Ever been here? It’s 4:00 p.m. and I’ve dashed into the grocery store with four tired, hungry kids in tow because I used my last dipaer about 4 hours ago and I know I can’t get away with putting it off much longer. Nobody much wants to be there, and everyone is expressing this in his or her unique way. Thomas finds teasing his sisters mercilessly passes the time. Katy is responding with loud and venomous attacks, occasionally containing the word friggin’ (so far, her worst). Faith is so tired she is, in her own words, “practically dead”, and every few steps pauses to lay down on the floor, far too fatigued to take into account current shopping cart traffic patterns. The baby is insulted at having been put into the kiddy seat when everybody else is walking. Since this position puts her roughly at bosom-height, she figures the least I can do is nurse her, so she helpfully yanks up my shirt every two seconds, yelling “Nursies!” at a volume truly astonishing given her compact size. I’m doing the best I can just to get in, get the diapers, and get out without security intervening. But I’m not too frazzled to notice the looks from the other shoppers. I know what they’re thinking, whether or not they say a word (and believe me, some do!) The kind ones are thinking, “Been there, done that.” The rest are casting silent aspursions on my parenting skills.
Or how about this? My two year old weaves her way over to where I sit on the library floor. Happily, she lifts my shirt and helps herself to her favorite snack. As I readjust myself so as to maintain modesty, I catch some pretty shocked looks from a couple of other moms. I know their issue is not breastfeeding in public, because they are doing exactly the same thing. The only difference is, they’re feeding infants, while I’ve got a walking, talking person latched on to my breast. Anyone can guess what they’re thinking: “How old is that kid? Can’t you just give her a juice box?” They may save the actual conversation for later, but they’ve already conveyed its message: my parenting does not meet with their approval.
It is amazing how quick we parents are to judge one another! Until recently, I was right in there judging with the best of them. You name it, we judge it, right from the get-go: bottle- or breastfed, co-sleeping or Ferber-ized, discipline style (or lack thereof), clothing, hair, food choices, bedtimes, hobbies, TV, no TV, what you watch on TV … and about a thousand other things. Why do we do this? Largely, I think, it’s to make ourselves feel more confident about how we’re doing as parents. Let’s face it, the babies don’t come with a set of instructions, and most of us are pretty much feeling our way. It can make you a little insecure, this parenting journey. Being able to point and say, “Thank God, I’m doing a better job than that!” can shore up our confidence; but at a pretty steep price.
In our judgement, we isolate ourselves, and we set ourselves up for failure. We become so sensitized to the judgement of others that “looking good” competes with (or usurps) meeting our kids’ needs in a genuine, connected way. We become a “split personality”…interacting one way in private and another when somebody might be watching. Our kids are stymied by this, and we end up feeling hypocritical. When we’re the ones doing the judging, we completely miss the myriad of ways we could connect with the person on the receiving end. There’s certainly plenty we might have in common, despite a difference in parenting style. Judging separates us from one another, which is really tragic, because honestly, couldn’t we all use some support?