Last weekend, I had a whole discussion on facebook with a number of friends about people being judgemental and nasty to moms. (Mostly by other moms online, but in public as well.) I wrote my weekly newspaper column about it and quoted several friends from the Facebook discussion. We had chatted about all our own perceived 'failures' as a mother, what people say about us, how we all are doing the best we can and need to be able to parent our kids without worrying about anyone else's opinions. I believed every word of what I said about how rude, mean & catty moms can be to one another. The ultimate "end" to the discussion was the decision among all of us to be kinder and extend grace to other moms, to be careful about being quick to judge and remember how we all feel when others look down their noses at us for whatever they perceive as bad mothering.
And then today, I got a reminder of the whole thing. Only this time, *I* was the judgey mom. And it took several hours before it hit me square between the eyes. Here's what happened.
This afternoon, my daughter had a counseling appointment. While waiting in the small waiting room, a mom and her two young children came in. There is a small table with 2 little chairs, one of those wire frames with beads on the wires and a couple of old children's books & magazines. (In other words there is hardly anything for a kid to do while they wait.) The little boy, probably about 7 yr old, walked in, spotted the wire/bead toy and asked the mom if he could play. She growled "NO!" at him. That's when I looked up. I hadn't really paid much attention when they came in, but upon hearing her growl at him, I noticed several things. Mom's pants said "Wild Love" down the side and were paired with a too small tank top that was splattered with paint as if she'd just stepped down from the ladder where she was painting the bathroom. Little boy was wearing a sweatshirt & jeans. Little girl (about 5 yr old) was wearing a spaghetti-strapped sundress. (It was in the upper 80s outside today.) Mom checked him in at the window, then walked over & plopped down in a chair with her phone & started playing on it, taking selfies, watching videos, etc. And that's where she remained for the rest of her time in the waiting room. She never looked up. Not when her son was HURDLING chairs (I'm not kidding), not when he was using her lanyard and keys like a whip and swinging at his sister with them, not when he broke one of the small chairs, not when he said some mean things to his sister, not when little girl told the boy she'd slap him if he sat in the red chair. (of course he immediately went & sat in it and she walked over to slap him, but he slapped back. Mom shouted "Stop hitting." from across the room & never looked up.)
After brother was called back to talk to his counselor, the little girl, mom & I were the only ones left in the waiting room. (Sarah had also been called back.) In an effort to NOT talk to the mom and girl, I was playing a game on my phone. Mom of course had been on her phone the whole time. The little girl was in the floor, talking to herself & playing with the wire/bead frame. She got bored, looked up and eyed her mom, then me, and asked "Why is it so quiet in here?" I responded that her mom and I are phone addicts. The mom giggled a bit, but never looked up. So I put my phone down and talked to the little girl. Her mom had earlier eyed my shirt & asked if I lived in the town mentioned on my shirt (I do) so I asked the little girl if that's where she lives, and which school she goes to. She briefly talked to me, then said "I don't want to tell you that." so I affirmed that it was a smart choice because I'm a stranger and she probably shouldn't tell me any information. So instead of talking to me, she began running laps around the waiting room. (I'm totally serious. Laps. Like, dozens & dozens of laps.) Mom didn't look up. I was watching the little girl and thinking how she was just acting like a little kid and no one else was in the room and she wasn't really bothering me. The only thing that bothered me was that mom didn't seem to care, wasn't talking to her and just generally wasn't paying attention. I guess in my head, if she were my little girl I would've stopped her from running & gotten her engaged in one of the books, or I'd sit on the floor & play with the wire/bead thing with her or get her to do something on my phone, pull out some paper and a pen from my purse. Anything but running laps around the room & potentially bugging others. Then little girl began saying "Hi" every time she passed me and her mom as she made her laps. Mom still never looked up at her so I started making funny faces as she approached me on her rounds and tried to beat her at saying "HI" in a funny voice. She began giggling and clearly enjoying the attention. She then added a tap to my knee and to her mom's knee as she passed us each time.... then it became a pat to both of my knees, a pat to both of mom's knees and the HI as she passed us each time. She was running off some energy, getting a little adult attention (even if not from her mom) and having fun being a kid. Had we been in a different environment (say....church, a funeral, a waiting room with a bunch of elderly people...) it would've been horribly inappropriate but she didn't really bother me.
After about a 45 min visit with his counselor, brother showed back up at the door with his counselor. Mom heard the door open & looked up, announced to the little girl to put her shoes back on (yes, she took off her shoes at some point in all this) and fussed at the boy who walked in & immediately said or did something (I can't remember what) to bug his sister. After getting little girl's shoes on, they got up to leave and then mom spotted the counselor, still standing at the door waiting on her. She looked at the counselor & said "WHAT?" in a pretty harsh tone. Then added "Do you want to talk to me?" The counselor kindly nodded yes & gestured for them to all come into the hallway (outside the waiting room, so out of earshot to me.)
As they left, I sighed with relief and was giggling to myself about how I wouldn't have to worry about losing my "Mother of the Year" title to that woman! I mean, I have bad days now and then. My kids probably heard their share of harshly spoken words when they were younger. But on my bad days, at least I do better than THAT. I came home & relayed the story to Larry later tonight. He laughed along with me and we sort of had a high five/yay for being good parents moment.
And then it hit me between the eyes.
Yes, the kids were pretty awfully behaved. Yes, they argued and fought when they were both in the room and mom should've intervened. Yes, the little girl was talking pretty openly with a stranger and running around the room like a crazy person, swatting the knees of a stranger. Nothing about the circumstances change. Mom should have done something differently. Mom should've put her phone down & paid attention to the children. I'm not saying any of that was "okay" in the least. So please don't read into this that I'm saying "I understand their poor behavior & mom's disconnected style."
But my response and my judgemental, catty attitude is something I can control. I learned from a wise lady years ago that in all sorts of relationships we can't control the behavior of the other person but we can control our response. And I responded wrong. The truth is, I don't know that mom's circumstances. I don't know if these were foster kids who came to her with huge issues to tackle or biological ones with special needs or delays. I don't know if she struggles with substance abuse or alcohol. I don't know if she grew up in a horrible home and has never really learned good parenting skills. I don't know if she was recently released from prison and has never had a relationship with the kids and today's behavior was a drastic improvement over what it was a month ago. I don't know if she was sick, in pain or battling her own demons. I don't know if she's mentally ill or was abused moments before leaving home today. I don't know if she had another child who died recently and she was not really equipped to handle the being out in public alone with the kids just yet. Or maybe her spouse died yesterday and she was tied to her phone watching old videos of him, reading things he wrote to her. I don't know her socioeconomic situation or if she's homeless.
There are just too many factors involved for me to make a judgement of her. I don't know whether she gets the Mother of the Year Award or not. But I do know that I am certainly not a perfect mother myself. I've had my share of horrible days. I've done my share of screwing up and probably looking about as equally disengaged with my kids in public places a few times. I have made horrible parenting errors that I looked back on later & thanked God for protection and provision. And maybe that was the case with this mom today.
So before I decide that she was such a terrible mom and her kids were horribly behaved, maybe I should consider that she was in a good place to deal with those things--- a counselor's office! Maybe I should consider that she's trying to get help. Perhaps today was her son's appointment and hers is tomorrow.
Whatever the case may be, I hope she will be willing to share the podium at the Mother of the Year Awards ceremony. It seems like we might be receiving our awards on the same day.
Grace, y'all. Give it freely. You just don't know what's happening with other people.
2 years ago