed for something her child may have great difficulty controlling.
But it’s not her fault. (And if this sounds like you, it’s not your fault.)
This mom may already have her child in therapy 5 days a week. Some children are just harder to parent than other children. Some children have more intense characteristics, or symptoms or personality styles. Just because another mother has a perfectly behaved child does not make her a better parent. Because this is a common judgement, moms of difficult children often avoid going places with their children simply to avoid conflict and judgement.
How to change the story
- Take baby steps and get out there when you can. A playground playdate at off hours with just another child or two could be perfect. Make plans with a trusted friend or neighbor who you can talk to about your situation. Before the playdate, tell them some of the things your child is working on so they can prep their child to be positive and supportive. All children will bicker and have disagreements, but focus on finding actions and interactions to praise. Look for what your child is doing well in the social situation and give feedback on that. Stay close and remove your child if a situation becomes physically dangerous.
- Start with a comfortable situation and take it up just a notch. Consider adding a new playmate to the mix. Make sure you are comfortable with the new parents. You should feel good about their level of understanding as well as their own level of oversight and parenting style. With new relationships like this, it’s helpful to stay close to your child’s activity to provide support and praise.
- Practice caring less about what other people think or say. Keep your child safe. If your child is having a tantrum and others are judging you, let them do that. Know that you are a good parent, and ignore the judgement. Many of the moms we work with also have their own therapy because this is not easy to do. We are conditioned from an early age to please those around us, and managing difficult situations in public makes that hard to do. This is us, giving you permission, to go easy on yourself. If that’s hard (it is for many of us), support groups or individual counseling could be of great benefit to you.
2. The “bad mom” with a huge personal bucket of guilt
The mom of a complex and unique child labels herself a “bad mom.” She is different from the “bad mom in public” because her guilt doesn’t result from the ridicule of others. She ridicules and labels herself.
She sees her friend or neighbor with their sweet, obedient, loving child. Maybe that child reads books and draws pictures and helps unload the groceries. This mom turns on herself and says things like:
- What did I do?
- What choices did I make that caused my child to have a harder time?
- What did I eat or put on my skin when I was pregnant?
- What about that stressful period?
- Maybe I did not socialize my child enough, maybe I did too much.
- Maybe I gave in to disruptive behavior.
This mom does not want to put any of this on her child, so she holds the blame and guilt and anxiety and sadness and places it on herself.
How to change the story
- Remember that children develop difficulties for many reasons. In some cases, there are genetic and environmental influences at work. In other cases, a child’s brain might work a little differently and be associated with a diagnosis. Some children are intense, some are anxious, some are inflexible, some crave routine and others can’t stand routine. There are children who have trouble reading social cues, who have difficulty with sensory input, who cannot focus. Remind yourself daily that you are not to blame. Developing a daily mantra may help with this.
- Take small steps and seek out your support system. Find conversation partners, like a therapist or other moms in the same boat. A therapist who understands your anxiety and guilt as well as the challenges facing your child, can help. A support group of other mothers in similar situations may also help provide perspective when you feel full of guilt.
- Put more focus on self-care. So many mothers blame themselves. Work to find ways, even small at first, to take care of yourself and unwind that blame story. Blame and guilt can be overwhelming when your child is challenging, but self-care may help you be more present and patient in the middle of trying situations.
3. The “bad mom” advocating for their child
This mom is out there tirelessly fighting the fight for her child’s services. She is banging the drum to get help, and other people say behind her back that she is nuts. She is advocating at school, in therapy and in after-school extracurriculars for her child’s needs. The school privately considers her a pain for her outspoken advocacy and often dismisses her concerns.
Perhaps she could be more gentle or more diplomatic, but this mom is fighting for her child’s life. She knows her child struggles and has done research to figure out why. She has probably read the books and made a diagnosis herself before seeking professional support. This mom has big goals and gets a bad reputation because others may not immediately see what she sees. There is a clinical culture “wait and see” to avoid labels and early treatment, but this mom isn’t waiting, because she does see. She faces the world and says, “My child is unique.”
Although this mom may not carry buckets of guilt or worry about ridicule like the other two moms, she feels frustrated, alone, and silenced. The very things that make her a good mom — advocacy and commitment — repel others, and the resulting isolation feels like an indictment. It’s hard for this mom to feel good about the energy she spends trying to find solutions for her child.
How to change the story
- Be a collaborative parent to make the school team want to help. Advocacy is a hard line to walk, and we have heard so many stories about a parent being labelled as difficult in part for not being collaborative with the school team. From our experience working on both sides, when a school team wants to help, having a collaborative parent makes them want to help even more.
- Be gentle and reasonable, but also be persistent. Fighting for your child is awesome. Provide the information you have on your child’s needs and also be willing to listen. To learn how to advocate for your child at school, see the How to Get a 504 Plan course.
- Compile the medical, developmental, and mental health documentation you have accumulated to support your hypothesis, and limit yourself to three focus areas. Think realistically about 3 areas where your child needs help. Tackle these next steps in small manageable, measurable chunks with your school or professional support team. This approach can help your child make progress and allows you to measure which supports are working.
For those of you working hard to advocate, here’s a short personal story from my childhood …
Often parents and children (of elementary age) can be much more supportive and understanding and less judgmental when they are educated. I recall sitting in my 5th grade classroom and hearing a boy talk about being diabetic. He often ate or had juice in class when others were not allowed to do so. By explaining that he needed to have this flexibility, we were not jealous of this “special privilege.” I remember as a kid watching out for him, even though we were not close. I remember asking if he needed a snack when I saw him look pale or tired.
I mention this because sometimes when our clients have found it appropriate to share something about their ADHD or autism or anxiety, they have been met with kindness and understanding. I think this can be true of parents as well.
To all the moms, remember and work to believe that you are a GOOD MOM and that none of us are perfect. You care and you are trying. Just spending the time reading this article proves it. To get started on interventions at home, get the CadeyLite mobile app. The future can look bright. You are here!
Dr. Anna Kroncke
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