Mommy Guilt and Mom Shaming

My baby was four weeks old. He hadn’t slept for more than a 45 minute stretch in his short lifetime. I was bleary eyed, depressed, and terrified.

I knew, deep down inside, that something wasn’t right. I can’t describe it except to say that I could just tell. He seemed to be miserable.

All. The. Time.

Mommy Guilt and Mom Shaming #mom #momshaming #specialneeds

This is my little man at a few weeks old. Blurry and bad picture I know. I was really tired. And it was eleven years ago – I was probably using a disposable camera. Look at his little, already stressed out face – 

baby pic

I read every book I could find. I talked to every mother I knew. Researched colic and milk allergies and sleep training until I couldn’t see straight. And then I talked to the pediatrician at my son’s well baby check-up.

He dismissed me before I even finished my sentence.

In his defense, I was crying. A lot. I am sure I had not done my hair in weeks and might have been wearing clothes from four days prior. But still, I was hoping for help. Or an answer as to why. Something.

Instead, I saw him write in the chart, when he thought I couldn’t see – “Hysterical first time mother”.

It was the first time I was openly dismissed and judged as a mother.

It would be far from the last.

Because of that one doctor’s reaction, I became truly convinced that everything going on with my son was my fault. That somehow, I was overreacting. Or not disciplining enough. Or disciplining too much. Or not sticking to enough of a routine. Or being too regimented.

I was sure that no matter what, I was the problem. Worse yet, I was sure that if I could just get it together as a mom, my son would be OK.

The pressure and the burden was immense. The more interactions I had, the more I found further proof of my inability as a mom.

When he would melt down in the grocery store, every single time – it seemed clear to me, from the looks on all the other mom’s faces, that I was missing something important.

When I would share that he would cling to me at night and want me to put pressure on his torso in order to finally calm down and sleep, I was told that I was spoiling him and training him to be needy.

When I asked a psychiatrist about helping him learn to wear socks and shoes, I was told he must have emotional problems related to my divorce. That, and why didn’t I just force him to wear shoes and socks and then he would get over it?

When my son melted down at a New Year’s Party several weeks before we were married, my sweet husband unknowingly contributed to this when he said, “I have watched enough episodes of Super Nanny to know what needs to happen here.”

I was so ashamed of my poor performance as a momma. I was desperate to figure out what to change to make it better.

It wasn’t until I started homeschooling and was around my child again, all day long (just like when he was four weeks old), that I felt that same maternal instinct.

Again, I knew deep down inside, that something wasn’t right. I can’t describe it except to say that I could just tell. He seemed to be miserable.

All. The. Time.

It was exactly the same as it was when he was a baby. Nothing I had done or tried had changed him, or his needs.

It took nine years for me to seek help for my son. Nine years.

The guilt and the shame I felt meant my son did not receive much-needed help or intervention.


I received a message recently from a sweet mom friend who has a mysterious, three-year old little one. Her sensitive girl had a meltdown at a public pool. It was awful, both for her and for her momma. Shortly after, she texted me and asked, “When does it get easier? When will people stop staring at me and her, with so much judgement? I tried my best. What else can I do? I am laying in bed, trying to fall asleep and I can still see all those faces staring at me.”

My heart broke for her because I knew exactly how she felt. I was so sad because I have seen her with all three of her kids. She is a wonderful, caring, concerned and committed momma. It just seems so unfair. I could only respond with what my own experience has been…

The truth is, the looks and the stares and the judgement and the condemnation don’t go away. I wish they would, but they don’t.

I have just stopped caring as much.

As time has gone on, there are still situations where judgement comes. As my guy gets older however, I find it is more obvious to adults that something is different, and they are less likely to be the ones commenting or staring.

Now, it is other children that will most often comment and stare. It hurts just as much, but in a different way. Less judgement, more fear for the future, and a grief to which only a parent can relate.

I try to remember in all of this, that God made me this child’s momma. He made you yours too.

He lovingly equips us to mother and to care for our kids.

I pray we listen. I pray we follow.

We can’t let the memories of other people judging, or more importantly, our own fear and guilt, get in the way of finding out what our children need.

And about those people staring at the pool, and the doctor writing in the chart, and the other moms at the grocery store, and the future husband who had never really been around kids or had ones of his own – they have not experienced how difficult this is any more than we had before these special little ones came into our lives.

I don’t want to lose sight of that. Even when I want to scream, “You don’t understand!“, when the comments are just plain mean, when I doubt myself because of someone’s ignorance or judgy-ness, when I want to cry big tears because another child is being unkind to my son. Even then, the truth is they really don’t know. If they did, most wouldn’t dream of having that kind of reaction.

I think if I want grace, I have to be willing to give it.

26 thoughts on “Mommy Guilt and Mom Shaming

  1. Shawna- I’m sure at some point in our almost 30 years of friendship, I had been that judger, the one with looks. But I have always felt you knew what you were doing and were/are an awesome mom. I’m so sorry if I ever made u feel otherwise. You are my rock (and Jesus) and I love u.

