Hey, lady eyeing me up from across the way, I see that gleam in your eye, and I know what you’re thinking. I can feel the mom sweat coming out of every pore as I struggle under your gaze. You see I’m a hot mess. But this state of hyper-alertness caused by my kids misbehaving in public gives me extra senses, and I can read your mind. You are thinking some version of a thought we’ve all had: I could do better than she’s doing. And you, most likely, are right.
When you see me and I’m dropping the ball at Target and yelling, “No, we can’t stop at the Dollar Spot, and for the love of god quit asking or when we get home I’m selling all your stuff,” you could absolutely do better.
When I’m at church and my kids are wiggly and noisy and poking each other and I have run out of ways to whisper-yell at them, you could do better.
When you see my teenager rolling her eyes at me at the mall and I do nothing but walk away, you could do better.
When my boy is having the mother of all tantrums over Legos in Toys “R” Us, and yet I buy him what he wants, you could do better.
When my stress is at its peak and I’m ready to lose it, you could absolutely do it better. Of all of this, I am 100% sure. You could do better for so many reasons. Perhaps, you have had more than five minutes alone in the last week. You slept eight hours last night. Your kids are older, and you have 20 years of parenting and a bunch of perspective under your belt. Your kids for some reason don’t enjoy the Dollar Spot. You have a gift that I don’t (like the ability to speak calmly while someone rolls their eyes at you).
You had more coffee this morning than I did. You could do better for a million little, impossible to name reasons, but none of those reasons are because you love these kids standing in front of me more than I do. Heck, we quite possibly haven’t even met. You might not even know my kids’ names so it’s safe, I think, to agree that I love them more than you do. And because we are not on a first name basis, you don’t know my struggle, just as I don’t know yours. While you might just be right when you are thinking,”I’d never” or “I would,” this battle is mine to fight.
Parents need grace in these moments, just as kids do, even in the middle of Target or at church. Each new experience reminds me I am not an expert at parenting yet, and at this point, I’m pretty sure I never will be. I’m learning on the job, and unfortunately for my sweat glands, some of that learning will happen in public. The world is our classroom, and sometimes we have to learn with people watching. That is just the deal.
The good part is that I’m happy if you, my dear observer, can learn what not to do by watching my mistakes. So please take the lesson I offer to you without cost (and trust me, due to sheer entertainment value I probably should be charging you something) and leave no judgment behind. Along with the offer of grace, please remember there are things you don’t see.
You don’t see that the kid who can’t sit still in church is grieving our dog, who we put down just three days ago. He is off his game.
That teenage girl is at the mall with me because she was left out of a sleepover last night, and I don’t mind if she takes a little of that hurt out on me today.
The 5-year-old has some speech and language stuff going on and is just so frustrated I once again cannot understand what he is trying to say.
The mom is going on five hours’ sleep every night this week balancing five kids and a full-time job, and the worries and laundry prevent an earlier bedtime for her. She can’t wake up early and zen out to some yoga that would make her nicer, so there are a few more human moments happening today.
So, if you are thinking you could do better in that crazy moment you are witnessing, you are probably right. I may not be able to bring my A-game to every situation. But please know, I firmly believe in the long term I’ve got this. I’m doing the best I can for my babies, and I believe you are too. So next time we see the mom pushing the wailing 3-year-old through the aisles of the grocery store as she fills the cart with the sugar-laden cereal the kid is demanding, let’s agree to throw a little trust her way. She has her reasons, and we can move right along with our day without worry for her kids’ futures.
And if the day comes when I see your kid licking the cart at Target while your other kid is calling you a loser because you won’t buy her a lighter and a pack of gum that are inexplicably placed right at our kids’ eye level…dear mama, with a wink and a smile I’ll let you know that I believe you’ve got this too. I will realize the licker is having a bad day and the sassy one for sure learned the word “loser” from the Disney channel and not from you. This same grace you are giving away will be yours, because together is the best way through when we all love our babies the best. And we can’t go wrong with throwing around a little grace — there is plenty of that to go around.