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There’s an article over at BlogHer today that has me all fired up.  It’s about judging parents, and how it’s actually ok.

Except it’s not.

It was written by a new mom, someone whose blog I actually really like.  A young mom.  A mom who maybe hasn’t weathered the storms of toddler reflux, breastfeeding failure, post-partum depression, child sleep disorders, isolation from friends and family, and plain ol’ active/curious/energetic toddler temperament.

Her solution to having your toddler melt down in the middle of the supermarket?  Leave.  Leave your groceries, leave your cart, leave your pride, and carry your screaming child outside so that they don’t hurt anyone else’s ears.  Or assault their peaceful zen yoga moment.  The one that is happening in the produce aisle.

My solution?

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But really. Here’s why her article kind of made me cry.

It’s easy to judge other moms, when you haven’t been there.  It’s easy to give advice about two year old tantrums, when your child hasn’t had one yet.  We judge other moms because it’s easier than helping them.  It’s lazy.  It’s critical.  But you know why we really do it?

Because it makes us feel better about our own parenting.

If you start a sentence with “I would never…”, then your own back gets a little pat of encouragement.  You feel like you’re putting another penny in the “Good Mom Bank”.   But think on this for a minute.  Have you ever wondered WHY a mom might be “letting” her toddler have a meltdown in the supermarket?

Perhaps she’s like me, and the days and the hours and the minutes have started to melt together.  Maybe her husband is on a long business trip, and she’s let the refrigerator get low on dinner options.  Maybe she’s been feeling really lonely lately, and that feeling, coupled with the dread that she gets when it’s time to take her antsy little boy shopping, is almost too much to bear.  Maybe her toddler is transitioning from riding in the shopping cart like a baby to walking through the store like a big boy.  Maybe they’ve worked on good behavior all week, leading up to this trip.  Maybe he made it through every single aisle, and his mom thinks that the end is finally in sight, and they hit the checkout line, and he loses it.  Maybe her child is hungry and she’s pushing the limits of his patience, but she needs to get just a few more things to add to the meal that she promised a new mama she’d make for her.

Sometimes when I’m shopping by myself, I hope that I run into “that mama” in the checkout aisle.  So that I can give her a knowing smile, fish a Lightning McQueen car out of the bottom of my purse, and load all of her groceries on the checkout belt so that she has both hands free to soothe her crying boy.  Wouldn’t that be helpful?  I mean, instead of glaring at her and hoping that she leaves her cart in the middle of the aisle while she banishes her child to the car?

Or maybe helping out is what I secretly wish someone would do for me.  That someone would throw a knowing glance my way, at a time when I need it the most.

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Parenting is hard.  The lessons that we’re required to teach our children can be taught in many ways.  I like to think that Max is learning that it’s ok to be upset.  It’s ok to be pissed off that you’re in the grocery store with Mom, and because you’re 2, you get to resort to using pure emotion to express your feelings, since you haven’t yet learned the phrase “Mom, I’m exhausted and pretty bored here.  Can we please hurry this up and go home?”
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My job as Max’s mom, is to love him through his meltdowns. But my job is also to model for him how to interact with the world around him.  I used to get embarassed when he had a tantrum in public.  My cheeks would burn with shame, and I’d hustle him out of wherever we were as fast as my legs would carry me.  But now?  Now that he’s almost three?  I quietly bend down to his level, or pick him up in my arms.  I acknowledge that he’s upset.  I help him find a solution.  And I show him that we can both hold our heads up high, even when we feel like shit.  And then I shoot a “Fuck you, stop looking at me” stare at anyone who starts to open their mouth.

Of course, I don’t do this in the library.  Or the movie theater.  Or when his behavior is clearly offending someone else, or ruining their right to have a pleasant outing somewhere.  Some drastic times call for drastic measures.  I am not a permissive parent who lets my toddler call all the shots.  When Max started screaming “I don’t waaaaant to share” during the backyard brunch that Sean’s boss was throwing, I quietly scooped  him up and took him out to the car.  We had our little talk over a few goldfish crackers, and he was able to return to the party and play nicely.  There is a time and a place.  There is a nice comfy spot where boundary-setting and rule-breaking meet somewhere in the middle.

