When you are a mother of young children, the grocery store is a courtroom and you're the one being judged. Is your child sitting in the cart with a cherubic smile, or wailing and flailing? Do you give in to a cranky toddler's demands for the chunks of colored sugar being passed off as cereal? Or do you stick to your plan of buying organic, non-GMO? If you give the wrong answer to any of these questions, you're likely to get glowered at or even reprimanded by strangers. Because in the grocery store, everybody is a judge.
Let's be honest -- will there be one night where you scrap your plans for a chicken vegetable stir-fry and order pizza because you're working late? Mellissa, the woman you met at your daughter's dance recital, told you with a satisfied smile that she freezes healthy meals so that her family never has to resort to fast food. You dislike Mellissa and want to be her, all at the same time.
And, hey, why are you working outside the home? You've got a 2-year-old. But if you are working, you should be doing everything in your power to play with the big boys and power through that glass ceiling. Your mentor from business school really seemed disappointed when you met for lunch last week and had to admit that you're not a department head yet.
You also mean to, but do not, write handwritten thank-you notes and turn that old sewing machine table into a stand for a vessel sink, like you saw on HGTV.
You get where I'm going here. Mothers get judged, all the time. Because we are judged by conflicting standards, we are always guilty in someone's eyes.
I make judgments about things that concern us. I get to send back my lunch if the burger doesn't arrive medium-rare like I ordered. But I can't peek over to the next table and send your salad back because it looks wilted to me. It is in no way my business.
Of course, it could be my business if I'm paying for your lunch. I would love a world where people did not judge women so frequently and harshly for their parenting. But until that happy day, I think we should at least impose some kind of tax on mommy judgment. If you are invested enough in my children to scrutinize my parenting, then you should be willing to lend a hand.
It would work something like this: You observe that my kids spend way too much time on social media. OK, maybe so. I'll direct them all to put away their phones while they go on an educational trip to a museum -- with you. Don't have time to coordinate your schedule with that of three teenagers? No worries. You can just write a check, which I'll put toward some enrichment activity for them. I won't feel bad taking your money, because I know what an active interest you take in my kids. Otherwise, you never would have spoken up in the first place.
I don't expect tons of judgment tax dollars coming my way. I'm a fortunate person. I can provide a good home for my children, send them to excellent schools and pay for some extras that help them to be happy and healthy. People therefore generally give me the benefit of the doubt.
A judgment-tax could be a real windfall for any low-income mom, however. She is judged more often and with less charity than I will ever be on what she wears, what she buys, the way she speaks to her children -- even on the decision to have a child at all. I have been working with families in poverty for decades, and I have never seen the judgment of strangers do them any good, though they received no shortage of it. I have been struck, however, by how small acts of assistance make an incredible difference for families on the edge. Judgment that isn't married to help does no good and is quite likely to do harm. When I encounter a mom with a cranky kid in the supermarket, I simply say, "I remember what that was like. Hope your day gets better soon."
It costs nothing.