I recently took my three youngest kids for lunch at the food court in the local mall. My toddler had a meltdown and was doing that high-pitched screaming that makes your ears bleed. Yes, I think you know the sound.
As I was trying to manage a stressful moment, an elderly woman looked over at us and shook her head in disgust. I had to take her to task on it because I have a low tolerance for passive aggressive communication. I wanted her to say the words: that my kid was out of control and I was a terrible parent. I wanted her to stand by her dirty looks.
When I asked her why she was shaking her head, she stood by them all right, informing me that I should do a better job of "training" him. I almost had a temper tantrum myself at that point.
I suggested that if she found it too noisy, perhaps a café rather than a mall food court might better suit. Another suggestion I offered was that she come to my house and reform my entire collection of unruly children, teaching me a few parenting lessons along the way. Finally, I suggested that she consider lending a hand to an exhausted mother struggling with small children.
Mrs. McJudgerson offered no help -- only criticism.
When the food court spectacle came to an end, another elderly woman made her way over to us to reach out with support and understanding. She reminded me that people like that are not worth a second thought. Her kindness turned my anger into sadness; my lip began to quiver, then came a quiet tear, then another.
Why was I so sad? At first, I was confused myself.
I was sad because the woman I encountered is the reason so many mamas are stressed out with worry that they're doing a bad job as parents. She is the reason mamas feel too overwhelmed to take their small children on outings. She is the reason mamas get trapped at home, socially isolated -- they're afraid of going out and being judged.
I was also upset because I'm worried about this toddler of mine. His tantrums are extreme because his language is so delayed. I'm scared of having to travel down the autism road for a second time -- a trip I really didn't want to have to take -- and it felt like this woman in the food court was rubbing my face in it.
I took comfort in a couple of things. First, that karma has a way of repaying debt. Second, I am eternally grateful that she is not my mother-in-law. We mamas have to stick together and commit to not letting the Mrs. Judgy McJudgersons' voices silence ours. We will continue to take our kids on outings and refuse to listen to any parenting poison.
Most of all, when we see each other struggling, we will offer help and understanding -- without judgment.