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The holidays are a time for togetherness – and with all that togetherness, mom-shaming.

That’s the finding of a poll released earlier this year by C.S. Mott Children’s Hospital in Ann Arbor, Michigan. The poll of 475 mothers with children aged up to five years old found that 61 percent of mothers have been criticized about their parenting.

Discipline was the most frequent topic of criticism, reported by over two-thirds of mothers. The poll’s authors suggest that this criticism may result from a combination of modern research and shifting attitudes toward corporal punishment.

Other common topics of criticism were diet and/or nutrition (52 percent), sleep (46 percent), and breast or bottle feeding (39 percent).

Despite so many viral posts about public mom-shamings, strangers in public were the least likely to criticize new moms (12 percent). Friends were also an unlikely source of criticism (14 percent). The majority of criticism new moms experienced came from spouses (37 percent), parents (36 percent), and in-laws (31 percent).

Given the number of women reporting criticism and the types of criticism they received, mom-shaming seems to be a pervasive problem; however, one additional finding from the poll suggests a different interpretation that may help young parents through the holidays.

There’s no doubt huge amounts of mom-shaming going on, but the study presupposes shame by asking respondents to answer “yes” or “no” questions like, “Have you been criticized about your parenting choices by your in-laws?”

Because of the way the questions were phrased, it may be more appropriate to say that the mothers polled felt criticized. Without specific examples from the respondents, and perhaps without the experiences of everyone else in the room at the time the criticism was delivered, it’s hard to know whether any criticism or shame was intended.

With that said, here are some tips on how to make the most of all this togetherness.

1 | Keep your criticism to yourself

Half of the respondents in the Mott poll said that they avoid people who are critical of their parenting. The poll’s authors offer one piece of advice for family members with strong opinions: “Those who wish to spend time with a young child may want to present their advice in a positive tone, or risk having that time abbreviated.”

The poll also shows that receiving criticism helped change parents’ own behavior. Over half of the study respondents reported that they stopped criticizing other parents after receiving criticism themselves. If you are the object of unsolicited advice or criticism, take comfort in knowing it’s helping you be kinder to other moms.

2 | Treat your family members as experts

The poll reports that new parents receive the most criticism from their families, suggesting that everyone might benefit if all family members kept a few more opinions to themselves. But the study’s authors also suggest that “criticism” and “shame” are in the eye of the beholder.

The increased rate of criticism and shame coming from family members may simply result from spending more time with them than with strangers and health professionals. Alternatively, the study’s authors suggest, “it is plausible that statements from professionals are perceived as expert advice, not criticism.” In other words, if your healthcare provider suggests you switch to skim milk, you might view that as a medical advice. When your mom makes the same suggestion, you might interpret it as criticism of your parenting.

In the holiday spirit, parents might want to extend the same generosity to family members that they offer to their health care providers. Assume that the advice, welcome or not, is well-intentioned.

3 | Discuss expectations, and consider changing yours

The poll’s authors suggest that mismatched expectations are a frequent catalyst for parenting criticism. Family members might hold “unrealistic expectations for a toddler or preschooler,” while the parent “feels she has a better understanding of her own child’s abilities.” Those mismatched expectations could be seen as a natural consequence of a mother spending more time with her children than anyone else.

Then again, all those hours spent with your child might actually be making it hard for you to see where your expectations need to change. Because they spend less time with your child, your family members may have an easier time noticing significant shifts in your child’s behavior. Perhaps your extended family members can help you raise or lower expectations that aren’t working well for your family.

Do you have tips as to how your family ensures the holidays are merry and bright? Share in the comments section below!

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