Judging. Shaming. All considered unacceptable when it comes to parenthood these days. Take, for instance, the moment a stupid sentence slipped out of my mouth when I bumped into a fellow mama recently, whose nearly-four year old daughter was sat happily in the double buggy also occupied by her two-year old sister.
“As if you still have her in the buggy!?!” I laughed, without thinking.
“Too bloody right I still use the buggy; you think I’m going out with these pair of nutters without it?!” she responded.
We smiled and parted ways, me secure in my Amazing Twin Mama Abilities because I ditched the buggy a year ago (when the twins began climbing out of it, rendering it useless), her with a slight feeling of inadequacy and shame.
Ok, I’m projecting. She might not have given it a second thought but I’ve been on the receiving end of those types of breezy, well-meaning “helpful” comments to know that eventually, they grind you down and can make you feel like shit on an already difficult day.
Later, chatting in a Whatsapp group with her included, she chimed in with the fact that I’d “shamed her for still putting Kid 1 in the buggy earlier!” – followed of course by laughing crying emojis to denote just how breezy and unaffected she was by my stupid comment… I knew then that my thoughtless chit chat had cut deeper than an innocent bystander may assume.
Innocent bystander… that segways me on nicely to my other Mama Judging moment… except this time, was I right to judge?
Ah, the agony and the ecstasy of soft play. We all have stories, and they’re places I generally avoid in favour of a muddy walk or trip to the park, but this one is situated within an outdoors shop and is particularly challenging for the children. I like to push their boundaries and it meant I could have a coffee on the side and read daft stories on Bored Panda.
This place is on three small but genuinely difficult levels. It’s not for the feint-hearted, and it’s so dimly-lit that as a parent, you have to have the confidence to let them loose and simply hope they come out alive because you’ll hear blood-curdling screams and yelps coming from all directions, without a hope of locating your own children or verifying that they’re OK.
At one point, Twin 1 came to me in floods of tears, telling me the other children wouldn’t let her on the thingy. I felt the Mama Bear stir in me but I knew she needed to learn to navigate the difficult world of childhood, so I said, “If you want to do something then you need to be brave and do it.” Was that too ambiguous? What was I really suggesting there? An argument? Violence? I wanted to protect my child, and I also wanted her to be tough. Thankfully it came to nothing and my vague advice to her wasn’t tested.
Some time later, as I was shouting the twins’ names in an attempt to locate them and encourage an end to their play, a woman we’ll call Mom 1 approached me with concern, presumably worried I was calling my children in response to the crying we could hear from within (I knew that cry wasn’t from my girls. We just know, don’t we, our own children’s crying?)
“Is it the boy in the stripey top?” she asked me. Confused, I responded, “Oh no, I’ve got two girls.”
“No,” she said, “The boy in the stripey top is mine. Is he being a problem?”
I laughed and said no, my two tend to just fight between themselves and Mom 1 sat back down to drink her coffee. It occurred to me afterwards that she was clearly aware her son could be aggressive…
More time passed (I really milked that place!) and I became aware of a couple calling their children. This had happened so often during my visit that I paid little attention, until it became clear that something was happening. Next thing I knew, Mom 1 was on the scene and the couple were shouting at her and then shouting at the boy in the stripey top. Evidently Stripey had done something to one of the couple’s sons – Son 2 – and instead of dealing with it in such a way as to diffuse the situation and teach all the children about conflict resolution, the couple were shouting at Son 2, “Get down here now and batter him (Stripey)!”
And I watched, agog, as Stripey ran in fear behind Mom 1’s legs, while the couple screamed at Son 2, “Come on! Batter him!” And dutifully, Son 2 chased Stripey as he cowered behind his mother, and went to bite him. Mama Bear indeed surfaced in me at that point, I couldn’t simply standby and watch this unfold. I felt the swoop of solidarity as a number of mamas stepped forward with me, as I gently prised apart the two boys with a “Hey, hey, HEY!” and Mom 2 told me “Don’t touch my son!” and I held my hands up in the universal sign of peace – all of this totally unconscious, me not aware I was so anti-conflict – and then I gently put my arm on Mom 2’s arm, saying “Calm down, please, calm down, I understand,” and although she by no means calmed down, she didn’t turn round and punch me (which looking back, surprises me).
The argument continued and carried on, the moms at loggerheads and me in the background, silently judging, judging and judging…
Was there a clear right and wrong here? Hearing the parents of the wronged boy insisting that he defend himself, I can somewhat understand their anger and their hurt but the image of that stripey-topped little boy cowering behind his mother’s legs while two grown adults egged their son on to beat him will stay with me for a long time to come.