I was at the grocery store last week and kept literally almost bumping into a woman and her two small children. I was hungry and tired from cleaning all afternoon and I had a heavy baby tied to my body, and honestly, this little family was seriously getting on my nerves. And my first instinct, the first thing that I did, was judge this mom. Her kids had dirty faces and the mom looked like she was wearing pajamas and hadn’t showered in days and they were all loud and irritating me.
The kids were little, a girl about 4 years old and a boy about 2, and they were just wild. Running through the store, one chasing the other, yelling loudly. Running into displays and carts and people, all the while with their mother chasing them, yelling at them. Ironically, yelling, “We don’t yell in the store!” I was honestly trying to avoid them and their tornado path. Everyone was.
And what I started thinking was that woman was not a very good mother. That she should take those bratty kids out of there so we could shop in peace. That they were undisciplined and that my kids don’t act that way. I was judging her.
And then I remembered how much I hate that the first freaking thing that we do is judge. Judge someone when we don’t even know them, much less the story that got them where they are. I mean, I despise it so much that I devoted a big chunk of my life to writing a book about how women judge each other’s lives. And how we are all alike in so many ways, as wives and mothers, and how we are just trying to make it through the day, no matter what our day looks like. And yet, still, here I was, judging.
Her kids were undisciplined, that’s true. As I turned a corner, I saw the mom physically trying to wrestle the youngest into the cart while he bucked and fought her with all his might, resulting in the loudest screams thus far. She couldn’t get him in the cart and they both knew it wasn’t working. And that’s when I realized that it was too big for her. Even trying to get the situation under control was too big for her. Just like Rome wasn’t built in a day, that kid wasn’t going to learn manners that afternoon in the grocery store. It takes years. It takes patience and good decisions and solid parenting and lots and lots of factors that that woman just didn’t have, at least not in that moment.
“If people can’t take care of them, they shouldn’t have kids.” This is what I hear in my head, and what I’ve read SO MANY TIMES on the internet about everything from poverty to formula feeding to anti-vaccinations to homeschooling. But I really freaking HATE that statement. You know why? Cause those kids are already here! They are alive and breathing and here already, so how about we all just recognize that and come up with some workable option that doesn’t involve going back in time and not having kids? What if we see if we can find a solution instead of just placing blame?
Because here’s the thing… That woman was doing her best. Her kids had dirty faces and they were running wild and she was yelling so they were yelling and she didn’t have control. But she was trying. Just like you try with your kids and just like I try with mine. Because I guarantee you that there are times my kids are dirty. And there are times that I am just flat out exhausted and so done that you might as well stick a fork in me. And I need a shower and I can’t get my kids wrangled. It just is what it is. Life is not always picture perfect.
And really, you and I don’t have the same capabilities in math, or writing or water skiing or chess, so why the hell should we in parenting? For all I know, that mother was raising those kids on her own, trying to shop on her last $43 dollars in the world. And she was tired and her ex doesn’t pay his child support and she hadn’t had a break or more than 5 hours of sleep in years. Or maybe she was just having a very, very bad week. You don’t know. I don’t know. But I do know that all of those possibilities used to be my life, and it was very, very hard.
So maybe, the next time we see her, or someone like her in the store, we ask if we can help. Or maybe, we just say something nice, anything nice, so that she knows we see her trying. So she doesn’t feel alone. Because the thing she probably needs most in the world is for someone to tell her that they’ve been there, and it will get easier.
And because I still believe that we are all a lot more alike than we are different.