I saw another one this morning. I was scrolling Facebook with my morning coffee and a post from a page I follow caught my eye. It started out the way so many of them do: "Dear Helicopter Mom at the Playground..." I kept reading because sometimes the "Dear Mom" posts surprise me and are sweet and encouraging. Unfortunately this one was judgmental and sarcastic.
Because I'm not a fan of public shaming I won't post it in it's entirety here, but the gist of the message was this: Mom #1 sees mom #2 with a sweet little girl at the playground. Sweet little girl is dressed in an extra special outfit with a pretty bow in her hair. Mom #1 watches as Mom #2 hovers and "overprotects" her daughter as they play. Mom #1 keeps her distance, makes a bunch of assumptions and judgements, and then runs home to type up a Facebook status in which she admonishes mom #2 to let her daughter make mistakes, trip, fall and get dirty. She completes with information on where to buy playground appropriate clothing.
And the cycle of judgement, shame and guilt is continued through another sanctimonious Facebook post. I wonder if the dreaded mom-guilt actually originated as a result of mom-judging?
A lot of what ifs ran through my head as I thought about the scenario described in that Facebook status. I couldn't help but wonder, what if this little girl has some hidden illness or disability that makes this mom worry more than others might?
What if, like us, this mom sat in the waiting room of the hospital while her daughter underwent surgeries and then painful recoveries? What if the bandages recently came off and the stitches were recently removed, but mom is still nervous and careful?
What if this mom has already buried one child and she's struggling through grief and panic over losing the little girl in front of her?
What if there's an older brother at home with casts on his legs or arms from a terrible playground accident?
What if this mom struggles with anxiety and panic attacks? What if the playground is really tough for her but she is doing her best to get out and about with her daughter?
What if they were on their way home from a special event or a funeral and she didn't pack an extra outfit?
But what if this mom is just like so many other moms? What if this sweet little toddler is her first? What if she's just doing what the rest of us are doing: trying to figure it out day by day, hour by hour, one experience at a time. What if she already thought to herself, "hmm... maybe this wasn't the best outfit to wear to the playground." What if she's just doing what she feels is best for her daughter at that moment?
What if she saw that status?
Instead of friendship and compassion she'd find judgement and shame. Instead of encouragement she'd find sarcasm and guilt.
What if, instead of making assumptions and running home to our keyboards, we approached moms at the playground with a smile and, "Hi! How old is your daughter? She looks so beautiful today!" Or after watching mom gasp and rush over to save her daughter we offered an understanding smile and said, "Playgrounds can be scary, can't they?"
What doors could be opened and what friendships could be forged if we were less attached to our ideas of how other moms should parent and instead were more interested in their stories and their unique family? Because when we're snarky and rude and give disapproving glances we create walls. So when a mom at the playground might have real questions about parenting styles and tools or the best place to buy shoes that can get wet and dirty she looks around to find walls instead of smiles and open doors.
Let's be better at cheering one another on. And let's write "Dear Mom who _____ " statuses that build up instead of tear down. Here's mine...
Dear Mom Who Loves Her Daughter,
I see you watching your little girl so carefully. I see that pretty little dress and bright pink bow you put in her hair. You showed such care, attention, and love when dressing her for the day. I see the nervous way you glance around to remove any danger from your daughter's path. Children have a way of bringing us to our knees, don't they? Whoever said being a mom is like walking around with your heart outside your body was so very right! I can tell how much you love her and want the very best for her. Keep on keeping on, Mama! You'll question yourself 40 thousand times a day, just like I do. You'll get it wrong and you'll get it right - we all do. Want to meet here again next week? I'll bring the Starbucks!
A Mom Who's Doing Her Best to Do Her Best (just like you.)