  2. I had a doctor refuse to tell me, in the face of direct questioning that my daughter had special needs and that it was part of the reason that we couldn’t get her potty trained. (Our younger children were potty trained first). Later when my children received diagnoses on the autism spectrum, our teachers, social workers, and speech and language pathologist would not believe it because they weren’t like rain man. It is frustrating, and it did make me angry. But I was eventually able to forgive that doctor. It is so hard when we have to bear the burden of guilt and judgment on top of everything else we have to deal with. But your emphasis on grace is a healthy one.

    1. It is so hard. It is just not right…at all. We expect doctors to be able to help us and to know more than us. The truth is they just don’t sometimes. It has taken me a very long time, and only by the grace of God, to be able to look back on all those terrible situations with forgiveness and grace. I am grateful you have been able to do the same.

  3. Hey, Shawna. I’ve had six children, my youngest now 17 years old. My first also did not sleep for more than 45 minutes at a time. I thought I would lose my mind due to sleep deprivation, so finally in desperation I sat up in bed to sleep and wound her to my chest where she dozed and I dozed. I nursed her on demand. She also had a lot of spit-up. I found out later, it was more like projectile vomiting. We’d go through a burp rag (cloth diaper) every feeding on my shoulder. She might have had some type of stomach/intestine disorder, but, being a first-time mom, I didn’t know her amount of spit-up was not normal. In retrospect, I’m guessing that she spit up so much that she was hungry again after 45 minutes. I don’t remember how long this went on. Thank God she grew out of it and I survived! Just thought I’d comment since you mentioned the 45 minute sleep-cycle. God bless you.

    1. Thanks Luanne. I appreciate you sharing your experience and boy, can I relate. It seems crazy thinking back on that time, and how sleep deprived I was…I am sure you feel the same!

  4. Really needed this tonight. I’ve been such a doubter (of myself), feeling like a failure as a mother. This helped put it back in perspective. Thank you.

    1. I totally understand that feeling. I think we all do at one point or another as mommas.
      Thank you for your kind comments and the encouragement.
      Hang in there.

  5. I’m really, really enjoying reading your blog (the article on hair-so true!!). I find I often need the reminder that I wasn’t always so gracious either…even if only in my thoughts. My daughter has taught me to be careful in my assumptions. Things aren’t always what they seem, are they? And, as you said, if I expect grace, I should probably be offering it, as well. Looking forward to catching up on more of your posts!

  6. Thanks for this…tears right now, so many people don’t understand how fragile and ready to break autism moms can be, just because we put so much energy into things that are simple for most people. It hurts when even family members are insensitive (posting about children needing spanked, et cetera), but we do have to realize if they went through what we do, and truly understood, they would support us, not judge.

    1. Your words are so true. I feel so much more vulnerable these days, because I spend so much energy just trying to accomplish what others would consider to be basic tasks.
      Thank you so much for sharing. I am praying for you and your momma heart right this minute.

  7. In my worst moments, I can’t help but think that God made a mistake. That I wasn’t supposed to be his mom. That his mom was supposed to be the lady in the grocery store that never shouts at her children. The one who seems like she has it all together. The one born with endless amounts of patience. I’m so ashamed to admit it, but I have thought all those things.

    1. Oh Becky, I have been on vacation this week, or I would’ve responded sooner. Please don’t be ashamed. I think in our worst moments, if we are being honest, we have all been there. Please know, you are not alone in feeling this way. And, you are exactly the momma your little guy needs – even with all you imperfections. You are uniquely crafted to be his momma, and he to be your son. Praying for you and your momma’s heart right now.
      With so much love,

  8. Hello shawna,
    Thank you for your post. I just recently pulled my son out of public school this past year and started homeschooling. It is hard some days wondering if I am making the right decisions..but I have to remember God gave me that maternal instinct for a reason! No one would listen to me when I knew Jackson had something going on in his small body. We now know he has SPD and adrenal fatigue. I don’t know if you have heard of a pediatric chiropractor and essential oils but they have made a huge difference. I am trying to share with as many people as I can 🙂 God Bless

    1. Hi Mary! Thank you so much for your comment. We have just started looking into essential oils. I appreciate so much your comment about our maternal instincts. So true!
      Praying for you and yours today.

  9. I remember those days…no sleep, no idea what was wrong with my baby. I also remember being accused by the pediatrician of purposefully starving my child. “A hungry baby will eat. Don’t do to your child what you are clearly doing to yourself.” Yes I was skin and bones but it was because of stress not a choice on my part! It gets better, though. Every year it gets better.

    1. Oh my goodness, how awful to be accused of such a thing when you are already beside yourself with worry for your baby! I am so sorry. Thank you for sharing your experience.
      Praying for you and yours.

  10. I don’t remember why, but when my daughter was a toddler, she threw a huge fit in the gas station market. The cashier asked me ” how old is she?” I told her she was and waited for an unsolicited opinion. She said to me, “she has really good linguistic skills.” Better than just kind words, the cashier made the situation “normal” and “okay”. Which it was.

  11. I don’t know if anyone else has been in my shoes, however, I was reported with child abuse because my autistic child was no eating or sleeping well. They were lies bcause she has never had a eating or sleeping problem. I don’t understand why people who suspect us as bad parents don’t talk to us instead of about us. My daughter’s doctor said I, and all parents of special needs children/adults need a medal of honor, not a visit from DSS.

Comments are closed.