The rest of the time?  When we’re in a public place that can tolerate a little more toddler energy?  Well,  you have no idea how hard we’re working on learning how to navigate the world around us.  Not just Max, but me.

I’m feeding him macaroni and cheese and french fries in a restaurant because he has serious GI issues that we see a specialist for.  I prefer to try out new foods and textures in the safety of our own dining room, so that when he gags on it and vomits everywhere, it’s not three tables down from you.  So pay attention to your own food, not mine.

When Max and I flew to Palm Springs a few weeks ago, he sat in his seat like a perfect angel the entire time.  He played with toys.  He watched a movie.  He ate his snacks and called out to me with the things he saw through the window.  The grandmother sitting next to us whispered to me “Kudos on your parenting.  He is sooo well-behaved!”  And I glowed, from the inside out.  Until she whispered again “Now if someone would just HOLD that baby a few rows back, maybe she’d stop crying!”

And my heart broke for that mom.  Because I had been in her shoes.  And I will be again.  I didn’t need to look behind me to know that she was holding her baby.  And soothing her.  And loving on her.  And sweating with frustration and probably crying right along with her.  And dying a thousand deaths inside, because she thought that every single person on that plane was judging her.  How does that help her?  How does that give her the encouragement she needs to take a deep breath, and soldier on?

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I have been that mom. And if you haven’t, then you haven’t earned the right to judge me.  I remember having a new baby, and being afraid to go outside.  I remember setting a goal of driving downtown and walking from the Nordstrom’s at one end of the block, to the Starbucks at the other end.  I would repeat (in my head) over and over, “It’s ok, you can do this.  No one thinks that you’re a bad mom for pushing a crying baby in the stroller.  They don’t know that he has reflux and doesn’t sleep.  They can’t see the vomit stains on your sweater.  Really.  OK maybe, but who cares?  Keep walking.  One foot in front of the other.  See?  You’re doing it….you are DOING it!”  Just writing that makes me cry.  Because it was so hard.  And I felt so alone.  Until one day I realized, I could walk backwards out of Starbucks, open the door with my rear end, pull the stroller through, and still not wake my baby or spill my latte.  I got this.  This is soooo under control.

Have you ever noticed how many mamas with new babies are sitting on the sofas in the Nordstrom’s ladies room?  It is safe in there.  They’re all thinking to themselves “I can DO this.  In just one more minute….or maybe two.”

And so our babies grow, and our parenting skills grow, and we learn that mothering doesn’t just happen on the playground.  It happens in the grocery store, and in the Starbucks line, and on the airplane, and in a crowded restaurant.  You can’t always choose your teachable moments folks.

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So instead of judging each other, what if we put our brilliant mama minds to good use, and came up with some ways to support each other?

I’ll give you my top 3 helpful “I got your back, Mama” hints, and then you can give me yours, OK?

1.  Make it better.  Be useful.  If you see a mom struggling, pitch in.  “Here, let me load your groceries into the trunk while you get your kids loaded in.” or “Can I offer your child one of my son’s toys to play with while we’re stuck here on the runway waiting to take off?” or “I’m coming over to visit tonight and I’m bringing dinner”.

2.  Don’t assume.  Some children have sensory issues that cause them to get easily overwhelmed.  Some kids have autism, or other special needs that look a lot like behavior disorders, though they are purely neurological.  The mom feeding her kids McDonald’s may have just worked a double shift, and she may be spending her last 5 dollars to get food into her kids bellies before bed.  You don’t know if you just assume.

3.  Do some research on child temperament.  All children are different.  What works for one mom may not work for me.  I don’t do time-outs, because they don’t work for Max’s temperament.  We never let him cry it out, because of his health issues.  I believe that he is a little person who has big emotions and valid needs, and so I let him learn about life at his own pace.  I used to think that everything that was right with Max was thanks to our STELLAR parenting methods.  While that does help, much of it has to do with his natural temperament.  And his propensity to take things apart to discover how they work?  That’s not bad parenting….just a curious temperament.  It’s all in how you frame it.

