If you look in the display cabinet in my kitchen, nestled among my mismatched vintage serving ware you’ll see a framed sign that says, “Pardon the mess. My kids are making memories.”
My husband laughs at that sign and says, “It’s so passive-aggressive. It says that you don’t want to be judged for a messy house, so you subtly judge someone else for judging you for making memories. Before they’ve even judged you.”
He’s absolutely right. To me, the sign says, “My house is messy for a very good reason.” But the fine print says, “So if you were thinking about judging me, forget it. I wouldn’t change the way my house looks even if I could. Now please watch where you step. I don’t want you stepping on any of my memories.”
It’s just one example of the little games we play as moms to protect ourselves from the dreaded “mom-shaming.” We defend everything we do so we can keep criticism as far away as possible. But somehow it still finds us. It’s as close as our nearest screen.
After ten minutes of scrolling through social media, I find myself thinking, “My kid’s birthday party didn’t look as good as that. Wait—she did crafts with her kids today AND made that chicken pot pie?!” It would be nice if turning off the mom-shame was as easy as turning off a screen. But it’s not.
That’s because shame starts on the inside.
Free from Judgement
Have you ever noticed that the more critical you are of yourself, the more critical you are of others, and vice versa? We judge others because we feel judged. But the beauty of the gospel is that we have already been set free from the greatest judgment of all: the judgment for our sin.
In Christ, we have been justified once for all through faith, and now we have peace with God for all eternity (see Romans 5:1). If you are a Christian, your judgment day has come and gone. God pronounced judgment on all your sin at the cross, and it will never be counted against you again.
The answer to that nagging mom-shame isn’t defensiveness. It’s the gospel. We can confidently say, “I’m not perfect, but I am forgiven.” Since we have freely received this grace, we can give it just as freely (see Matthew 10:8).
Instead of judging our fellow sisters in Christ, we can smile and say, “You’re doing great! Hang in there, sister. We’re all flawed, but God’s grace is sufficient.”
How to Take Criticism
Our freedom in Christ means we don’t have to be crushed by criticism. But we can still grow from it. God often uses others to show us our blind spots. When criticism comes our way, the gospel helps us respond humbly and confidently at the same time.
But not all criticism is the same. Sometimes it is true and helpful, and other times it is untrue and hurtful. How do we respond to these two kinds of criticism?
Proverbs 27:17 tells us that “iron sharpens iron, and one man sharpens another.” We need our sisters in Christ to help sharpen us. When another mom points out a helpful fact, like, “You kids are digging soda cans out of the church trash can and drinking them,” my first response should be thankfulness.
When God shows me truth, even if it’s uncomfortable or embarrassing, I can only stand to gain by it. A simple thank you communicates that my sister in Christ is a resource, not an enemy.
Another easy phrase I have learned to say when my kids put their sin nature (and my flawed parenting) on display for all the world to see is, “We are working on it.” My family is a work in progress. If another mom can help me “progress” a little more, what do I have to lose?
Unfortunately, not all criticism is true and helpful. Maybe there is someone in your life who constantly criticizes you. If you’ve searched your heart and concluded there is nothing true or helpful in their criticism, give it to the Lord.
Pray with David in Psalm 140:1–3, “Deliver me, O Lord, from evil men who… stir up wars continually. They make their tongue sharp as a serpent’s, and under their lips is the venom of asps.”
Sometimes words are poisonous. We don’t have to let poison into our hearts. We can say, “I don’t have to let this criticism destroy me, determine my worth, or dictate my decisions. God is my judge and I am justified in Christ.”
Once you’ve given it to the Lord, look for another mom to encourage. The threat of mom-shame disappears when we pour ourselves into serving others.
How to Give Criticism
Is it ever okay to tell another mom that she’s doing something wrong? How do we do it? Unfortunately, our own sensitivity about being judged tends to create an unspoken rule: “You don’t say anything about my parenting, and I won’t say anything about yours.”
This might help us to protect one another’s pride, but it doesn’t help us to build one another up. If you’re wondering if you should offer helpful criticism to a particular mom-friend, here are four simple guidelines.
1. Offer help before criticism.
If a friend stumbles into church late, offer to hold her baby while she gets her other kids settled instead of giving her advice on time management. Many times we raise our eyebrows instead of offering a hand. When you help, it tells the other mom, “We’re in this together.”
2. Give criticism within the context of relationship.
You might have something helpful to say—but are you the right person to say it? Sometimes the most loving thing you can do is to build a friendship first and then you’ll know what kind of advice is appropriate.
3. Offer constructive criticism for important issues—not just your opinions.
Is this a life and death issue, or just something that bothers you? We are often tempted to judge based on our personal feelings: That’s way too young for a cell phone. That family is involved in too many sports (or not enough sports).
But these are not the criticisms we should give. We need to acknowledge that God made every parent different—and thank goodness, because every child is different, too.
4. Give criticism the way you want to receive criticism.
A neighbor once came to tell me that my son had hit her son in the face with a plastic sword. I was so embarrassed, but she just laughed and said, “Well, now we’re even. Remember when my son threw gravel at your kids last week?”
We laughed together and shared the burden of raising little sinners. I did not feel judged by her. I felt her sympathy. Kindness and a smile can help a mom receive your words.
An encouraging word can set a mom free to be who God wants her to be. A critical word can trip her up and cause her to lose focus on what’s truly important. Romans 14:13 says:
Therefore let us not pass judgment on one another any longer, but rather decide never to put a stumbling block or hindrance in the way of a brother.
So let’s decide right now. Let’s build up instead of tearing down. Let’s drink deeply of God’s grace so we can pour a refreshing drink for another weary mom.
Editor’s Note: This article contains a partial excerpt from Sara’s new book, Creat to Care: God’s Truth for Anxious Moms.