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Abbie Fox is a busy mom of a three and the owner of Foxy Photography. She's a passionate parent and an artist who tells stories from behind the lens, and now, she's using her medium to bring attention to a topic that so many mothers have stories about: mom-shaming.

Fox uploaded a series of portraits of children (her own three—8-year-old Maverick, 6-year-old Georgia, and Millie, who is 7 months—and clients' kids) posed with signs spelling out messages about "hot button" issues moms are often shamed for, like sleeping, feeding, and the decision to work full-time.

The photo series, which has now gone viral, was a passion project for Fox, who knows how it feels to be judged by others when you're just trying to do your best as a parent.

"I was shamed for a lot of things, especially the feeding part," Fox tells Motherly over Facebook Messenger, explaining that when she was a first time mom her oldest, Maverick, had a hard time latching to nurse. For six weeks the family struggled, seeing doctors, nurses and specialists, and Fox cried herself to sleep at night.

"I was being told that I wasn't a good mother [unless] I could breastfeed him. And this was actually coming from people I thought were my friends," she explains. Fox had more success breastfeeding her next child, and nursed for three months, but it seemed there was always something else for people to be judgmental about.

"I also got shamed for allowing my kids to watch TV at a young age, I got shamed for being a working mom and then when I became a stay-at-home mom, just running this business [I] got shamed for that as well," she says.

Fox's children: 8-year-old Maverick, 6-year-old Georgia, and baby Millie

So the photography series, "Anti Mommy Shamers Unite" was born out of the frustration of being shamed for her parenting decisions when (like all of us mamas) Fox is doing her best, and doing what is right for her family in her circumstances. She posed her three kids with a sign noting that they don't often eat dinner as a family—something Fox has taken flack for but refuses to feel bad about.

Another photo of Fox's oldest is sparking perhaps the most controversy of the 37 portraits. In this one, Maverick poses with a sign reading: "My mom used the Cry It Out method for sleep training."

Fox believes parents should be able to talk about different approaches to parenting without putting each other down. But in training her camera's lens on mom-shaming, Fox has found herself in the eye of a major shame storm.

"I've actually been getting nasty comments, Facebook messages, and emails that I am promoting child abuse by having that picture," says Fox, who isn't suggesting that CIO is for every family, just that it worked for hers. She's supportive of whatever way parents choose to deal with sleep in their own homes, as is evident in some of the photos she captured of her clients.

Unfortunately, Fox tells Motherly her clients have been dealing with some nasty messages as well, due to the messages in their children's portraits.

Shauntelle Yount and her son participated in the photo shoot because she was always told that co-sleeping was some horrible thing, but it was what worked for her family.

"My son was 9 weeks early and had many problems. After he came home from the NICU I decided co-sleeping worked for the both of us," Young writes.

"I stayed awake for days just to make sure he wasn't going to stop breathing. Co-sleeping let us both get the rest we needed and if there was a problem I was right there to fix it. As mother's we need to stop placing shame and start standing up for each other."

Johana Decker's kids posed with signs saying that their mother used a safety leash on her toddler and doesn't stop tantrums. Together, the girls posed with another sign about their births, a choice many moms are shamed over.

"We decided for 2 elective c-sections because we were impatient to see how long labor was going to take, didn't want any disturbance to the lady bits and [were] maybe a tad bit scared of labor so major surgery seemed a better choice.............TWICE!! 🤷♀️🤷♀️," Decker wrote.

She continues: "My oldest would run away from me to explore the world that the only way I could turn my back on her to grab my keys, my purse, my mind etc was to leash her up."

Sara Martinez is another mother who feels birth decisions should not be judged.

"My parenting choices are my own. I don't expect others to follow me and I don't want to be expected to follow others. I'm an over thinker and take a lot of time to make decisions and research information when it's needed and then I make the best choices for my family based off of that. I believe other parents make choices that are best for their family as well. If it has no impact on anyone outside of my home, it shouldn't be judged or up for debate by others. My kids are happy, healthy, well cared for, and we are doing everything we can to live our best lives possible!" she writes.