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As parents, we’d be well-served to remember “First, do no harm”.  Take a deep breath, take a step back, and ask yourself if the judgement you’re about to make is really helpful.  Could it be hurting someone?  Could it be making things worse, when they already feel like they’re failing/outnumbered/hopelessly overwhelmed?

And then go whisper “You’re doing a really great job.  This is hard isn’t it?” to the first struggling mama you see.  I promise, she won’t be that hard to find.

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35 Comments ( Reply )

  1. Amy Kinzel
    Mar 12, 2012 @ 4:48 pm

    You ROCK! I am pregnant for the first time, and read the original article that started this. I followed the link to the other blog, and then I read yours. Thank you for showing kindness, compassion and non-judgement. We all have a lot to learn, and we need each other to make it through. Love is the best way to go. Thank you for being one of those Moms out there that support Moms who are struggling instead of judging them.

    Reply

    • Kim @ MamaByTheBay
      Mar 12, 2012 @ 9:39 pm

      Thanks Amy! I really appreciate your kind words! I wish you a wonderful pregnancy, lots of newborn snuggles, and many brave walks with your baby! ;) Thanks for taking the time to comment here!

      Reply

  2. Megan
    Mar 12, 2012 @ 5:09 pm

    Cannot begin to tell you how much I loved this. I too teared up reading it, bc I too have been there. Thank you SO much for writing and sharing!

    Reply

    • Kim @ MamaByTheBay
      Mar 12, 2012 @ 9:40 pm

      Thanks Megan! I’m so glad you connected with this too! I appreciate your feedback!

      Reply

  3. Becky
    Mar 12, 2012 @ 6:32 pm

    So, so loved this. I ended up here after reading your comment on the other blog, and I couldn’t have said it any better, and def. not as nicely. I go out of my way not to judge other parents. Unless they’re doing something that’s obviously detrimental to the health or well being of their children, it’s not my place nor do I know the situation. What I do know is I’ve been that mom with a non stop screaming child, and instead of the dirty looks and even sometimes nasty comments I would get just once it would have been nice to have another person look at me and say I know, and it gets better. Because it does eventually but at that moment it doesn’t feel like it, and someone giving you the stink eye just makes it all so much worse and more overwhelming.

    Reply

    • Kim @ MamaByTheBay
      Mar 12, 2012 @ 9:42 pm

      Oh Becky, so true! Having someone send you a knowing glance or a smile would make such a big difference, wouldn’t it? Because when you can tell someone’s judging you, it just sends things further down the pipes than they already were! Thanks so much for sharing your feedback!

      Reply

  4. Arnebya
    Mar 12, 2012 @ 7:27 pm

    I had to come here after reading your comment. I read the article as dinner simmered and fought hard to get everyone cleaned up and in bed before I sat down to respond. I probably said too much over there. And then I read this. And I agree 100%. Judgment is what we should be stepping away from, not lauding as a good thing. It’s not a good thing. It’s not beneficial to the judger and it damn sure doesn’t do anything for the recipient of the side eye. It’s pointless.

    Having been there, I can only imagine what another parent is feeling. It’s why if I feel it’s appropriate, I may offer to help. Just having someone watch your cart for a minute or the offer itself can do wonders. I wish I would think to leave the groceries because this boy fell onto the floor. I NEED those chips!

    I didn’t want to say the author feels this way only because she’s still a new parent, but…it plays a big part honestly. You just can’t say it without it sounding, well, judgmental. Like Becky said above, unless the parent is doing something harmful to the kid, there is no harm being done. Take your precious ear drums and YOU leave!

    Also…the maths as your spam blocker! Ugh. I had to sit a minute and think. I hate numbers so.

    Reply

    • Kim @ MamaByTheBay
      Mar 12, 2012 @ 9:46 pm

      Arnebya, LOVE your comment…thank you :) Dying laughing because my first thought after reading the other post was “What the hell am I supposed to do with my groceries if I leave?” I need those chips too!! I appreciate the emotion in what you wrote, and I thank you for sharing it here! Oh, and the math….my friend put that in for me as a spam blocker, and it’s driving me crazy too! I love writing…not math!!

