You are a bad mother. She didn’t say it in so many words. It was the way she looked at me after she caught me in a moment of parental weakness…accusatory, disgusted, disbelieving that she could be in the presence of such a deadbeat parent.
I poke fun at my own parenting skills (or lack thereof) all the time, and because parenthood requires a healthy sense of humor, we should all crack parenting jokes. I expect everyone to laugh with me, at me, whatever, but at the heart of the matter, we all know that I’m a good mom. Right?
But another human being, a stranger, looked at me like I suck at my job of being a mother, and I haven’t been able to shake that awful feeling.
We were at our community pool, and I have three kids, ages 8, 4, and 2, to prevent from drowning, dehydrating, and burning to a crisp in the summer sun. My two young boys don’t really swim, and I keep a constant watch on them. We had lunch at a picnic table, and my children scattered as I checked my phone to return a few text messages.
My boys went straight for the baby pool, and I will probably invite more bad mom vibes because, when I saw where they had gone, I didn’t immediately rush to the side of the 6-inch-deep baby pool to supervise them. Their nightly baths are deeper than this baby pool, and while I was returning messages, I looked up constantly (because…parenting boys), but I knew they were just fine. I was watching, but I wasn’t right next to them.
A very angry pool employee came out of the ticket gate to lay into my boys for playing too roughly and asked where their mother was. Immediately scared and chastised, they pointed to me, staring down at my phone for a few stolen moments. She approached me, fire in her eyes.
That boy is too big to be in the baby pool! Can’t you read the sign? It says 3, and he’s obviously older than 3! He’s playing too rough! And your littlest is way too young to be in there by himself! You have to be in there with him, isn’t that obvious? She carried on, but I couldn’t hear her…the blood was roaring in my ears, anger and shame roiling in my stomach. The look she gave me…it was so condescending, so irritatingly superior as she returned to her air-conditioned booth to reign on high as queen of the community pool.
I’m sorry. It won’t happen again, I managed.
Tears stung my eyes behind thankfully large-framed sunglasses. I hustled the boys over to our lounge chair and reapplied 100SPF sunscreen to my kids. My public shaming had attracted attention, and my 8-year-old daughter returned to ask what had gone wrong. We jumped back in the main pool, but the joy of swimming was gone for the day. We left twenty minutes later.
I always come up with what I should’ve said way too late. I rerun the conversation in my head, wishing I could go back to that moment and say the right thing, defend myself, explain in crisp detail why the other person is wrong.
When I recreate this scene in my mind, I tell the grumpy pool employee that while she caught me in an imperfect parenting moment, my children were not in danger. I tell her that I respect her need to enforce the rules. I’m a rule-follower (most of the time), and I want my children to see me following and enforcing rules, even if they aren’t mine, even when I don’t 100% agree with them.
Though it’s irrelevant to the situation, I insist that the sanctimonious pool employee know that I’m a good mom. I’m not a perfect mom, but who among us is a perfect anything?
I want to tell her that yesterday, instead of coming to the pool, we stayed home and made crafts for our grandparents who would soon visit. The kids helped me make a casserole, and we rode bikes in our neighborhood. Yes, I yelled at them when they wouldn’t stop fighting, but I also calmed down and explained my frustration, which they understood.
My kids play with each other. We read books. We draw all the time and learn all the things kids learn. I take them for frozen yogurt and kiss their boo-boo’s. They have chores and rewards for good behavior. They’re punished when it’s appropriate.
That pool chick can take a sliver of my eight years of motherhood, a brief incident at a community pool in the middle of a hot summer day, and use that to write me off as a shitty mother. That’s fine.
But I know better. I’m a good mom. I’m not perfect, but I’m a damn good mom.
Oh girl, I know exactly what you mean. I am so sorry….so, so sorry. Because I’ve been there and I know how it hurts. I have the same ability to come up with fitting zingers only after the situation has ended. I am especially good at it at night when I should be sleeping. It’s so hard to move on from something like that, but you know you’re a good mom. There are NO perfect moms and if someone tries to say they’ve got it all together, well they’re just lying! ;-).
Hugs from a fellow imperfect mom 🙂
Carrie On, Y'all says
Thanks so much for the encouragement, Stephanie! I hope that this might help other moms who’ve been judged…it isn’t an easy position to be in because, at that moment, she was right. (So frustrating!!)
Gretchen Kellaway says
Oh honey, we have all been there. And sometimes it isn’t some santimonious outside source making us feel like bad mom’s. We do it too ourselves sometimes. I did it today. Came down to be told that my oldest son was going to his Aunts house.. as if my opinion on the matter didn’t count. And I cried. I cried because I thought in the moment, “I’m a bad mom, my kids don’t want to hang out with me!” I had to give myself a pep talk.
We do so much and to get someone else to reprimand us for a stolen moment is probably half the reason I don’t like taking all four of my boys out in public.
Thanks lady, I judge myself enough! I may not be perfect, but I am a good mom!
