Something I’m hearing a lot about nowadays is this gross trend of mom-shaming or mom-judging. You know – someone [most often a complete stranger] says something to you about your parenting, obviously convinced they are doing you/your kid/the world a HUGE service, which makes you feel like a garbage person in the process. Most of the time I see it on the internet – but I’ve read countless accounts of this happening in real life, as well. But to be honest, I never spent much energy on it.
Until it happened to me.
Until, out of the clear blue sky, a woman I did not know and who was not involved in any kind of interaction with me or my child, took it upon herself to insert herself/her opinions into our otherwise lovely afternoon.
What she said isn’t really the point of this – but I can assure you, her comment was unwarranted, unkind, and upset me. It also, by extension, upset my daughter; who was out with me for her birthday. As this woman gave me the actual dirtiest look I have ever been given to date by another human being, I kid you not – I stared at her, mouth agape, completely speechless. I’m not one to shy away from a rude person, but she caught me so off guard that I did not say one word back to her before she ducked away in a cloud of her own righteousness. Her interjection did not do what I believe she hoped it would – convince me of the error of my ways, that I’m a terrible mother who needs to turn my life around – because she literally had no idea what she was talking about.
I was speechless because I knew I hadn’t done anything wrong. I didn’t feel convicted of a grave error, because I was confident I hadn’t made one.
Here’s the thing about this: no matter how right I feel about a certain thing a stranger is doing, *if the actual safety of a child is not at risk,* there is no good reason for me to ever stick my nose into their day. Plain and simple. Do you know why that is? Because I don’t know that person. I don’t know that child. I don’t know anything about their whole deal. I don’t know what they’re juggling, or what kind of day they’ve had – and that just barely scratches the surface of what I don’t know. I’m a pretty smart person. I’m an actual professional therapist. But guess what! I am not an expert on the choices of a person I am sitting adjacent to for an hour at a restaurant.
This whole experience got me thinking about how we treat each other, though, and that is the point here.
I have a great friend who I have always joked is the best cheerleader a person could hope to have in their life. We walk through the halls of our office building and she will tell a stranger in the elevator they have a great complexion. If someone wears a cute outfit, she looks at them with awe and tells them what great style they have. We used to greet together at church on Sunday mornings, and once I watched her tell a grown man he had a sensitive soul. She is the actual best. Joy embodied. She is a happy person and she makes everyone around her feel like a million bucks every! single! time! they cross her path.
I’ve tried to take some cues from her over the years, but especially now, knowing firsthand how an unkind word can ruin your day. I’m trying to compliment strangers as the mood strikes, and, as a mom specific activity, commiserate with other moms I run across. I saw an older woman in the airport with rainbow colored hair and I told her I loved it [I did, she was rocking it]. I saw a mom the other day struggling with a toddler, and as I sidled up next to her to grab my items, I made a little joke so she knew she wasn’t alone. At the bus stop, instead of desperately avoiding eye contact, I joke with the moms standing near me about how ready we are for summer.
Guys, it’s not super comfortable talking to strangers. I am not nearly as good at this as my friend is – but I’m telling you, people dig it. I have yet to say something cheery to someone and have them react with anything but cheeriness. It’s just a little switch-flip in your head. Try it once, rip off the band-aid, and from there, it’s a piece of cake.
If I can do it? You, too, can choose to be a cheerleader.
Sharing these moments makes us feel like we’re in this TOGETHER. Kindred. Like we’re all just trying our best. Sharing quick judgments based on a minimal interaction makes us feel like we’re ALONE. About to be sequestered to a new home on garbage island. Like our best isn’t even close to good enough.
So I’m asking you two things: one, should you be overcome with the urge to step into another mom’s (or any human, for that matter) space to give her a piece of your mind? Stop right there. Shut your mouth. If you can’t say something nice, don’t say anything at all. EVEN IF YOU THINK YOU’RE RIGHTER THAN YOU’VE EVER BEEN IN YOUR WHOLE LIFE. The facts of the matter are this: you don’t know this person. You don’t have all the information. You are neither qualified nor equipped to put any shame on them. And best of all?? This is not your job.
Two. Let’s all be cheerleaders. Let’s go out into the world: grocery stores, restaurants, dance studios, schools, workplaces, etc and so on and so forth, and cheer each other on. Throw compliments around like you’ve been doing it all your life. Hold open doors and make eye contact and smile. When you see a mom struggling, offer a shared laugh or a kind I’ve been there, mama. When given the choice between shame and cheerleading, you are given a much bigger choice.