Lakilah Bailey made a different birth choice, one that was right for her and her daughter but judged by others.

"I personally was shamed for several choices that i have made over the years. The most controversial one was my choice to have a home birth. Friends and family would call me crazy, tell me I was a hippie, say i didn't care about my child's safety, etc. At the end of the day, I knew it was the right decision for me. However, I did wish I had more support and less shaming during such a joyful time in my life. People tend to shame others because of their own lack of knowledge. As a mother, I have learned that we are all out here doing the best we can for our little ones. No mother deserves to be shamed for doing what she believes is the best for her child," she explains.

A lot of mothers feel judgment over not giving their child breastmilk, but some are judged and shamed even when they do.

Abby John exclusively pumped for her baby, but found a lot of people were critical of her decision not to nurse.

"It was super important to me personally to give him my milk at least for his first year," John writes. "I was having such a difficult time getting Carson to latch that this was the next best thing so that he could still have it. People told me it wouldn't be the same type of bond but Carson and I have an amazing connection and I am so happy that I was able to provide him with this."

Whitney Rae Hoskin says she wanted to participate in this shoot because after she had her daughter there were people who "couldn't believe that I was working and not taking care of my baby," she writes.

Hoskin continues: "My husband and I made the decision that we were both going to continue with our careers and have our good friend be Nora's babysitter. This has been such a blessing for us because Nora gets to interact with other children around her age and that greatly helps with social development and motor skill development."

She says it is "important for people to know that we as parents are making choices for our children that are good for us and that work for our family and our situation."

"Let's face it, parenting is already hard," she explains. "The judgment of others around you shouldn't have to contribute to the craziness we already face."

Desiree Deittrick Perdichizzi's boys posed with signs about hot topic issues like ADHD and essential oils.

She says "being a parent, a mother specifically, is so hard and even more so with endless judgment or shaming that goes on."

"And I feel that, mother's specifically, need that support which can bring a feeling of peace to their lives instead of the fear, doubt, insecurity or shame that the judgment fuels. We (mothers) question and judge ourselves enough as it is. We are our own toughest critic. We don't need to be told what we chose or what we do is wrong or how we should have done it better - we need to be told and reassured that we are doing ok and that we are enough," she writes.

No matter how you feed your baby, how you put them to sleep, whether your baby watches TV or has never looked at a screen, we can all agree that we are trying. One mom's best may look different from another's, but it's her life, her child and her choices. And those choices (while they may not be the ones we would make) are made from a place of motherly love.

That's what Fox sees when looking through her camera, and that's what she wants us to see when we look in the mirror.

You're doing your best, Mama, and there's no shame in that.

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When infectious diseases make headlines parents naturally get a little worried, and this week coronavirus is in the news constantly. The coronavirus has infected more than 600 people worldwide, though mostly in China. As of Jan. 23, Chinese authorities have reported 17 deaths from the virus so far. Only two cases have been confirmed in the U.S. and officials are monitoring 63 suspected cases.

Here's what you need to know, mama.

1. Don't panic.

According to the World Health Organization the coronavirus outbreak is not an international public health emergency.

"CDC believes the immediate risk to the U.S. public is low at this time, but the situation is evolving rapidly," Dr. Nancy Messonnier, the director of the National Center for Immunization and Respiratory Diseases, said on a conference call with media on Friday. "We have our best people working on this problem," Messonnier explained, adding that we will likely see more cases in the coming days.

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2. There have been no fatalities in children.

The youngest victim of a confirmed case of novel coronavirus is 36 years old. Most of the fatal cases in China have been in people over 60 and more men than women have been impacted.

