If you follow my blog, then you’ve heard me talk before about how I cannot abide judgemental parents. And in almost every circumstance, this is the case. However, I found myself observing a situation recently, and I did judge other parents. Just one actually – a mother; and I found her wanting. And I stand by that to the extent that I’m now writing about it.
I was in a supermarket café, awaiting a phone repair (another story in itself). As I stood queuing to buy a drink (okay, yes, a sweet treat too), I found myself cringing at the spectacle unfolding in front of me…
The Promise of ‘The Anticipated Reprieve’
My baby was sleeping sweetly and soundly in her pushchair (mercifully – for my regular readers will know what a rarity this is!). And I was very much looking forward to ten minutes to myself. I don’t think that quite conveys the depth of my anticipation, so allow me to elaborate: I literally never get to sit down with a hot drink during the day. My little Devil-Pixie does not nap.
I swear she seems to think that I’m scheming with the Sleep-Gods to diminish her wake-time – which for a precocious and inquisitive toddler is the cruelest of conspiracies.
Alas, she does not understand that I simply have washing to fold, toys to tidy, a business to run, breath to catch, etcetera.
So there I was, staring at my baby’s angelic face, and her little chest rising and falling rhythmically, willing the loooong queue to move along quickly. Already I was dreading the moment her slightly parted lips would widen to a scream as she woke and realised I had dared to lay her in her pushchair instead of cuddling her limp body.
In front of me was a lady with a toddler in a trolley. The little boy (I’d place him at about two years old), was chattering. He was barely audible over the clinking of crockery and the low hum of murmuring around us. I was watching the toddler and smiling at him – when once I would have been quite oblivious/unmoved, I occasionally surprise myself by finding well-behaved children quite adorable these days.
Suffice to say, he was behaving as a typical, well-behaved toddler ought: his babble was relentless. It was cute.
Imagine my horror when the (supposed) mother shrieked at the little lad to ‘shut up’. It was not just once, either. She bawled him out until his sweet face registered embarrassment and he was silenced; and then she shouted at him some more.
His offence? Incessant talking.
My disgust felt tangible, and I was quite surprised that the woman did not feel my seething glare boring into her back. Alas, she was too busy berating her poor boy to take any notice of the likes of me.
Incredibly, my Pixie slept on undisturbed (yes, through a need to distinguish my feelings for my daughter with that lady’s towards her toddler, I’ve dropped ‘Devil’). I can’t quite believe I nearly had the nerve, but it was on the edge of my lips to blurt out that she was going to wake my baby with her aggression – and that her little boy was not in any way causing a disturbance. Alas, I am British after all, and worse – English. But I do wish I had been brazen enough to vocalise what I believe everybody around me was also thinking.
How I would have loved to point out to her the irony of her attempts to humiliate her young son, when the only person’s behaviour meriting embarrassment was her own.
My Revulsion Exposed
When we sat down, the unpleasant woman continued to berate her child across the café. Eventually she did wake my little girl, at roughly the same time that she reduced her own poor infant to tears by screeching in his face that if he couldn’t shut up then they would have to leave. As I turned to see to my now fussing daughter, I noted that the mother meted out her threat, and I eyed her beadily as she gathered their things.
But I was not aware of myself also mouthing a few choice words – until a lady opposite us clocked me. For a split second I was mortified, but then she gave me a wry smile. She clearly agreed with me.
I recall noticing the difference between the two women’s dress, and the impression it had on me: one relatively smart, not too dissimilar to myself; the other in a scruffy tracksuit.
When I am privy to this type of interaction between mother and baby, it makes my blood boil.
To allow women with no maternal sensibilities to become mothers, life is cruel. But, with a myriad of obstacles beyond their control, to prevent others who are desperate to love a child in the way innocent children deserve – life is not only cruel, it is callous too.
Parenting: Tedium; Exhaustion; Fatigue; Patience
Is it possible that this woman was simply having a bad day? That her limits had been tested to breaking point? I don’t believe so. My Pixie tests me every day, and the worst I can bring myself to do to her is perhaps turn my back while I take a breath to centre myself. When she keeps me awake through the night and I am exhausted to the point of frustrated tears, still I hold her and kiss her – I comfort her. Because that’s what you do when you love an infant. Even when they are being demanding.
Essentially, I’m talking about patience. By necessity, we parents have it in spades. Like a natural spring, it never runs dry. Though in the same way that the weather can affect the level of water, so circumstances can affect the capacity for our patience at any given time.
So Yes – I DO Judge Other Parents
But allow me to qualify: I don’t judge them based upon their child’s behaviour. I judge them on their own. And I don’t judge parenting methods – unless they tip over into neglect or abuse.
I won’t judge the way in which a peer disciplines the toddler having a meltdown in the supermarket, even if I would have done things differently. (Been there, it’s embarrassing. Paranoia is all-pervading, until you don’t simply feel all eyes on you – it becomes your humiliating reality. And it’s very difficult to distinguish between those quietly giving you a pat on the back for your parenting skills, and those silently disapproving). Kids show you up, it’s what they do sometimes, and how you deal with it is not the yardstick by which parenting should be measured. We’ll all try different things to see what works best and we may vary our techniques depending on a thousand other nuances.
I will judge you on how you interact with your little one when they are being normal, healthy and happy. Because for me, that is absolutely the benchmark for the love, warmth and tenderness a child deserves.
These are the occasions we parents must embrace, for it is these that make all the difficult in-between bits (the majority of life with a toddler!) worthwhile. If you’re not even able to appreciate those precious, magical moments, then yes, I shall judge you and I shall judge you harshly.
In terms of having their needs met, every child deserves a loving, nurturing mother as an absolute minimum. It is the most basic human right. And women who can’t deliver such a primitive and, yes – exhausting – level of care, should not deliver babies. We are fortunate enough in this day and age to have that choice.
It’s not a choice for our children to have a mummy; it’s a necessity.
I should add that if PND is to blame, then of course help should be sought. However, while it may be that an illness is the cause, it is never acceptable to abuse a child.
A Second Helping of Pie…
I learned something else from the experience I describe above, which personally fills me with contrition. Going back to the difference in the way the two women were dressed, I deliberately neglected to mention a critical point: the lady wearing the tracksuit was the one who agreed with me. And the reason it left an impression on me is because I was surprised. And then humbled.
So yes, I sometimes judge. But I’m also happy to admit when I am wrong. If we are going to judge, we should do so on merit.
In which case, are we simply acknowledging a difference in values to another person? Answers on a postcard! By which, of course, I mean in the comments below…
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