The distracted mother tapping away at her iPhone screen while her son calls for her from the swingset. The family of five whose children howl and throw food like wild animals in the quiet restaurant. The harried young mother who loses it in Walmart at the slightest provocation from her brood of children. We’ve all seen them and we’ve all judged them.
Pay attention to your son! You’re missing out on all these great moments with your child while you’re buried in your newsfeed.
For the love of God, control your kids. Everyone else in this restaurant is paying for their meal and would like to eat it in peace without the likelihood of a buttered roll striking them in the back of the head.
Your kids are just being kids. You need to learn some patience. I don’t know why some people bother having children if they can’t even be nice to them.
At one time or another, I have witnessed all of these familiar glimpses into another mom’s life and have, in turn, formulated similarly judgmental responses in my head. I was particularly critical of other moms before I became one myself; if asked, I could come up with a mile-long list of things I’d never do once I had my own kids.
But here’s the thing I learned in time: eventually we all become that mom or that family or have those kids that other people believe are worthy of judgment. We spend all day being tolerant and forgiving despite how many times our patience is tested. And then, when we finally lose it after the billionth incident, everyone in Target is witness to our meltdown and we are pegged as the monster mom who probably spends all day yelling at her poor, innocent children.
When we see another mom in a situation like this, we have no idea of her backstory. Maybe that mom is buried in her phone Googling ways to help her autistic son whose school has all but given up on him. Maybe this is the first time that family ventured out to eat all together because they were so worried about the judgment from other patrons in this exact scenario. Maybe that mom snapped because it’s her 386th day home alone with three kids while her husband is deployed. Most of the time, we only see a brief moment; a single snapshot of another mom’s life rather than what happens in all the moments before and after the snapshot is taken. We jump to judgment of the immediate circumstance, but know nothing of the rest of her life outside that moment.
The solution is so simple and yet so hard to put into practice at times: give that other mom the benefit of the doubt. Show her compassion instead of judgment. Remind her that we’ve all been there. Your kindness might just be the one thing that saves her day.
Some days, motherhood feels all but impossible to me. There’s no big, horrific circumstance I can point to that makes it feel that way—my kids are healthy, we have enough money in the bank to afford groceries, we’ve got a good support system that helps us when we need it—but sometimes the little things pile up until they seem insurmountable on a particularly hard day. The epic tantrum or the act of disobedience that seemed totally innocuous the day before suddenly becomes the last misplaced card that sends the whole shaky house tumbling down.
But, sadly enough, the thing that really has the power to make or break my day? A total stranger’s words or actions regarding my parenting. On the days when my toes are dangling over the ledge of insanity and someone scolds me because my son isn’t wearing a coat? I feel like they’ve just given me a big shove right over the edge. But when my son is lying on the ground in the middle of the post office parking lot while I yell at him to get up rightthisminute and then a stranger offers to help carry the baby’s infant seat to the car? Well that person is the force that pulls me back, dusts me off and reminds me that it’s nothing more than a bad moment. (By the way, if you were that person: THANK YOU.)
There is nothing to lose from being kind to someone else. Of course, it might go unappreciated or unacknowledged, but then we’re basically in the same position as we were before we offered up our kindness. More often than not, though, we’re in the position to hugely influence the trajectory of someone’s whole day. There’s also good chance that, someday, we will see that compassion paid back to us when we’re the ones in the middle of the parking lot with the screaming kid lying on the ground. And, I speak from experience when I say what a beautiful thing that turns out to be.