Why Moms Shame Other Moms, According to Science

moms chatting with their babiesiStock.com/izusekRaising kids is hard enough without having to worry about everyone from strangers on social media to our own parents judging us for our choices, but mom-shaming is a reality most of us face: According to one recent study, almost two-thirds of mothers say they've felt "shamed" for their parenting, with members of their family being the worst offenders. But what's behind all the criticism? 

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There's no one right way to parent, but apparently quite a few moms and dads believe that their methods are better than others': The survey, which was conducted by University of Michigan's C.S. Mott Children's Hospital, found that most of the mothers who participated had been criticized for their discipline style; approximately half were judged for sleep and nutrition-related choices. The breastfeeding vs. bottle-feeding debate affected almost 40 percent of moms surveyed. 

If you're a parent, these numbers likely don't come as much of a surprise. At some point, maybe you've been chastised by a stranger for not putting a jacket on your kid. Perhaps your mother-in-law has told you you're not starting solids early enough, or your childless friend has rolled her eyes at you for nursing in public. The question, though, is why people feel so compelled -- and justified -- to judge other parents. What makes everybody think they're an authority on the subject?

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They're following their intuition.

Scientists say we might be hardwired that way. As Boston College psychologist Liane Young explained to Live Science, the human brain is actually designed to make moral judgments, with the ventromedial prefrontal cortex (an area between and behind the eyes) in charge of the emotional aspect.

"It's not just abstract reasoning, but we really experience at an intuitive gut level the judgments that we make of other people's actions," Young said. "Which is why oftentimes our own moral judgments feel very robust."

It feels good to feel better than someone else.

Mom-on-mom bullying could also be related to our most primal survival instincts. Science shows that this behavior actually provides an evolutionary edge, with those within a certain social group attaining a higher status by knocking down their peers.

Everyone's got insecurities.

But another very modern-day affliction -- insecurity -- could be one of the biggest motivators in why we criticize other parents -- and also plays a role in how we react to criticism, psychologists say.

Having kids can cause an identity crisis of sorts, leaving us vulnerable to influence and opinion. Our self-esteem is greatly affected by how we feel we're doing as parents, and when we see other moms doing things differently, it can threaten our own convictions. And if we're feeling unsure of our choices, we're more likely to react defensively when others call our decisions into question. 

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They're doing what's been done to them.

It's a vicious cycle. According to another recent study, moms who've been shamed are more likely to shame other moms, and 68 percent of mothers surveyed feel the issue has gotten worse over the past five years. This is a huge problem because, as every parent knows, what we need more than anything is support. We may not be able to completely overcome our biological instincts to judge other parents, but we can certainly stop ourselves from bullying and shaming others. And if we're the ones being shamed, we need to remind ourselves that the criticism isn't personal, and that as long as we're trying our hardest to raise our children the best way we know how, we're probably doing just fine.

Having a family is hard enough. Let's hold each other up, not tear each other down!

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