This weekend I was waiting for my Starbucks order, chatting happily with my three year old (who, let's admit it, was happy because she was chomping on a large Starbucks pumpkin cookie), when I out of the corner of my eye I caught sight of a little girl about to eat popcorn off the floor of Target. Without even thinking (because this is what teachers and moms of toddlers do) I stopped her. "Oh honey, don't eat that!" I exclaimed, and she cried, because that is what kids do when a stranger stops them from doing something they really want to do.
Her mother turned around and gave me a dirty look. Then without saying anything she pushed the cart away from me in a huff.
OK. So we shouldn't talk to kids we don't know. But if it was my daughter (and next time it probably will be my daughter) and I didn't see it (because even the best parent can't watch their child 100% of the time) I would want a stranger to stop her from eating off the floor at Target. Her being momentarily upset that a stranger had talked to her is better than her eating off the floor. And even better, it will (hopefully) stop her from eating off the floor from Target in the future.
At first I was put off by the other mom's dirty look. I was only trying to help. Then I realized she probably felt like I was judging her as a parent. I wasn't. It was the opposite. She had three kids with her- good grief, I know how hard it is to shop with two kids- I can't imagine with three. My thought was not, "OMG, this women is a terrible mother. Her daughter is about to eat off the floor." I thought, "Oops, that little girl is about to eat off the floor. Better stop her because her mom looks busy."
But there is no way that mom would know that. We live in a culture of judgement, especially when it comes to parenting. I'm a member of a couple on-line parenting groups, and I am frequently horrified by the amount of judging that goes on. Off statements like, "I would never..." "If my child ever did something like that..." "It may be hard, but it's my kid so I'm going to do...." are constantly coming out. They are easy statements to think and even easier to type. The internet has given a platform to our judginess. We read so much judgement out there that it's easy to think that we are fighting each other every day. A trip to Target should not be a chance to showcase our parenting for the entire world, as we desperately hold our breath hoping that today our child will not have a meltdown because then everyone would know what terrible parents we really are.
The older my daughter gets the more acutely aware of how much I unfairly judged parents of students I taught. It was especially bad when she was an infant because just being a new parent gave me the license to say, "As a parent I would..."
Ha! I had a baby who could not talk back, throw a tantrum, hit, kick, or blow snot all over me on purpose.
As my very independent, strong-willed and sensitive daughter gets older I am realizing just how hard parenting can be and just how wrong my misconceptions of parenting have been. My next few posts are going to be a series of the myths of childhood that we use to judge one another. Stay tuned...