I am forty plus twenty years of age, so don’t know nearly as much as i once thought I did. But one thing I know that I know: it is NEVER, EVER, NOT EVEN ONCE IN A LIFETIME ok to use shame as a tool of manipulation. It is one thing to suggest that shame as an honest emotion can motivate us to make necessary changes. It is NEVER, NOT EVER, NOT EVEN ONCE IN A LIFETIME OK, to DELIBERATELY OR EVEN UNCONSCIOUSLY use shaming as a way to control another person. People do this all the time. Why? Because it is very effective in getting people to comply or make momentary adjustments. But it is very naughty to use this as a control mechanism in the life of others. If you do this, you should be ashamed! (See what I did there?) This past week I was mom sitting, and one day I wore a maxi skirt. I know it’s stylish because it showed up in my Stitch Fix box (if you don’t know what this is I recommend googling it and then ordering your own). My Stitch Fix box designer would NOT send me an article of clothing that was not cool. But for whatever reason, my mother, hated it. (My mother was once a style maven, but today her Alzheimer’s has cruelly stolen her fashion sense along with her memory.) When I walked into the den, she said, “What have you got on? You look like a floozie! Go change right this minute.” I did not change. This clothes shaming is not new. A couple of years ago, my mom called my daughter a floozie over a particularly cute outfit that involved leggings and an over-sized shirt. For the record, my daughter is the most unfloozie, classy gal I know. She continued to tsk tsk over the skirt all day. I did not feel one moment of shame, only a deep and profound sadness that my mom and I could not share any longer in her fashion forward sensibilities. At bedtime, I turned to my husband and whispered, “Hey, I am really sad that most of my day was spent with mom trying to get me to change my clothes! It reminds me of the time she called Meredith a floozie and it brings up all the outrage I felt that day when she did that to her.”
Pete replied, “Well, hey, our kid had to learn it somewhere!” This started a fit of laughing that eased the tension of the day and restored my perspective. If I had gotten hung up on shame, I would have missed the more honest emotions of grief and loss and fierce mother bear protectiveness I feel for my kids. And by the way, where did I learn to be a fierce mother bear? From my mom. My mother raised four kids while my dad spent a lot of time away from home. And put dinner on the table every night. And kept a spotless home – as long as you didn’t open any cabinet doors. She was busy. But in the early 70’s she went to work for what was then Miller and Rhoads Department Store. Why? Because money was tight and she wanted her adolescent daughter to have some clothes that a strained budget would not cover. Every pay day I came home from high school to find an article of cool, borderline floozie attire laid out on my bed. To my knowledge, I do not recall my mother ever buying herself a thing. Without being triggered by shame, my heart and mind is capable of remembering all the things about my mother that are true – she has been known to use shame as a tool for control (very naughty) AND she’s done many things as a mother very, very well (very nice). My work is to learn from all the lessons and improve upon the model with my own children. Which includes: no shame dumping! Ever!