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Devon Corneal Headshot

Attack of the Mean Mommy

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There has been a lot of talk recently about the need for moms to support one another -- to stop judging and start recognizing that we're all in this together. I've seen eloquent columns pleading for each of us to show more understanding, accept each other's choices and learn to co-exist in peaceful harmony. I'd like to go on the record as saying this is an excellent idea. I want to be a part of this new women's club -- conservative and liberal, stay at home and working, moms of singles and Michelle Duggar -- all united by the bonds of motherhood.

Just one question, and believe me when I say I do not want to be a bother, but I have a request. May I exclude the Mean Mommies from our sisterhood? I'd really like to partake of this brave new world of tolerance and love, but can't join a club that includes women who seem to enjoy putting the rest of us down.

There's always room for healthy debate. I can handle a little constructive criticism about my choices. But Mean Mommies don't play by the rules -- these mothers aren't interested in building community.

Nope, Mean Mommies raise an eyebrow at your choice to breastfeed longer than they think it necessary or your decision not to breastfeed at all. They never admit that their kids smack their siblings or pull the dog's tail and are quick to let the rest of us know when our children have Crossed The Line. Their polite questions about why your child isn't in soccer camp, doesn't attend ballet or piano lessons or can't yet speak in full sentences sometimes come across as helpful, but are meant to convey disapproval -- and NOT sisterhood.

I'm not faked out by these tactics, Mean Mommies.

You aren't asking out of curiosity. You're asking to make me doubt myself. And, to cement your know-it-allship over me. You want me to know that my decisions are wrong -- likely to throw my kid off track and possibly undermine the very fabric of a civil society. You are trying to intimidate the earnest, well-intentioned Novice Moms of the world like me.

I used to think you were some kind of suburban myth -- the parenting equivalent of the Loch Ness monster. Now I know better.

A couple of years ago a particularly hardcore Mean Mommy targeted my son and his babysitter at a music class. When he wasn't shaking his maracas, my Little Dude pushed Mean Mommy's daughter. I could make excuses, but she had a right to be upset that Little Dude couldn't keep his hands to himself. I would have been completely fine with her talking this through with my Awesome Sitter, or even calling me to have a candid conversation about her concerns. I would have been appropriately embarrassed and apologetic. "Sorry! Little Dude's been a bad boy and your daughter is lovely! This will never happen again!"

But Mean Mommy walked up to Little Dude (who was two), called him a bully and erupted at Awesome Sitter. Awesome Sitter left quickly, unwilling to cause a scene, but when I got home from work that night, she was still shaken. I swallowed my anger and remembered that this was the last class of the session. All would be well.

I was wrong.

A few weeks later Mean Mommy showed up at the library for story time. Little Dude and Awesome Sitter were there too, although this time, Little Dude kept his hands to himself. That didn't stop Mean Mommy from going to each adult in the room to tell them how "dangerous" Little Dude was and how important it was that they keep their children away from him.

Awesome Sitter then did something ... awesome. She stood up for herself and Little Dude. She refused to be intimidated a second time. The accounts I got later of the scene that ensued involved other strident babysitters, library staff as referees, and Mean Mommy being asked to leave.

After a brief summit with my Wise Husband (feel free to picture me freaking out and contemplating buying a voodoo doll), we decided that this sort of thing shouldn't happen again, and I arranged to go to story time the next week. I was prepared. Lacking actual armor, I wore my most comfortable jeans (the ones that would let me kick her in the shins if necessary, and that wouldn't give me muffin-top) and my favorite flip-flops. (I considered getting a t-shirt that said "Back off Bitch" but I thought it was overkill for the children's section.) I planned on using a lot of bad words I don't let my kids say. I picked out theme music to play in the background (in my head) as I avenged Little Dude.

Alas, because life is not a perfectly scripted movie, Mean Mommy never showed. Which might not be a bad thing, because I came perilously close to becoming what I despise. If she had come to the library that day, would I have yelled at her in front of her daughter? In front of my son? Would I have asked to speak to her privately so I could explain my concerns, or would I have let her have it , unable to show her the kindness and tolerance I expected she would show my son?

I really don't know. I'm a Novice Mom.

I do know there are lessons in this about compassion and understanding -- about not rushing to judgment because, given the right circumstances, we're all capable of doing things that we find reprehensible. If I were a better person, I'd embrace Mean Mommies with open arms and an understanding heart. Thing is, I don't want to After two years, my brush with a Mean Mom still feels raw. I'm still upset about it -- not only because it gave my two year old his first taste of bullying, but also because I don't understand the need for hostility and one-upmanship. Parenting is hard enough without people looking over our shoulders, whispering in our ears -- or going after Little Dude. Sometimes, you do have to draw the line.

Now, will anyone second my motion?