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, 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.
But perhaps not for the reason you’d first think – please read to the end!
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 Half Hour’s Peace
My baby was – mercifully – sleeping sweetly and soundly in her pushchair (regular readers will know what a rarity this is!). And I was very much looking forward to a cup of coffee in peace. I don’t think that quite conveys the depth of my anticipation – my little Devil-Pixie does not nap: I literally never get to sit down with a hot drink during the day.
I swear she seems to think that I’m scheming with the Sleep-Gods to diminish her wake-time – which for an inquisitive toddler is, naturally, the cruelest of conspiracies.
But, she does not understand that I 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, 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.
His babble was relentless but cute; he was behaving in the way you’d expect of a typical, well-behaved toddler.
Imagine my horror when the 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 some more.
His offence? Incessant talking.
My disgust felt tangible, and I was quite surprised that the woman did not feel my glare boring into her back. Of course, she was too busy berating her poor boy to take any notice of me.
Incredibly, my daughter slept on undisturbed. 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’m British. But I wish I’d been brazen enough to vocalise what I believe everybody around me was also thinking.
The irony of her attempts to humiliate her young son, when the only person’s behaviour meriting embarrassment was her own, was not lost on me.
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 boy to tears by screeching in his face that if he couldn’t shut up then they’d have to leave. As I turned to see to my now fussing daughter, I noted that the mother meted out her threat, and I glared her way 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.
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? Perhaps… And yet – our children test us every day; for most of us on a good day, the worst we can bring ourselves to do is perhaps turn our backs to take a breath, or leave the room if necessary.
When Pixie 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.
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, circumstances can affect our capacity for patience – as they get older, it gets harder, of course.
That’s why I live for the days when they’re in a good mood and not being whiny and irritable. Those days are magical. Those days are the ones when my patience is boundless. Those days are the reason I chose to have a family.
Of course I’m only too aware that patience can wear thin. It’s why I’m a huge advocate of self-care. Because nurturing our children should always be the priority, regardless of how difficult they may (or may not!) be behaving.
So Yes – I Have Been Guilty of Judging 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. I’ve 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 sometimes do, and how you deal with it is not the yardstick by which parenting should be measured. We all try different things to see what works best and we may vary our techniques depending on a thousand other nuances.
Instead I judge based on how parents interact with little ones when they’re 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’s these which make all the difficult in-between bits (the majority of life with a toddler!) worthwhile. If a parent is not able even to connect with their child in those precious, magical moments, then yes, I find myself judging. Our babies deserve better.
In terms of having their needs met, every child deserves a loving, nurturing mother as an absolute minimum. It is surely the most basic human right. Thankfully, in this day and age we have the choice about whether or not we want to take on that primitive and, yes – exhausting – level of care, and responsibility.
It’s not a choice for our children to have a mummy; it’s a necessity.
I should add that if PND or other mental health problems are part of the equation, 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 Slice of Humble Pie…
I learned something else from the experience I describe above, something very humbling. 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 shamed.
So yes, I sometimes judge. But I’m also happy to admit when I’m wrong. If we are going to judge, we should do so on merit.