Why Do We Judge Other Moms' Financial Choices?

Despite preparing for parenthood as much as I could, I was not ready for the culture that surrounds moms judging other moms in all things—including our family's personal financial choices. 

An image of a mom typing on a computer with a phone.
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Before I became a mother, I did a lot of research and read about parenting as much as possible. I stopped listening to audiobooks (my favorite pastime) and instead devoured every podcast I could find about pregnancy and the early days of postpartum. I thought I was ready—I mean, as prepared as anyone can ever truly be—and couldn't wait until my baby's arrival.

But despite preparing for parenthood as much as I could, I was not ready for the culture that surrounds moms judging other moms in all things, including our family's personal financial choices.

The mom judgment begins

If I'm honest, I probably should have expected the judgment from other moms to come quickly and easily. The truth is that the mom judgment begins as soon as you get pregnant—maybe even sooner. I remember seeing memes with "breast is best" and moms in my due date group on Facebook commenting about how formula and the companies that make it are evil. There was a similar judgment about what we ate (shouldn't we all be having kale?), what we drank (no caffeine!), and what we did (exercise more, but gently, and don't have too much sex).

Then, after I gave birth, it wasn't much different. I saw moms judge other moms' baby names, moms judge each other if they let their baby sleep in bed with them, and moms judge if someone went back to work "too soon"—or really, dared to go back to work at all. Suddenly, after becoming a mom, it felt not only like every decision I made was crucial to my baby's survival, but also that it was being overseen with judging eyes by moms I knew.

Mind you, I wasn't immune to the mom judgment, either. When a friend struggled with her baby's nighttime sleep but refused to sleep-train, I wondered what her problem was. When I saw a mom leave a thriving business career to run around after a couple of twin toddlers, I thought about how sad it is to spend money on an MBA and let it go to waste. Whenever we see someone making a wildly different choice than we would in our parenting and our lives, it can be difficult not to judge. We selfishly think that our decision was the right one, period. And try as we might, it can be difficult to see beyond what makes sense to us and acknowledge that something else may work for another mom.

Aren't my finances just about me?

Irina Gonzalez
Irina Gonzalez. Irina Gonzalez

One of the worst places I've felt this mom judgment lately is in the financial choices my husband and I make. For example, when we decided to move out of Florida, where both of our parents live, to pursue better financial and career opportunities in Colorado, other moms judged me for moving 1,680 miles away from my family.

When I publicly revealed that we had over $130,000 in debt and that the combination of student loans and daycare costs were keeping us broke despite making six figures, other moms yelled at me on the internet. They told me that we had been irresponsible by traveling in our early years of dating, and that we needed to stop spending money so that we could just focus on paying off our debt. But those moms don't see my bank account, or my savings, or what my budget looks like.

Moms who judged my finances don't know what's going on, as they say, behind closed doors. They don't understand how vital that travel was to the bond that my husband and I share—or that we already put all we can into debt payoff.

Those moms don't see my bank account, or my savings, or what my budget looks like.

My personal finances are not as simple as just "stop spending money," and neither are anyone's. I know moms who live on food stamps (as my family once did), moms who make well over six figures, moms who stay home, moms who are the breadwinners, moms who paid off their debt a long time ago, moms who had to declare bankruptcy, moms who are the sole parent and provider, moms who are great at budgeting, and moms who spend more money than they should.

But guess what all of these moms have in common? Their money and financial choices are their own to make—whether others think those choices are a mistake or the best thing that mom can do.

Let's find a better way forward

I can't be the only mom out there who is tired of all of the mom judgment. Shouldn't we be working on understanding each other better and ending mom judgment forever instead of constantly making each other feel bad? Shouldn't we show compassion for our fellow moms who are just trying the best they can for their families? Shouldn't we strive to acknowledge that we each have different needs and live in different situations?

When I think back to how I have judged other moms, other women, other parents, and other humans in general—about their financial choices and many other things—I realize that my judgment is serving no one. Is it making that person more likely to do what I think they should do? Not really. Is it improving my life in some way? Absolutely not. All it does is create a cycle of stress and anger and frustration—with the other person and with myself.

But the truth is that there is a better way, and that way is one of self-compassion and empathy for others. The truth is that we judge others when we are insecure about our own decisions—something that I learned when I got sober, and all of a sudden found myself confronted by former drinking buddies who questioned whether I "really had a problem."

We say "she shouldn't have traveled so much" because we're wondering if we, ourselves, missed out. We say "she should quit her job instead of pay for daycare" because we feel guilty about giving up our own careers. We say many other things, and all of them for the wrong reasons. So, I say: Let's stop.

Instead of thinking that your financial choice is the only right one, think about how you probably would have made a different choice 10 years ago or even one year ago. We can't see into the future to know whether the money we're saving or spending is the right call—just as none of us could have predicted the Great Recession or that a global pandemic would cause mortgage rates to plummet. So instead of saying, "she's doing it wrong, and I'm doing it right," let's just say "she's making the best decision she can at this time."

As for me, I'm still learning about budgeting—and thankfully getting better at it. I know that someday, when the student loan is finally paid off and our son is no longer in daycare, we will be able to travel again—because showing the world to our son is important to both of us. And in the meantime, I'll just remember that if I change my mind and make another financial choice, that's okay—and it's okay for you, too.

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