I picked her up off the floor, and wiped her teary eyes. The play area in the mall was crowded, and she was overwhelmed, over-stimulated, and tired. I decided to put her in the stroller and walk around for a bit so she could get her much needed morning nap.
I kissed her squishy cheek, then nestled her into the stroller, and she immediately began screaming in protest. Because that’s what babies do when they’re tired.
As I buckled her in, a woman approached me. “Why are you not comforting that baby?” she asked.
I turned with a smile, because I thought she was kidding. She didn’t smile in return.
“Oh,” I replied, a little shocked at the sincerity of her question. “Well, she’s tired so I’m putting her down so she can go to sleep.” Meanwhile Annika screamed her head off beside us.
The woman leaned down and looked closely at her, then turned to me with narrowed eyes. “I am a guardian ad litem,” she said, and the superior tone in her voice immediately sent my blood pressure sky rocketing. “You can’t just lay a baby down when she’s screaming like that. This is abuse!”
I held up my hands and stepped between her and the stroller. “Whoa,” I responded, my voice rising. “I’m pretty sure I know what’s best for my own daughter, and right now what’s best for her is to lay down and take a walk so she can fall asleep.”
“Well at least give the poor child a pacifier or something,” she barked back. And my voice rose higher still.
“Excuse me, but you have NO RIGHT to tell me what’s best for my daughter. She doesn’t take pacifiers. She never has. I know that because I AM HER MOTHER. So don’t you DARE try to tell me what’s best for my child.”
At this point people were beginning to stare, but I didn’t care, because I was concentrating so hard on not screaming a four letter word, or hitting the haughty woman in front of me.
She took a step back and shook her head. “Just comfort your child please,” she said. “I feel sorry for a child who has a mother who cares so little.”
She turned to walk away, and I screeched at her back, “You have no idea what you’re talking about. YOU ARE A STRANGER!”
And then I shook and trembled for thirty minutes before I could calm back down.
It’s been two days since this all went down, and when I think of her words I’m still filled with fury. I don’t for a second believe anything she said. I know I’m a good mom. It would take more than the judgmental words of a clearly out of line stranger to convince me otherwise.
But the fact that she had the audacity to say them in the first place, and that she could make such a devastating claim based on ten seconds of observation, are what send my blood pressure through the roof.
Here’s the thing: I sometimes feel that the mothers of my generation are a little bit hyper-sensitive, especially when it comes to the generally well-meant comments of older moms. We feel pressured when encouraged to “enjoy every minute,” and insulted when asked if we’re going to “try for a girl/boy,” and so on and so forth.
The phrase, “You’ve got your hands full,” is met with snarky replies, because somehow we’ve come to believe that every older woman offering advice is attacking us in some way or another. I’ve long felt that us younger moms need to chill out a little bit and give the older ladies a break.
On the other side of that coin, however, this nanny state in which we live means that we as younger mothers must constantly look over our shoulders. We’re told not to hover, because helicopter parenting is causing issues for the younger generation, yet if we step away for a second, or lengthen the leash we hold on our children too far, we just might get a visit from Child Protective Services.
A single mom is interviewing for a job in the mall food court, her young children sitting at a table away from her on their own. She doesn’t get the job, but she does get arrested for “neglect.”
You read stories almost weekly about parents losing custody of their kids because they let them walk to a local park alone.
When I was a kid, my mom could leave my brother and I in the car for a few minutes if she had to run into the store and grab two items for dinner. If I were to do that today, I could be arrested, so I haul all four children into the store to buy three items, and the baby screams, and people stare and roll their eyes.
Several months ago, I gave my eleven year old a shopping list a mile long, and I sent him through Target to get the needed items while I sat with the other three in the eye doctor’s exam room, and I worried the entire time. I wasn’t afraid anything would happen to him, but I feared someone would come haul me away and charge me with neglect.
Being a mom this day in age is scary.
This week, I was called insensitive and abusive for allowing my child to cry in her stroller. And no matter how off base her comments were, the fact is this woman was a government appointed employee. Had she wanted to exert power, she could have done so.
Older moms, it’s time for you all to step up and help us younger moms out. For the most part, I think that the vast majority of women are supportive and caring and loving. I do think that we have each other’s backs. But…
It’s time to form an alliance, the old and the young, and agree that when a young mother is out in public with a screaming baby, or toddler, or big kid for that matter, we’ll offer a look of solidarity, a pat on the back, and maybe a few words of encouragement (“It’s hard, isn’t it? You’re doing a good job.).
If we see children sitting alone in a food court, let’s ask them where their mom is. If she’s interviewing for a job, or buying their lunch, or taking an older sibling to the bathroom, we can sit close by and keep an eye on the kids. Maybe we could find their mother and offer to help out so that she can relax, and maybe even land the job.
What if we quit telling on each other, and instead we started looking out for one another – like they did in the generations before us? What if we quit immediately assuming the worst, and believed instead that these young moms actually do have their children’s best interests at heart? What if instead of believing we know what’s best for a perfect stranger’s child, we offered congratulations to the mother for working so hard?
And younger moms, what if we quit taking offense to every innocent question asked, and we thanked the older women for stopping to admire our children? What if we appreciated the wisdom they have to offer, instead of accusing them of being judgmental? (Unless, of course, they are being judgmental. *wink*)
What if we all thought of ourselves as part of the same team, and we worked together instead of individually?