Shopping at Pier One has historically been a precarious adventure with our family of four.
On one such occasion, our toddler, strapped securely in his jogging stroller, toppled a pyramid of glass end tables. He applauded and cheered as chunks of glass and metal rippled through the store. Gracefully, no one was injured and we were kindly excused from the bill.
That time, I left feeling a little sheepish. This time, however, I left scathed.
We had just made it into the store and I was treating my six year old to a monotone round of “stop it” as he happily and repeatedly jabbed me in the back with a straw. Not a soft, bendy straw either. No, a wide, hard Boba Tea straw. My chorus changed into a rapid succession of “don’t touch, don’t touch” when he went to admire an assortment of stacked dishes—with his hands.
And then it happened. An older woman, standing only a few feet away, stopped and scolded me: “Do you hear yourself? You should enjoy your children, not berate them. All I’ve heard is you yelling at him.”
Bomb. Detonated. In my mom-face.
I should have taken a deep breath, or clenched my lips. The adult part of me knows that we were dealing with her baggage as much as her perception of what was happening. I should have nodded and walked away. But I was tired.
It was the third time that day that a stranger judged and commented on my parenting techniques. The first two took place at the public library that morning when my toddler was having big feelings and taking them out on the carpet. One woman laughed and said, “You’ve got a rebel there and it looks like he’s got your number.” Another kind gentleman just stood there watching, snickering and shaking his head. As far as I could recall, they did not purchase tickets to our show.
That’s the thing—so much of good parenting takes place in crowded public spaces. I’ve tried to convince myself that is why people feel it’s okay to interject, laugh, critique and saddle up for a binge-session of our family reality show. But it’s not ok. It’s harmful.
We are in a 24 hour cycle of “I can do it better,” watching peoples’ lives and headlines play out for our sharp judgment and entertainment. We are so used to scrolling through a list of what people want us to read and see that we begin to participate with our public lives in much the same way—with a space for comments and awaiting the oh-so-validating thumbs up.
The woman at Pier One sure thought she had me pegged. She saw five seconds of our lives and assumed she had the gem of wisdom to turn it all around, encourage me to be joy-filled and find the happy in each experience from this moment forth.
Trust me, I do. All day and night long. I love when they just wake up and their hair still smells like dreams. I love teaching them new things, going to movies, reading books by the fireplace, laughing at their witticisms, exploring their imaginary worlds—the list is utterly endless. But parenting is the full human experience, and I do not know a lot of mothers who authentically enjoy shirts full of vomit, sleeplessness, poo-crayon drawings on the bathroom walls, full-fueled tantrums, etc. Even if we had a parade of uppers marching through our veins—it wouldn’t be all giggles and wiggles.
But we suffer through those moments out of love. And sure, we don’t always do it right the first time, or with a Barbie-esq smile plastered on our faces, because this gig is rough. It’s ugly and demanding. It’s an episode of “Naked and Afraid” every night, in your own home (and sometimes at Pier One). So, please—don’t ask me to enjoy all of it. That’s not healthy, or real.
And I don’t want my memories of parenting to be scripted, robbed of authenticity. It’s a minefield and there is no benefit to pretending that it is all unicorns and filtered photographs, or a series of glowing status updates. Participation in that kind of modern-day glorification is a form bullying and creates shame.
Moms, it’s time to be real. And by real, I mean proud.
We are all in this together. Hopefully, by now we know that there is no umbrella way of parenting—each child is different and requires different approaches. The only sane way to parent is attuning your skill set to the individual needs of that particular child. But there will be blunders, and missteps. There will be terrible days shuffled into the bliss.
So, let’s agree to not throw grenades when mom is already being attacked by her tiny humans. Let’s agree to stop meeting each other with judgment. Instead, let’s create the world’s largest support group.
Let’s banish the shame.
“Chaos should be regarded as extremely good news.” ~ Chögyam Trungpa
Author: Megan Merchant
Editor: Alli Sarazen
Photo: Amy Schumer/Instagram