This problem certainly rears its ugly head among both genders, but I find it's especially prevalent among women. I don't think the problem is new in the age of the internet, but the anonymity of the internet certainly makes it more obvious.
It plays out in so many ways. You want to be a stay-at-home mom, but fear being judged, so you immediately need to defend why being a stay-at-home mom is better, at the expense of those who make a different choice. Suddenly being a stay-at-home mom is the virtuous choice, while being a working mom is selfish. Or in reverse - you want to be a working mom, but in a desperate attempt to distinguish that choice as the best, stay-at-home moms become lazy, or submissive, or betrayers of feminism. This shaming of other women results in everybody feeling guilty or insecure in their own choices. It benefits no one.
And it doesn't just affect parenting. It affects every aspect of our lives. If you choose to get married young, you'll constantly hear statistics about how young marriages are more likely to end in divorce. If you get married when you're older, you'll hear all about how hard it will be to have kids or how 'all the good ones will be taken' if you wait too long. If you want one child, you'll hear about the latest study that shows only children are lonely and self-centred. If you want 8 kids, you'll hear about overpopulation or the depletion of the world's resources or welfare-dependence. And don't even get me started on what you'll hear if you don't want to get married or have children, full stop. You want to raise your kids in the country? Oh, but they'll miss out on all the cultural opportunities that the city offers, and the lack of diversity will make them ignorant or racist. You want to raise your kids in the city? You can't do that, it's dangerous to raise your kids in the city, and they won't learn good values.
It's bred out of defensiveness. People become defensive because others insist on being judgemental.
But here's the thing, we become judgemental and defensive, which perpetuates this cycle, when competitiveness takes control of our lives. I've written before that marriage isn't about keeping score, but I think it's also important to point out that life isn't about keeping score either. What's 'best' should be what's 'best for us', not 'best in comparison to everybody else'. The choices that everybody else makes are their business, and theirs alone.
We also put unrealistic expectations on ourselves. The constant quest for perfection, for the 'best' life and 'best' choices is enough to make anyone second-guess their decisions. And by second-guessing our own decisions, we become desperate for validation that they're the 'right' decisions. And the easiest way to assure ourselves that they are the right decisions, is to prove to ourselves and others that all other decisions are the 'wrong' decisions. Can you see how this quickly perpetuates a vicious, competitive cycle of right versus wrong in a world that's really not that simple?
Not everybody is guilty of this, but a lot of us are, at least to some extent. The next time you catch yourself saying - or in this modern age - typing something that bashes another individual's choices for their own life - ask yourself whether you're really being constructive, or just trying to build yourself up at their expense.
I've used this Howard Thurman quote before, but I'll use it again, because it's one of my favourites and very relevant to this topic: “Don’t ask what the world needs. Ask what makes you come alive, and go do it. Because what the world needs is people who have come alive". Live your own life. Stop keeping score. You'll be happier for it.
*Disclaimer one: I use the term 'working mom' because of how it flows, not to insinuate that stay-at-home moms don't 'work'.
**Disclaimer two: I'm not suggesting that every woman does this, and when I say 'you', I don't mean you specifically. Again, it's used for the overall 'flow', not to specifically point fingers :)