I made a poor decision this weekend. I was hiking with a group of friends, including my two kids amongst other children, when we realized we would never make it to the lake 3/4 of a mile away. The kids were hot and tired. They were dragging, complaining, and on the verge of shutting down. I was tired too. My baby had been fussy most of the day and I had no breaks. I was running on only a few hours of sleep and I was cranky and not thinking clearly.
When one of the adults suggested we call a friend to get a ride for the last leg of the hike, I kept silent. I knew there wouldn’t be car seats for my kids, but it was a fire trail. There were no cars, and we would only be going a few miles an hour.
Our friend arrived with the minivan and our group shuffled inside. I sat in the front seat with my baby. A million scenarios went through my head. Do I use a seat belt? Do I not? Would my friend driving be upset if I don’t use a seat belt? What is the safest option of all these terrible, illegal, and poorly thought out options? I chose wrong.
I put the seat belt over myself and my baby. I wasn’t sure about my choice, and was contemplating asking my friend who was driving what she suggested, but she spoke up right away.
“Celeste, she admonished pointing her finger at my son on my lap. “If I get in an accident, your body weight is going to crush your baby. And I’m sorry, but I’m not okay with that.”
My heart dropped into my stomach and I quickly moved my baby outside the seat belt strap. Tears began to well up in my eyes and I stayed silent for the short duration of the drive.
I screwed up.
Of the terrible safety options I had at my disposal, I chose wrong. I put my son’s life at risk. I shouldn’t have gotten in the car at all. What the hell was I thinking?
But do you know what eats at me, beside all the self-degradation? It’s the way my friend mommy shamed me like that. Instead of offering a suggestion in a helpful, thoughtful manner, she humiliated me… describing how my son would die. Telling me SHE’S not okay with that. Like I would be?
Earlier that day, I went with my family to a street festival. There were families and kids everywhere. It was total chaos — full of energy, confusion, and excitement.
I had noticed one family in particular. The woman was talking to her partner, and her son was in a stroller. As she chatted with the man, the stroller started rolling down the gentle slope. Slowly at first, but picking up speed quickly. I jumped into action and ran to the stroller, easily grabbing it. The baby inside never batted and eyelash.
When the mom looked around and saw me wheeling the stroller back up to her, you could see the panic flash in her eyes, followed promptly by humiliation. I looked at her with a timid smile and I said, “We’ve all done it. Don’t feel bad. It could happen to anyone.” Her eyes gave me all the thanks in the world and I returned to my family.
I suppose I could have shamed her. I could have told her to be more careful, or described what could have happened to her child if it continued down the slope. But why? Why would I kick someone when they’re already down? Why would I castigate someone who already feels humiliated and horrified?
Mommy shaming has gotten out of hand. We see it everywhere with anonymous trolls on the Internet, but sometimes we don’t have to look any further than our own friends and family.
It takes a village to help raise a child. I firmly believe that. But we need our village for love and support, not vilification.
I can’t stop thinking about my ride in the car. I deeply regret every second of that ride, and I wish I could take it back. But I also feel betrayed by a member of my village. Instead of offering advice with support and grace, she chose to shame. That is not the kind of village a mom needs.
Let’s be a supportive village. Let’s help and encourage. Let’s offer each other support and advice without cruelty or judgment. And let’s love each other. I don’t know a single mom in the world that wants less love and kindness. That is the village where I want to live. Will you join me?