Child Crushed by Kmart Trolley, Parent Eaten Alive by Onlookers. Sound like a horrific news headline? A Horror film script? No it just happened recently to me. Ok I exaggerate a little.
I was reading the other day that mothers feel more judged than ever before. I’m not surprised. And who are the biggest judgeypants? We are. We need to stop crucifying each other for our parenting choices and mistakes. Honestly it takes all kinds- different children need different parenting styles, different families function well with different lifestyles and approaches. We all have different values, ideas and aspirations. We aren't all meant to be like each other. I’m guilty of judging others, I’ll admit that. But I’ve realised that’s about me and my own insecurities, and I’m making an extra effort to not care about whether someone’s choices meet my expectations. Instead, I focus on whether the way I respond to these things meets the expectations I would set for my children. Our children are watching us. And often as adults, we behave really poorly. They are watching those moments when we choose to help others or not; when we respond with kindness and respect towards others instead of judgement or fear. How we treat other adults is how our children will treat their peers.
Imagine this: It's 3:30 on a Friday afternoon. I’m exhausted. I’m in Kmart with my 2 year old. Yes, that’s Stephen King horror material right there, I know. But actually my daughter has been great - she only demanded a stuffed unicorn and four kitchen utensils (No darling you don’t need a garlic mincer) and didn’t even blink when I refused. I’m winning! She helped navigate the self check-out (“Unexpected item in bagging area”... yes lady, that’s my daughter's elbow). I turn my back on her for a moment to pay and there is an almighty crash. My little girl is lying, pinned under a huge shopping trolley, and letting out a blood curdling wail. I'm pretty sure I said "shit". Every face in the place was upon us, and as I struggled to lift the heavy trolley off her I managed to register the looks of pure disgust on the faces of other shoppers. Most of them were mothers, with their kids. One even clearly looked down her nose at me, raised her eyebrows and muttered something to her daughter who did the same. I registered all of this in a few seconds- all whilst my mind was cascading through the possible broken bones and bruises I was about to find. Not one person moved to help me lift the trolley off her or check if she was ok.
I cuddled my daughter, checked she could bend everything (as you do- parent nursing 101 “can you bend it?”) and struggled to return the trolley because I was shaking, trying to hold her, two chopping boards and a bag full of paints and glitter I would later regret buying. One person was still staring and never in my life have a wanted to flip the bird so badly. I felt utterly alone, and judged, in a shop full of fellow mothers. It was an ACCIDENT guys.
What has happened to us? Why has judging become instinct instead of helping? Is it because when we see someone else stuff up/struggling that makes us feel a little better about ourselves as a parent? Is that little ego boost for ourself more important than human compassion? Please, next time you see a fellow mum or dad struggling with something, whether it be little, or big- just help. None of us are perfect, and we need to stop holding each other to ridiculous standards and expectations. And remember learning happens through mistakes. My child has learnt not to climb on the side of a trolley. And I have learnt our society has a problem; one I am determined to change. It’s simple: Let your ego be fed by your own acts of kindness rather than by the opportunity to feel good about yourself each time you witness someone else’s stuff ups. Your children are watching you and developing all of these ideas around how we treat and accept others. Your children look to you for how to feel about something, and about others.
Parenting is hard enough without feeling like a judging panel of ‘better’ parents are watching, ready to send you to eternal damnation in parenting hell. I know that there is also a league of wonderfully compassionate, kind and accepting fellow parents out there. I have also had experiences where others mothers and fathers have gone out of their way to help me, or simply smile in acknowledgement of the struggle. You are my people, and we need to grow this thing - this revolution in the way we treat each other. The sense of connection that comes with those small acts of kindness can make all the difference to a mother or father who is struggling with the heaviness of daily parenting life.
As a foot note, If there is a parenting hell I know it involves recorders, long car trips with hungry children and glitter. All the glitter.
Lisa is an imperfect mum to 2 children, a child psychologist & founder of The Resilience Co.
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