3. The family of coronaviruses is a spectrum of severity.

According to the CDC, most people will be infected with a coronavirus at some point in their lives. The common strains of coronavirus cause "moderate upper-respiratory tract illnesses, like the common cold" while more severe strains, including Severe Acute Respiratory Syndrome (SARS) and Middle East Respiratory Syndrom (MERS) can be fatal.

The strain that is making headlines is a severe and novel coronavirus. It's new and the similarities to influenza make it difficult for experts to distinguish it from all the other respiratory illnesses floating around this time of year.

4. There is a test for it.

When public health officials suspect someone may have coronavirus they can send respiratory and serum samples to the CDC and find out if it's coronavirus or just the flu within about 24 hours.

5. There are steps to take for prevention.

To prevent the spread of the virus the U.S. State Department has issued its most severe travel advisory for the area of China (the province of Hubei, where the city of Wuhan is) most impacted by the coronavirus.

The CDC offers the following tips for protecting your family from the coronavirus (as well as other respiratory illnesses):

  • "Wash your hands often with soap and water for at least 20 seconds."
  • "Avoid touching your eyes, nose, or mouth with unwashed hands."
  • "Avoid close contact with people who are sick."
Bottom line: Don't panic, mama. The illness is likely to be in the headlines for months, but that doesn't mean we need to live in fear. We just need to be proactive and keep washing those little hands.
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We often think of the unequal gender division of unpaid labor as a personal issue, but a new report by Oxfam proves that it is a global issue—and that a handful of men are becoming incredibly wealthy while women and girls bear the burden of unpaid work and poverty.

According to Oxfam, the unpaid care work done by women and girls has an economic value of $10.8 trillion per year and benefits the global economy three times more than the entire technology industry.

"Women are supporting the market economy with cheap and free labor and they are also supporting the state by providing care that should be provided by the public sector," the report notes.

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The unpaid work of hundreds of millions of women is generating massive wealth for a couple of thousand (predominantly male) billionaires. "What is clear is that this unpaid work is fueling a sexist economic system that takes from the many and puts money in the pockets of the few," the report states.

Max Lawson is Oxfam International's Head of Inequality Policy. In an interview with Vatican News, he explained that "the foundation of unpaid work done by the poorest women generates enormous wealth for the economy," and that women do billions of hours of unpaid care work (caring for children, the sick, the elderly and cooking, cleaning) for which they see no financial reward but which creates financial rewards for billionaires.

Indeed, the report finds that globally 42% of women can't work for money because of their unpaid care responsibilities.

In the United States, women spend 37% more time doing unpaid care work than men, Oxfam America notes in a second report released in cooperation with the Institute for Women's Policy Research.

"It's an economy that is built on the backs of women and of poor women and their labour, whether it's poorly paid labour or even unpaid labour, it is a sexist economy and it's a broken economy, and you can only fix the gap between the rich and the poor if at the same time you fix the gap between women and men," Lawson explains.

According to Lawson, you can't fight economic inequality without fighting gender equality, and he says 2020 is the year to do both. Now is a great time to start, because as Motherly has previously reported, no country in the world is on track to eliminate gender inequality by 2030 (one of the Sustainable Development Goals adopted by 193 United Nations member countries back in 2015) and no country will until the unpaid labor of women and girls is addressed.

"Governments around the world can, and must, build a human economy that is feminist and benefits the 99%, not only the 1%," the Oxfam report concludes.

The research suggests that paid leave, investments in childcare and the care of older adults and people with disabilities as well as utilizing technology to make working more flexible would help America close the gap.

(For more information on how you can fight for paid leave, affordable childcare and more this year check out yearofthemother.org.)

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For new mamas back to sitting behind their desks at work some six weeks (or fewer) after their babies are born, the institutionalized parental leave policy in Denmark is the stuff of daydreams: Over in that Scandinavian paradise, parents are granted 52 weeks of paid leave to divide between them.

There's no denying this is much, much better than the state of parental leave in the United States, but it isn't quite as perfect as it seems from the outside. According to Denmark's Directorate of Employment, Labour and Social Affairs, women take an average 93% of leave allotted to couples. And when they do return to work, mothers' wages suffer both in comparison to men and women without children.

