Her disapproving look was hard to miss. Her gesture made it clear she was talking about my child. Even the noise of a busy restaurant couldn’t drown out her words, “THIS is what I’m talking about.”
The stranger was talking about my sweet one-year-old smiling and laughing at the Elmo app on my smartphone. I was stunned. I’m not surprised to face mom shaming online. Sadly, I’ve come to expect it. But face-to-face mom shaming was a first for me. Weeks later it still stings to think about that moment. I suspect many of you have felt the bite of mean and unsolicited remarks about your children and about your parenting. If it wasn’t words, maybe you felt the eyes burning in the back of your head as your little one threw a tantrum in the grocery store. I am fortunate enough to have the support of my husband, family, friends and the Knoxville Moms Blog team.
They all talked me off the ledge, but that doesn’t stop me from thinking about what I could have done in that moment.
When I woke up the day after my face-to-face mom shaming I kept thinking, “I should have said something to that lady!” I formed in my mind the perfect sentences delivered with class to make her rethink those hurtful remarks. I would have told her about the special guest eating dinner with us that night who was visiting from St. Louis. He’s married to one of my dearest friends I’ve known since fifth grade. (That’s saying a lot when you’re nearly 40.) I would have told the woman the last time we had a meal with these special family friends my three-year-old spent the entire brunch hiding under the table.
This time I was determined to have a more civilized affair.
I loaded down my diaper bag with all kinds of tricks to keep the kids entertained. I had just short of a circus hiding in there. My husband had to work so I was a little anxious about not having backup. I would have told that lady the food at the popular Market Square restaurant was taking a really long time and we had already burned through all my surprises. That’s why my last resorts, the smart phone and the tablet, came out. I also would have pointed out that my children never once threw a tantrum, threw food or wailed. (It’s safe to say we’ve all been in public with our children when one or all three of those things are happening simultaneously.) In fact, my one-year-old and three-year-old were very well behaved and never once disturbed the other diners. My husband made me snap out of my comeback fantasy: “If you said something to her you would have been even more upset.” Touché. He’s so right. The chances of changing that lady’s mind were probably zero.
It turns out I may have been a thick-skinned news producer for nearly 15 years, but when it comes to someone criticizing my parenting skills and my children I’m as thin skinned as it gets.
Some of you are probably horrified I would even consider handing a smart phone and tablet to young children. But my face-to-face mom shaming experience isn’t about my stance on technology and child rearing. I have a group of friends with children of varying ages. We recently talked about that very topic. While we agreed on many things, it’s probably not surprising to learn we all had slightly different views too. That doesn’t make any of us bad parents. Or give us permission to judge others for making different choices for their children and families.
Our conversation kept coming back to one word: grace. Give each other grace because we don’t know what it’s like to walk in each other’s shoes. Give grace to ourselves because parenting is the hardest job we’ll ever have and one we don’t take lightly. That also means I should give grace to the lady who made the rude comment at the restaurant even though I really, really, REALLY don’t want to. I swear I’m going to try.
With all that in mind, I hope I’m never face-to-face with mom shaming again. I have the same wish for all of you. If you find yourself in that spot, I hope you can find those who can lift you up and honestly tell you, “Yes, you are a good mother!” We’re all doing the best we can.