      Reply

  5. Someone
    Mar 12, 2012 @ 9:33 pm

    I could not agree more.

    Reply

  6. Patricia S.
    Mar 12, 2012 @ 9:50 pm

    Beautiful post! I have an easygoing 8 month old, and I get what the original blogger was saying and agree with a lot of it – but I know it won’t always be this easy…and I love hearing perspectives like yours. I hope I can make things better for other mamas when difficult situations arise by being understanding and compassionate, and offering a helping hand. We should all help each other, and everyone will benefit!

    Reply

    • Kim @ MamaByTheBay
      Mar 13, 2012 @ 8:11 pm

      Thanks Patricia! I appreciate your outlook and honesty!

      Reply

  7. Carla
    Mar 13, 2012 @ 11:54 am

    Thank you, thank you, thank you! I couldn’t agree more and I love your suggestions. The only thing judgement does is isolate mothers further, which the last thing any of us need.

    Reply

    • Kim @ MamaByTheBay
      Mar 13, 2012 @ 8:12 pm

      Thanks Carla! So true about how judgment only makes things worse :(

      Reply

  8. Diane Galbraith
    Mar 13, 2012 @ 11:55 am

    Kim, well said! I have walked in your shoes and still do even parenting teens. Every day of my 18 years of parenting has taught me something new. One of the biggest things I learned right from the start was not to judge! Have a great Momma and Max day! Diane

    Reply

    • Kim @ MamaByTheBay
      Mar 13, 2012 @ 8:14 pm

      Diane, thanks for your sweet words…both here and on FaceBook! They mean so much coming from you, especially since I know that you have such wonderful boys who you are an amazing mother to! (Boys??? Holy moly…they’re practically men now, aren’t they??)

      Reply

  9. Elise Davis
    Mar 13, 2012 @ 4:39 pm

    Well written and well said.

    It is easy to judge and many of the points the other blogger said were valid – junk food isn’t good for our kids and I do find myself reacting when I see parents filling up baby bottles with apple juice and handing over big bags of Doritos to two year olds, but I’ve certainly not always been a great model for healthy meal choices for myself, family or my children.

    But I also think that it is far easier to do things “right” when you’ve already got things in place. The young mothers I know who have grown up with lousy parenting models, abuse and their own problems with addiction do a fantastic job with the resources they have. They have not been exposed to the upper middle class privileged litany of good eating habits and Mommy and Me classes. They have not spent hours reading pregnancy books and raising young children books and perusing the internet for the best toddler toys.

    Of course they could become better parents, but it takes time and practice and encouraging supportive feedback. It doesn’t take judgement and criticism. And, until, we are reaching out and forming real communities with parents who are obviously struggling, then we are in no position to know what it is like to be in their shoes day in and day out.

    Reply

  10. Kim @ MamaByTheBay
    Mar 13, 2012 @ 8:17 pm

    Oooh, Elise, you touched on something that I almost dove right in to in this post….but saved for another time :) The idea of having access to certain things (healthy/organic food, a partner to help at home, a college education that makes it easier to make money, and so on). I used to work with moms at a homeless shelter, and it taught me soooo much about how hard some parents have to work to do the same things that others of us take for granted. Thank you for reminding us that we do the best we can with what we have, and we all are working so very hard.

    Reply

  11. Erin Cyr
    Mar 14, 2012 @ 1:22 pm

    Hi, I just had to say that I loved your reply. A mom who is in one of my mom groups on facebook posted the original post and your reply. I have to say good for you for responding directly to the post with your link. My son has some sensory issues and sometimes even when he is well prepared and I have done “everything right” he still has a meltdown leaving a playgroup, or at the store. The idea that I am also forcing the public to view and deal with my child just doesn’t enter into my mind. My husband is at work 12 hours a day, I cook all of the meals, do all of the laundry, keep the house clean. When I am at the store it’s because I have to be there. I’d much rather be home and reading or playing games with my son. Sometimes it just doesn’t work out that every child is perfectly behaved in public.