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The good news is that it seems the solution to this gender income gap is something we—the mothers of today, even here in America—can do something about.

A new paper from the US National Bureau of Economic Research that examined Danish administration information from 1980 to 2013 found the motherhood penalty “creates a gender gap in earnings of around 20% in the long run," which is comparable to the gap in the United States.

What's more, the income discrepancy only increases for each child a family in Denmark has: If a woman has four children, her income is only $0.60 to every dollar a man makes—10 years down the road.

While this indicates paid parental leave alone may not be the panacea for the gender income gap, the researchers suggest that changing the way we think about roles in the workplaces and homes could help—at least when it comes to the next generation.

“As a possible explanation for the persistence of child penalties, we show that they are transmitted through generations, from parents to daughters (but not sons)," the researchers note, explaining that the more a daughter's mother worked while the girl was growing up, the less the daughter's income was affected when she became a mother.

“Women tend to adopt a balance of paid work and childcare that is correlated with the one they saw their mother strike when they were growing up," Henrik Kleven, a Princeton economist and the paper's lead author, tells Quartz At Work.

What this looks like in practice is splitting household responsibilities from the get-go and encouraging fathers to take more leave. (In Sweden, where fathers are penalized for not taking advantage of paternity leave, women's earning rose an average 7% for each month of leave that men took.)

According to the State of the World's Fathers' report, produced by Promundo (a non-profit organization dedicated to engaging men and boys in gender equality in partnership with Dove Men+Care) 85% of dads surveyed in the United States, the UK, Argentina, Brazil, Canada, Japan and the Netherlands want to take paternity leave, and yet less than 50% of fathers take as much time as their country's policy allows, and social norms, financial pressures and a lack of support from their managers are all factors.

The report also found that if fathers are able to do just under an hour of unpaid work per day, mothers can cut their unpaid labor time by the same amount.

"We need men to do our share. Fifty minutes more to relieve women of 50 minutes less would get us really close to equal," the president and CEO of Promundo, Gary Barker, told Motherly.

This may help shift us toward more income equality today—and, as the research shows, our daughters will really be able to reap the benefits.

[A version of this post was first published January 29, 2018. It has been updated.]

News

Each day, licensed clinical social worker Ofra Obejas has appointments with a number of parents—with the idea that this is a designated time for them to decompress, turn their attention inward and concentrate on the counseling session. Yet, Obejas says she has noticed a disappointing trend: Many clients don't disconnect for that brief period.

"Parents have sat in therapy session with me and checked every time their phone alerted them, 'In case that's my kid calling me,'" she tells Motherly. "The smart device allows parents to never be away from the child."

Unlike in generations past, today's parents can be always "on" due to everything from high-tech baby monitors to a stream of pictures and updates sent to their phones. That's what we at Motherly have termed "continuous parenting," and the risk is it not only sets parents up for fatigue, but also sends children unhealthy messages about their own boundaries.

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The answer isn't to erase our kids from our minds every so often—because that simply isn't possible. But we can benefit from making the effort to step back from actively "parenting" every now and then.

Parents spend more time than ever with their kids

According to a recent study from The Economist, American moms now spend twice as much time with their children compared with women 50 years ago. That works out to be an average of 125 minutes per day of devoted mom-child time. (Kudos to dads, too: Since 1965, they have tripled the time spent with their kids. It's now up to an average of 59 minutes daily.)

Experts credit this to increasingly flexible work schedules and options to punch in from home. Likely also at play is the fact that the newest generation of moms and dads are embracing the duty like few before, with 99% of millennial parents reporting they truly love parenting.

We're leaning into parenting—but are we overdoing it?

It's one thing to identify first and foremost as a parent and take pride in that role. It's another thing, however, to confuse our sense of worth with our children's accomplishments, which is something former Stanford University dean of freshmen Julie Lythcott-Haims says was commonplace among the parents she encountered.

