Sanctimommies are the Mean Girls from High School

Yesterday, I posted on Instagram that Sanctimommies are the mean girls from high school who found, in motherhood, a new platform from which to make themselves feel superior to other women.

The post was met with hundreds of Likes, along with many positive comments from other moms who, at one time or another, have crossed paths with one of these Sanctimommies.

If the term Sanctimommy is new to you, it’s a term that became popular in online spaces in the mid-2000s. Its roots are in the word sanctimonious, which means “to make a show of being morally superior.” The term Sanctimommy was born to describe moms who use the way that they parent to shame other moms for doing it differently. Their criticism doesn’t seem to be rooted in a sincere concern for the well-being of children, but rather, in their desire to demonstrate how much better they are at parenting than other women.

This realization that sanctimommies are the mean girls from high school hit me really hard. It caused me to realize that moms like this—women who put down other women for struggling, or even for making different parenting choices than they make—aren’t just doing this because they are passionate about parenting. They’re doing it because this is what they have always done. They have a need to see themselves as superior to other women, and so, they use any platform they can to serve that need.

In high school, that platform was popularity. They teased other girls for not having the right clothes or living in the right neighborhood, for not having the right friends and not dating the right boys.

If they went to college, their platform became academics, or, for some, it was partying. Were you taking your studies as seriously as they were? Were you being invited to the right parties?

If they joined the workplace, their platform became a lot like the one they had in high school—finding their superiority in their attire, their work ethic, their popularity in the office.

Their ire was always targeted at other women, never at men because, of course, it was women who threatened them. They saw likability and opportunity as limited resources that they intended never to share with other women. Women, as they saw it, were the competition. Not the teammates.

And so, when they became moms and discovered how hard motherhood is—how much they were struggling, and how badly other moms struggled, too—they saw another opportunity to claim superiority. Rather than coming alongside other women who were wading through the murky waters of new parenthood, they shamed them. Instead of being honest about their struggles, they buried them deep down, pretending not to struggle at all. And all of that was part of the pretense, the show. The first act of the great play of their superiority over other women.

They did this because it is what they have always done. They have memorized their lines. They know the choreography. It’s all an easy song and dance.

What I am here to tell you, dear reader, is that although these women seek to point out a moral failing in you, all they are doing is demonstrating an emptiness in themselves. People who love themselves don’t treat people that way. Confident women, who have people who love them and treat them well, who have devoted their lives to authenticity and self-compassion, don’t need to use other women as the platform from which to demonstrate their superiority.

Strong, confident, self-loving women can have strong convictions. They can believe certain things about life, and love, and parenting. They can disagree with other parents’ choices from a place of firm belief in what is best for children without putting down those parents for doing what works best for them.

It is women who have not mastered the hard work of loving themselves who become sanctimommies. And, sadly, they’ve never done that because they have used self-righteousness as a shield for most of their lives. Putting down other women protected them from having to confront shortcomings in themselves, so they never did. They are fundamentally immature, fragile, unable to love themselves enough to make some changes that would make life happier. That would make them more likable. That would, perhaps for the first time, allow them to truly belong in groups where other women are.

The maladjustment is not in you, sweet one. It’s in them.


Amber Wardell is a doctor of psychology and author who speaks on women’s issues related to marriage, motherhood, and mental health. Subscribe to the free newsletter to get exclusive content delivered to your inbox and to never miss an upload.

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