    Reply

    • Mama By The Bay
      Mar 18, 2012 @ 2:54 pm

      So true Erin…it’s not like any of us are hanging out at the store with our kids because it’s wild and crazy fun! ;) Sounds like you are doing an incredible job though, with quite a bit on your plate! I admire your strength, and appreciate your comment!

      Reply

  12. Sara
    Mar 14, 2012 @ 4:36 pm

    Um that was amazing compared to the other article. After I had a child I swore I would never judge another mother for whatever decision she choose regarding her child. I was that person prior to having a baby. The article simply sounds ridiculous and yours is right on the money. I still find myself wanting to judge sometimes and then I stop. I will probably print this so I can remember as I go through each stage with my child how to have confidence and when i get through it remember to help and support another mother who goes through that same stage. THANK YOU for writing this!

    Reply

    • Mama By The Bay
      Mar 18, 2012 @ 2:57 pm

      You’re so welcome, and thank you for your kind words! Yes, you deserve to hold your head high with confidence…this mama stuff is hard work!

      Reply

  13. Jenny
    Mar 18, 2012 @ 8:18 am

    Love your response to the other article. You are so right! It would be great if we as mothers could be more supportive of each other, rather than being judgmental.

    You’re right, it’s harder than you realize it is going to be.

    Reply

    • Mama By The Bay
      Mar 18, 2012 @ 2:59 pm

      Yes, it’s so much harder than anyone ever tells us, isn’t it? Thanks for your support!

      Reply

  14. Lindsey
    Mar 19, 2012 @ 8:30 am

    Whew… so glad I could answer the math question correctly! On a serious note, I love what you wrote and it reminded me that as my son turns 2, I need to start working with him on not only being able to express and explain his emotions to me, but also FEEL emotionally what is happening. Kids are numb these days. I am a teacher. I see it all the time. They don’t know how to express what they are feeling in both actions and in their writing because they haven’t been given the opportunity to do so because they weren’t given the opportunity to as a child.

    Reply

  15. Amber Young
    Mar 11, 2013 @ 8:16 pm

    Taking all this to heart. As someone who never thought I wanted kids, I seriously judged parents in public. Now I have a 20 month old, very rambunctious boy, and I’ve been a mom long enough to realize, all mom’s are TIRED. And most of us are absolutely trying our best… and trying EVERYTHING we can think of to make it through each day alive and hopefully with at least one small thing that we can pat ourselves on the back for.

    Reply

  16. Divya
    Mar 29, 2013 @ 11:24 am

    Dear Kim
    I accidentally chanced upon your blog and what a wonderful wonderful post this is. You have put in words so beautifully some of the sentiments that I’ve had in my mind when people give these dagger looks when my two-year old has a bad day. I think people need to understand that children are human beings too and they have as much right to be in a public place as much as anybody else. And this is so much true for children with special needs. Yes, children cry and have tantrums and that is how all human beings have evolved. To expect a child to be Ms or Mr goody two shoes all the time is unreasonable. And this culture that they behave all the time puts a lot of pressure on parents to ‘discipline’ children. Kids are curious and naughty, that’s what makes them kids. Our culture should learn to accept that. Of course there are limits and boundaries, but we also need to cherish and nurture the twinkle in their eyes as they discover the world around them.

    FYI I don’t know if you have come across this article. I think you’ll like it. It made me cry.
    http://wtkr.com/2013/03/28/the-waitress-the-autistic-girl-and-the-broken-hamburger/

    Reply

  17. Jennifer Gamboa
    Apr 24, 2013 @ 1:44 pm

    Thank you so much for this! Feeling judged is a horrible feeling. It’s bad enough when it’s just you and even harder when it is your child. This grocery store incident just happened to me, and i was shocked when a very elderly woman told me she, “wouldn’t be offended if i beat him”. Thank you again for reminding me that i am not alone in this.