You are a good mom! Loved this post!
Carrie On, Y'all says
Gretchen, thanks for the encouragement. the best thing about stories like this are the reassurances that we’ve all been there. I’m sorry you had a hard day with your son. But he knows you’re a good mom, too. Even if he doesn’t appreciate you every single second, it’s a slice of your journey as a mom. Definitely more good times than hard ones!
Awe Carrie. I’m so sorry. The girls and I went to the water park last week and I totally sat in the lounge chair while Cora took Addy on the kiddie slide over and over. They both loved it. I let the life guards help them while I took a break. I didn’t have it in me to run circles around the kiddie slide and get my butt in and out of the tiny tube over and over. But, probably not what most moms would have done. Oh well, they had a blast doing it on their own and lucky no one called child services.
Mandie Morris says
tough one, Carrie. I can see both sides because of my profession. BUT she never should have approached you or judged you in that way. There’s a right way to act in that situation and she did not. I’ve met your kiddos and they’re lovely. You’re a great mom! They weren’t born that way, they were raised that way
Sarah Paul says
I love this because I have been in the same boat. You let your parenting guard down for just a moment too long and, BAM!, someone’s there to sneer and judge. There was a better way, a QUIETER way, for her to have handled the situation. I think, though, that you handled yourself well. You may feel that you did not have had a zinger or a rational comment to give her until after the fact, but you handled it gracefully in front of your kids. And, in the end, living by example is the best teaching tool we give our little ones.
Love this post! Thanks for being real.
Adriana Duff says
I saw that coming from around the corner!! The good thing about not coming up with just the right zinger, is that you can still be the fabulous mom standing.
I once judged a mom while walking into a department store. I heard a young child screeching and BEGAN to think, “what is that mom thinking shopping with that child at NAP TIME?!”
Needless to say, my son, child number 4–the one who I had all the right answers with–and who had never thrown a fit in all five years of life–yup!–that son—waited until we were in line with 5 people in front of us and 5 people behind us–to throw the loudest, most raging fit I have ever seen or heard. He did it because God was upset with me for beginning to judge. I didn’t even finish that thought. Remember?!— There was no reason!! He just threw himself down and went for it!!
Carrie On, Y'all says
Thank you for your encouragement, Adriana! Now that I’m a traveling circus, I appreciate the people who smile at me and tell me how nice the kids are. Even more though, I try to encourage other moms in stores…it’s such a stressful thing to shop with a bunch of little kids, and I smile at other moms and tell them they’re doing a good job. I hope it might be the thing that she needs.
Oh, the dreaded parenting trap! You’re damned if you do, and damned if you don’t! I’m sorry that happened to you. We’ve all been there, and all I can say is thank God for the community of families with small children. We get it, we’ve all been there, and we can support each other through the chaos of raising children into decent human beings. 🙂
It seems like all my worst parenting moments are either in public with an audience or at home with no one there to tell me I’m not a monster. I know I am a good mom, but everyone has those days when stuff just isn’t clicking and everything is all out of whack. Just the other day, my kid was laughing and tickle fighting with me. Then suddenly he was telling me I was not his favorite mama because I was mean. But he was laughing. I thought he was playing. I jokingly said he wasn’t my favorite kid. It was implied that I am his ONLY mama, and he is my ONLY kid. So, we are always the favorite, even when we aren’t. But I guess his 6 year old brain wasn’t firing on the level of my 40 year old brain and he didn’t see it that way. There was a serious onslaught of tears and heartbreak and I felt terrible for hours. Turns out he was mad because he was done tickling and I didn’t stop immediately. Of course, he never told me to stop out loud, and I wasn’t able to read his mind, so I missed that with all that laughing he was doing. We talked it out and it was all better in just a few minutes. But I still agonized over it in my head until long after I should have been asleep.
Carrie On, Y'all says
Thanks for sharing your story, Kelly! We all have those moments, and I so appreciate hearing them from others. I try to be authentic when I’m blogging or on social media, not only because it’s funny (most of the time), but also because we get to be real and not see the Photoshopped version of everyone’s lives. Nobody is perfect, but we’re trying here!
That burns me up, sister! I hate when I get those glances. I want to ask, “Do you have kids? Can you remember what this is like? Empathize instead of judge!” I will etch in my brain so when I’m quietly cruising through Kroger at the age of 75 and there’s a dear Mommy dealing with twin 2 year olds who are fighting and hanging halfway out of the cart (you know, like in one of the position like it shows with a circle with the line through it…yes exactly like that) and a 5 year old who’s throwing a fit and pouting and running off around the next aisle making Mommy anxious and a nervous wreck….I WON’T say, “You’re gonna miss this one day.” I WON’T raise my eyebrows which clearly states ‘you have no control over your children obviously’. NOPE. I will pat her back and say, “You got this babe! THen I’ll look at those babies and say ‘You’ve got a good Momma. You know? Treat her good!”
Carrie On, Y'all says
What a great reply, Susan! I’ll be using that one too!