This is a post for beleaguered parents, and specifically mums. Recently, I’ve seen a trend of articles that start off acknowledging how other people can be really judgemental of your parenting when you’re in public. That’s fair enough. There does seem to be more of that happening or maybe it just seems more prevalent because social media makes it easier for us to share those experiences.
But then the article veers into how other women can and should be helping during these times. Like an article I read by a woman recently effectively shamed herself and everyone else on a flight because another mum lost her cool with her toddler and smacked him. The writer took part of the blame for that smacking by saying she should have helped the mum before it got to that stage. Now, that I can’t get on board with. If you get stressed by other people’s reactions and you allow that to change the way you choose to parent, that’s not on anyone else.
These articles seem to implore women to become other mums’ rescuers. We all have a lot of stuff going on. All the time. Constantly. So I see no need to put further more pressure on other women by saying that they are responsible for another mother’s parenting. Nuh-uh. I’m not having that. I've got a better idea. Let's be our own goddamn rescuer. By not letting other people's opinions and judgements change one single thing about the way we choose to parent. That's not to say support isn't welcome, because it is. A smile, a nod, an eye roll at the ludicrous comments, an offer to help, are all things that can make us feel so much better. But it isn't incumbent on other people to constantly be doing those things to stop you having a ‘nightmare' journey/meal out/coffee.
Because the lesson here should be to care less about those judgemental shits and their tutting, eye rolling and mummy shaming comments (from breast feeding in public, kids having a tantrum in public, babies crying on planes or whatever other stuff has seemingly become areas where we as women have to be constantly on the lookout for ways to support other beleaguered women). Instead of asking other women to support us against the judgement of others, how about we train ourselves to care less about that judgement?
So firstly, let’s admit, a lot of the time, we’re mind reading about the judgement. I’m not denying that there really are idiots out there that will come up and say something to your face, but the vast majority of the time, we’re talking about expressions, tuts or something else that is nebulous. When you’re feeling stressed because your kid is crying and won’t settle, it is easy to imagine everyone around you is focussing just on you and judging you about the fact that your kid is having a meltdown in the supermarket queue. But maybe they’re not. Maybe that person behind you who just tutted, is actually engrossed on their phone and they’ve just seen their favourite team has lost or that their mum has put yet another snide comment on their latest FB post. The world is absolutely continuing around you while you are dealing with the latest kiddie meltdown. I know it doesn’t feel like it, but rather than assume that people are making those judgements about you, how would it feel if you assumed that they weren’t?
Secondly and waaaaay more importantly than that, why do you care if they are judging you? Newsflash, most of us judge each other quite a lot. In our own heads. And sometimes, over a glass of wine to some
friends. But the majority of us are polite enough to not let you know that at the time because we get that we shouldn't be judging. So why are you bothered by the judgement of someone who doesn't get the basic rules of politeness? By letting you know that they are judging, don't they automatically put themselves into a class of people that you really shouldn't care about?
Alternatively, maybe they are having such a hard, shitty day themselves that they just can't control their facial expressions or sighs. That is more about them than it is about you. This doesn’t automatically make them a bad person, but equally it also doesn’t automatically make them a person whose judgement should change how you choose to parent. I have been the person on the plane that hasn't slept for 30 hours whose company doesn't pay for business class and therefore has very low tolerance of any extra noise. I don't judge noisy kids any more or less harshly than the middle aged person conducting a conversation at top volume. I don’t care about your varicose veins, Denise, and neither does the rest of the flight. I'm pretty sure that middle aged person doesn't give a damn about my tuts and glares, so the mum of the noisy kids doesn't have to either. And in all honesty, the mum of the noisy kid can probably do nothing in that event that will change the irritability levels of that frustrated, annoyed and very tired person (i.e. me). Because in reality I (they) wasn’t judging her, I was just dissatisfied with every single thing and person around me. It was about me, not about the mum. So if you’ve decided that they absolutely are judging you, question does that say more about them or you?
Finally, let me clarify. The point here isn't ‘victim blaming'. You're not a victim just because you think someone else is judging you. You cannot control them doing that, or the manner in which they do it (sadly). But you can control how you respond to it. Because you can absolutely decide that their judgement is their bs and let them get on with it. The only way it affects you is by you getting irritated, stressed or anxious by it. Control your response, don't let your response control you.
Yeah, but how, I hear you ask. It takes practice but you can start by telling yourself that your situation and how you are handling it has nothing to do with them. Think about it now, when you're away from the stress of the situation. How does their opinion impact on you? Only by you letting it.
There are a lot of good reasons why you feel stressed about the opinions of others, that range from societal conditioning to adverse childhood experiences and I’m not here to tell you that you are doing something wrong when you do feel that way. But I am encouraging you to actively choose to feel differently. And yes,
that isn’t going to change for you overnight. But it absolutely won’t change unless, in a rational, chilled moment, you decide that the way you parent is an active choice and you won’t change it because of some stranger. Yes in an ideal world, they'd be less (openly) judgemental, more compassionate and a lot more caring. But let's stop pretending that the most obnoxious people are the ones reading articles in The Pool, Scary Mommy or whatever. (Because if they are it is to scroll straight to the comments to type #notallmen or #Imacoolgirl). So those articles imploring people to help out a mum on a plane trip are really just reaching other stressed out women who may now think eeek something else I have to do or feel guilty about not doing.
Instead, let’s stand up for our own choices, made by us, for our families and be proud of them. I’m not saying it is easy but I promise it will feel worthwhile.