"When I ask parents why they participate in the overprotection, overdirection, hand-holding frenzy, they respond, 'So my kid can be happy and successful,'" she writes in How to Raise an Adult. "When I ask them how it feels, they respond, 'Way too stressful.'"

This constant investment in children's lives can take a toll on the parent-child relationship when the parent doesn't take time for him or herself, too. "The parents feel that they 'sacrificed' their own time for the benefit of the child, even though during much of that time there was no direct engagement with the child," Obejas says of those hours spent shuttling kids around town or waiting outside the doctor's office. "The parents' own emotional and mental cup becomes empty, and when the child asks for more attention, the parents feel like they have already given enough."

The expectation of constant contact 'is draining for the brain'

Even outside the category of helicopter parents, the expectation that we should constantly know what our children are doing is problematic. "'Always on alert' didn't start with children," says Obejas. "It started with devices and apps designed to be addictive. It overtaxes our fight or flight response and leads to toxic stress when levels of cortisol and adrenaline don't ever subside."

Compared with the days when it was the norm for kids to roam free until the streetlights came on, it's commonplace today for parents to expect regular updates of their kids' exact whereabouts either by texts or GPS tracking tools.

"While this can be a safety backup, it increases the type of hypervigilance we know is draining for the brain," says Urszula Klich, licensed clinical psychologist and president of the Southeast Biofeedback and Clinical Neuroscience Association. "[This] can also cause incredible anxiety as parents hear and read things they wouldn't normally be subject to, that is, let's face it, a normal part of kids growing up."

Roles have reversed

Not so long ago, parents would go to the store or out on a date only with the faith that everything was fine at home. Now? That's almost unthinkable—as we've instead shifted to the mentality that our children or their responsible caregivers should be able to contact us at any given moment. Despite the good intentions at play here, this comes at an expense.

"In what other job do you never get a break? It is truly exhausting to never get to turn off the parent brain," says LMHC Jasmin Terrany, author of Extraordinary Mommy: A Loving Guide to Mastering Life's Most Important Job.

Driving this is the trend toward maternal gatekeeping, which describes the subconscious desire to micromanage child care even when someone else is perfectly capable of holding down the fort. As uncomfortable as this may feel, it's healthiest for everyone when parents can hand over the reigns on occasion.

"We must have regular practices to refuel," Terrany tells Motherly. "We don't need to feel guilty about taking this time for ourselves—our kids will not only learn that self-care is essential, but when we are good, they will be good."

This is also how we let our children know another adult can attend to their needs, which is an important step in fostering their sense of independence and confidence. As Esther Perel, author of Mating in Captivity, previously told Motherly, "Let your partner actually figure it out on their own and know that the system survives even when you are not there."

Being 'always on' can degrade quality time, too

Much of being "always on" is a two-way street: Not only do we bring our children into our work days and social lives, but we also bring other obligations home with us in the form of emails sent to our smartphones and mid-playtime breaks to check social media.

"Our children need us, the parents to be 'there,'" says Tom Kersting, licensed psychotherapist and author of Disconnected: How To Reconnect Our Digitally Distracted Kids. "They need us to talk to them, play with them and be present with them. This is literally impossible if we are multitasking between the iPhone and our interactions with them."

As expert as we may consider ourselves at multitasking, there is also something to be said for setting boundaries. "In today's world it's become difficult not to carry that phone around you all the time, even more so when your job is tied to it," says Klich. "Set boundaries for yourself for when you will check, even if it's once an hour, and stick to that making it clear to the kids what you are doing and why."

And when we're away from the kids, remember this hack: Calls from favorite contacts can still come through when you're on do not disturb mode. So tell your partner or your babysitter or your kids to call if it's a true emergency—and then allow yourself to go off the clock. You'll be better for it.

[This post was first published June 25, 2018.]

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