The other day, I found myself being that mom - going down the rabbit hole of judgment towards another mom I didn’t even know while waiting in line at Target. She was ahead of me in line and her kids were out of control. By “out of control,” I mean grabbing things off the snack shelves and running in circles, yelling. She was in power-down mode, just looking at her phone, probably mindlessly scrolling through memes on Instagram so as not to murder her kids in public. Or she didn’t notice or care, it was hard to tell. All of which got lumped into my judgement roulette of things I could find wrong with her parenting, obviously.
Cut to: literally two minutes later
While my sweet, energetic 3.5-year-old was eager to “help,” I was distracted by scanning my stuff at the self-checkout and not paying attention to the fact that she was carefully taking the eggs out of the cart to hand them to me. When I say “carefully,” I mean in the way that only a pre-schooler could be careful. You know, by quickly grabbing them from the cart and losing control because, while having sincere and positive intentions, she also has the spacial awareness and experience of a teen driver.
So of course, I had what was coming to me: judgey eyes. It’s like I loaned them to the couple behind me, who shared them with the mom at the other register. “Here, strangers, I won’t be needing these anymore, looks like you could use them…”
And you know what’s really hard not to do in this situation? Over-parent in front of other parents. I’ve been guilty of over-parenting more than once. At the doctor’s office, in front of friends, at the park. But because I’ve worked hard over the years to try and be more aware of this and not do it, I didn’t have a lot of choices here. I mean, I’m not going to get angry at her for trying to help and not understanding what might happen, that’s insane and mean. But at the same time, now there’s a poor Target employee going to get a mop for our mess, and meanwhile, RJC is totally oblivious to the egg goo on the floor that she’s just this close to stepping in, like, 57 times while I try to rush and bag and pay for our stuff.
Which led to me, of course, using a little bit of The Mom Voice. The under-your-breath, please-just-listen-and-come-here-and-let-us-get-out-before-they-throw-us-out voice. To which my daughter asks, “What’s wrong, mommy?” To which I reply, “I’m just frustrated right now and want to get this done so we can go home.”
And what we’ve just witnessed, my friends, is what I call The Mommy Boomerang. It’s a theory I’ve developed over time, and one that has been proven right over and over again: the stronger my judgement, the harder my fall. The more superiority I feel, the smaller I become. Because what ultimately happens is that life hands me a big ole’ serving of what I had coming, in the form of totally not having my shit together with my own kids, and so, maybe I should check my judgey-eyes at the door?
Look, it’s natural to compare yourself to other people. Whether it’s healthy or not is another story, but it’s for sure natural. And as a mom, I think the comparison hangover, combined with being unsure of whether we’re actually “doing it right” (spoiler alert: there’s no such thing.), can be a recipe for anxiety, over-parenting, and pure exhaustion. And when we see someone else not fitting into our opinion about what is right vs what is wrong, it’s easy to jump to what you do that’s better than them. Not that you’re a better parent, but…you’re totally a better parent.
Until you’re not.
And really, this can only end up in one place, in the end: with you feeling like a jerk. Because, well, you’re being a huge jerk.
So, to keep from getting hit repeatedly in the face with The Mommy Boomerang, I’ve come up with one single #momhack that might just save you from one or two whacks yourself. Because if you’re being honest, you’ve been that judgey mom in Target, or at the park, or secretly with your friends. We all have. We’ve also been the mom receiving all of the judgey eyes. You are that mom.
And that’s the hack. Be that mom.
I mean, ok, if you’re seeing someone being truly neglectful or violent -no, obviously no. That’s a different ball of wax altogether. But that’s not what we’re talking about here, we’re talking about the everyday mom that you see in your everyday life. The one to whom you’re cutting almost no slack. Why? Because you’re not cutting yourself any, either. It’s been researched and revised and revisited and said in many different ways – but the harder you are on other people is a reflection of how hard you’re being on yourself. And parenting is simultaneously super powerful and utterly powerless, so it can be consistently scary. Which is why being up in your own head about what you may be doing right and wrong can start spiraling pretty quickly until you’re getting hit in the face with that boomerang over and over and over and over….until you change it.
So cut her – and you – a break. Shoot her a smile, offer her a hand, or hell, tell her you get it. My breakthrough moment with this was more than a year ago. As I was coming into the store with my sweet, perfect, angel of a preschooler, we walked by a mom who was trying to quietly handle her sweet, perfect, angel of a preschooler who was losing her shit over not wanting to get into the shopping cart. We shopped for about 15 minutes, and at checkout, my sweet, perfect, angel of a preschooler was like, “Mommy, who screaming?”
Shockingly, it wasn’t the mom who was screaming. But it was still her screaming daughter by the front door, having some other meltdown over God knows what (because do they even know sometimes?) But man, IMMEDIATELY I thought “If I were her, I would’ve left. No way I’d let my kid make this kind of scene for this long.”
Thankfully, though, before the Boomerang could come out and mess me up, I stopped. I literally stopped and thought, “This could be you. This has been you.” And I turned around, walked over to the lady who was pleading – literally on her knees – with her sweet, perfect, angel, demon-child – and I said, “You’re doing great. I’ve been there, too.” And she looked up at me, smiled desperately, and said “Oh my god, thank you. I’m so sorry. I don’t know what’s wrong with her.” And I said, “Yeah, they all do it. It sucks, I know. Good luck.”
And I walked away feeling so much better than I do when I shoot the judgey eyes. Judgey eyes feel righteous for a moment, the superiority sort of makes you feel powerful for just a second. But the bigger power is in putting yourself in her shoes for a beat. And the truth? It wasn’t necessarily easier…but it was so much better.
So the hack, fellow mama?
Be that mom. We all need her.