    Reply

  18. Marsha Van Ham
    May 31, 2013 @ 10:35 pm

    My son sounds a lot like your descriptions. He is now 23, an honor student in college approaching graduation. I’ll share my story with you sometime. But, you should know, the very people, my friends, that criticized my parenting (for various reasons)have each come to me and apologized for their judgment and congratulated me on his intelligence and success. Although I had no doubts, it was always difficult to stand alone while supporting him. At his young age of 2, I realized I’d be very difficult if I didn’t understand the world in which I lived. Because of that, I was able to interpret his tantrums and meltdowns as something I just didn’t understand. How frustrating and infuriating would our lives become if we lived in a world filled with words, sounds, places, and experiences made no sense. I believed it was my job, as his mother, to make his world accessible by understanding it thru his eyes. He is my hero. You sound like a great mother to me – an exceptional mother – following her heart. Keep it up!

    Reply

  19. Angie W.
    May 31, 2013 @ 11:20 pm

    I came to your blog after reading your “I’m a stay-home mom with a nanny” article, and reading all of the nasty, childish comments people were leaving on it. This article would be a perfect rebuttal for all of those immature, judgmental mothers (of all people!) commenting on your article. I am a nanny, and I have worked with children with special needs. People don’t know what it takes to care for an extraordinary child until they do it themselves. I loved your article. I love this blog. I applaud you, for being able to admit what a lot of mothers don’t want to say-it’s NOT easy. Its not all sparkles and cuddles and ice cream cones. There are rough spots, and for some families there are more. So kudos to you. Even if all those other bitter women disagree with your choice, I thank you for thanking your nanny, for recognizing the positive addition she was to your family and for being able to admit that you needed help. Its okay, even if other people don’t think it is-it is best for your family, and that is all that matters :)

    Reply

  20. Virginia
    Aug 02, 2013 @ 9:45 pm

    I stumbled across your blog via another article on the Huffington Post. I have been both mothers and I am learning to be more the mother I want to interact with rather than the one that quickly judges. Your sons are very blessed to have you as their mother.

    Reply

  21. Lesley
    Sep 29, 2013 @ 12:16 pm

    I am a brand new parent and I have to admit …. I used to judge. Never again!

    Reply

  22. Laurel
    Feb 20, 2014 @ 10:07 am

    Thank you for this!!! Such a good reminder to help each other and overall be KIND! I have a 19 month old VERY ACTIVE girl and I used to be so afraid of taking her anywhere. Slowly, I’m getting the hang of it (bring snacks, stickers and talk or sing songs) and this article made me even more confident. Thank you again and your little guy is just adorable!
    -laurel

    Reply

  23. Nancy Pannikkat
    Feb 20, 2014 @ 2:25 pm

    Thank You so much for this article!! I am parenting an “almost teen” and am experiencing a whole new area of judging…by women who are “supposed” to be my friends. It has been sad, irritating, and enlightening all at the same time. At the end of the day, I realize all I can do is my best and I do anticipate that someday soon those moms will be in the exact same position as me…my hope is that I can offer them that grace and help you speak of :) God Bless You!!

    Reply

  24. Jennifer
    Feb 21, 2014 @ 2:02 pm

    I am so glad I read this blog. I can’t count how many times I have wanted to crawl under a rock because of my 4 year old actions. I wish everyone subscribed to your theory.

    Reply

  25. Tricia
    Mar 06, 2014 @ 11:17 am

    I don’t know a single person with children who hasn’t been in these shoes at some point. (I myself have definitely been *that* mom – http://streamoftheconscious.com/the-great-target-tantrum-of-2013/

    There really is a time and a place. But sometimes a quick errand needs to be run, and when the meltdown begins it doesn’t make sense to drop and run. (Like in Target when I’ve already sanitized the cart.)

    God bless the woman who walked by me in a Michaels store as I was trying to calm two twin tantruming toddlers (I couldn’t otherwise get them out of the store alone until the flopping stopped). She simply winked and said, “Mine are 12 now. The tantrums just get different. But you’ll survive.”

    Reply

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