“Shew! I wonder what it’s like to be that boy’s momma!” I overheard a lady say as I filled my plate at a church picnic. There was no mistaking her negative judgmental tone. She was talking about me and my son. He’d just bolted out of the picnic shelter and joined the youth festivities on the lawn. I could hear his screams of delight over all of the other kids.
I was hurt and angry that a fellow church member judged my parenting and my son’s behavior. I didn’t think he was doing anything terrible. It was a fun picnic with music and games. He ate his lunch and hurried out to play—no big deal.
Then, I started to feel self-conscious. My little guy was known to have a rowdy side. I was worried that the rest of the congregation, exasperated by his behavior, wondered why his mom didn’t do something about it. Should I gather my kids and just leave?
I was worried until the youth leader in charge of the kid’s games approached me to tell me how my son’s excitement had encouraged the other youth to participate. How my son had helped a couple of little boys struggling to compete in some of the games. How my son’s laughter and exuberance helped her get excited for the next youth event when she was starting to feel burnt out.
The youth leader was glad my kid was there. No one else at the picnic showed frustration with his behavior—just that first lady. I’d almost let the judgmental words of a lady who didn’t know us well ruin our fun day. Even though she was in a pretty dress, her judgy attitude was not a good look.
Judginess is not a good look for anyone, even if it’s not on purpose. Sometimes we have to be intentional about not judging other moms. Putting ourselves in the other mom’s shoes is pretty easy because most of us have been there. I joke that before I had my own kids when I heard a child having a tantrum in a store, I thought, “That poor kid.” As a seasoned mom, I think, “That poor momma!”
Our perspectives change when we think about what someone else is going through. Instead of judging the mom for being unable to keep her kid quiet in public, I think about when my kids have been hard to manage. Maybe the kid missed naptime. Maybe they’re sick, but Mom had to run into the store to pick up the prescription. Maybe the kid wanted a toy they didn’t need or mom couldn’t afford. Maybe they’re just having a bad day! It’s not my place to judge that mom or that kid. I don’t know the whole story.
It’s also just a fact that people parent differently. I had a coworker who stuck to her kid’s schedule. No. Matter. What. She had a very specific mealtime, bedtime, and daily routine. It was hard not to roll my eyes when she didn’t let her kids come to the company picnic because it started in the middle of their nap. She never volunteered for early morning shifts because it would upset her family’s morning routine. She didn’t even let her kids stay overnight with their grandparents because the grandparents couldn’t follow her schedule.
I didn’t understand because I’ve never really parented with a strict schedule. What I do understand is that her strict schedule worked for her family and brought her peace as a mom.
Instead of judging, offer to help. Offer to hold the crying baby on the airplane. Make funny faces at the kid in the checkout line. Open the door for the mom struggling to push a stroller and hold on to a wiggling toddler determined to bolt through the parking lot. Sometimes, the best we can do is make eye contact and convey to the mom, “Sister, I’ve been there. You’ve got this!”