About a month ago, my best friend and I got to escape our kids and have a night away. It was glorious. We stayed at a nice hotel and decided to soak our sore mommy muscles in the hot tub. As we relaxed, relishing that we didn’t have kids hanging all over us or worrying they would drown, I noticed another woman close by. She and her toddler son were the only ones in the pool and since it was pretty late with only one older couple around, it was kind of hard to avoid watching her every now and then. What I witnessed I will hold dear in my heart for years to come, especially while my kids claw their way through the toddler years.
First, let me explain the reason for this girl’s getaway: I’ve been struggling with Postpartum Depression and my poor two year old has gotten the brunt of my biggest PPD side effect—anger. It has been incredibly hard for me to remain patient through the potty training accidents and the tantrums. My sweet husband decided I needed a night away from the kids with my bestie so he booked the hotel a couple cities away. The whole day we were gone, it felt weird to not have my toddler around, but it was a nice weird. The way I felt away from her started to scare me: Does this mean I don’t love her enough if I’m happy to be away from her? Is it bad I don’t care to call home and see how the kids are doing? I was worried that maybe I was falling out of love with my toddler because I was so relieved to be away from everything related to her that made me mad. Then I saw this mother.
One momma to another, I could tell she was feeling tired. But she didn’t show it to her son. She let him jump into her arms over and over, water splashing up her nose each time. She took him around and around the pool for over an hour, tickling and playing with him. His giggles echoed through the indoor poolroom and I couldn’t help but smile as I saw this mother-son bonding moment.
Since I had awkwardly made eye contact with this mom a few times, I wanted to tell her why she kept catching me looking at her. So when she finally started preparing to leave, I went over to her. As I approached, I could see in her eyes that she was feeling apprehensive. Maybe she thought I was coming to tell her they were too loud or shame her for letting him be up so late. But I just wanted to tell her how much that moment they shared helped me (and to apologize if I seemed like a creeper watching them).
I told her why my friend and I were at the hotel and how I had been struggling to love the toddler years. I explained how seeing such a fun, loving moment between a mom and her toddler made me smile and gave me hope. I let her know that she seemed like a fantastic mom and how she’s an example to me to search for the fun moments and grab hold of them. Her whole body language shifted. She smiled humbly, starting to wave off the compliments. But then she started tearing up. She said, “It has been a really hard day, so thank you for telling me that. I really needed to hear it.”
I asked if I could hug her, reassured her she was doing great and that her son was adorable, and then we parted ways. What if I hadn’t followed the feeling that I needed to say something to her? I could have just let her assume I was weird or judge-y, and we’d both move on, eventually forgetting the moment. But instead, I really felt I needed to compliment her. And in this particular instance, we both saw an instant mood boost. I walked away knowing there could be sweet, fun interactions between toddlers and their mothers, and she walked away knowing she was doing great, despite the crappy day she had.
So the next time you observe another mother—whether she’s struggling with a screaming child in the grocery store or she’s laughing, pushing him on the swings at the park—don’t be afraid to say something nice. If you see something great in her, don’t keep it to yourself. Act on that feeling and tell her. 99.9% of the time, you will light up her day, because we all need to be reassured now and then, and if it’s from a total outside source, we tend to believe the compliment more.