We’ve all had our parenting skills called into question before. Whether we really were being openly judged by someone, or if it was all in our heads, we’ve had our feathers ruffled at one time or another. I’ll be the first to admit that I have judged another mother (or two) for decisions they made/were making that I disagreed with or didn’t understand. I’ll also be the first to admit that I wish I could go back and punch my pre-motherhood self in the face for doing so.
When you judge a woman for her parenting skills, you usually show some level of disgust, confusion, or pity on your face, whether you realize it or not. And you know what? The victim mom can see it. She can feel it. You’ll move on with your day, forgetting all about the mother in the store who opened those sugary fruit gummies before buying them to quiet her kids. You won’t think twice about the mom who let her kid come to school with a face that looked like he just rolled in dirt. The moment you saw a mother spank her thrashing, out of control toddler will be shocking, but then you’ll go back to your own busy life. But the looks you might have shot her way, or heaven forbid, the comments you were bold enough to say, will stick with her for longer than you realize. Because what happens to a mother who is openly judged?
She internalizes it. It feels personal.
She remembers it. Even if she’s able to shrug it off at the moment, it will creep back into her thoughts at some point—probably when the tantrum, spank, or mess happens again.
She doubts herself and her ability to parent effectively, especially if she’s a first time mom.
She cries. The tears might be out of sadness for what happened, out of anger for the words you threw at her, or they might fall because she is just so. dang. tired.
She becomes hyper-aware of her surroundings and feels self conscious of what others might think of her. So in other words, her confidence cracks a little.
She toughens up. While it is good to have a thick skin, it becomes dangerous when she thinks she has to do it all herself. She won’t ask for help, even though she really needs it.
She becomes defensive, feeling the need to justify everything and protect her heart from further unfriendly judgements.
She continues the cycle, judging other mothers in an unconscious effort to make herself feel better about the things she was previously judged for.
I’d love to point out that not every mother cares as much as I do when I’m judged for my imperfections. Not every mother takes it personally or lets rude comments and better-than-thou glances get her down. But you have no idea how strong your words and actions can be, and you have no way of knowing which mothers are the “you-can’t-break-me” types, and which ones were already breaking before you stepped in.
So this is a loving reminder to us all, including (and especially) to myself: Give the benefit of the doubt more, and judge less. If you must stare while a struggling mother deals with a new show of defiance from her teenager, actively force your face into a concerned smile or a knowing head nod. Choose your words wisely and make them supportive or empathetic. Recall the times you wished someone had offered a helping hand instead of unsolicited advice. Realize that this mother already has her own doubts and fears, so there’s no need to add or confirm them. And let the cycle of worry, anger, embarrassment and judgment come to an end, even for just one day.