I used to be a very judgmental mother.
I was the perfect parent, except for one thing—I didn’t have any children yet. Well, I had one baby, and he was a really easy baby. He smiled at everyone and was never grumpy, even when we changed his schedule. Looking back now, I realize that my life was pretty simple, and I didn’t even know it. All I knew is that I was the mother of one easygoing baby, and yet, I thought that I was an expert on all aspects of parenting.
Now I’m the mother of two young children, the only thing I know for certain is that I’m not a parenting expert. Parenting is difficult, demanding, and downright exhausting. I don’t have all the answers. I don’t even want to have all the answers. I just want to take an uninterrupted shower!
I’m definitely not a judgmental mother anymore. But I hadn’t realized how much I had changed until the other day when I brought the children to our local McDonald’s. There I was, sitting in one of the hard plastic booths, letting the toddler eat chicken nuggets and French fries for lunch while shouting something to my older child, when it hit me: This is reality. This is my life.
I never thought my life would turn out this way. Hanging out at McDonald’s is never how I imagined spending an afternoon. I had assumed that in this moment, I would feel disappointed, but I didn’t. Instead, I was surprised when I checked in with myself and realized that I genuinely felt happy.
You see, back in my days of being a judgmental mother, I especially judged the parents who brought their kids to fast food restaurants. How could they feed their children such junk? And don’t they realize how disgusting those play areas are? The whole place is a bastion of germs! Those kids will be lucky to get down the slide without a staph infection! I would snuggle close to my little baby—the one who slept several hours a day and stayed in the same place when I put him down—and promise myself that I would never be like that. I would do better.
I was such a judgmental mother!
I believed that I would always feed my kids healthy food. They would love vegetables so much that they would beg for broccoli (OK, occasionally they do ask for broccoli, but they beg for ice cream a lot more frequently). And we would do crafts every single day (we do crafts about once a week…maybe). They would always be well-behaved and well-dressed (I can’t remember when they last had a bath or brushed their hair).
And so, here I am. Today is another boring, cold, rainy day. And I just can’t face being home alone with the kids all afternoon. My children aren’t little babies anymore. The thing they want more than anything is to run around and interact with other kids. And somehow I’ve transformed. I’m no longer the judgmental mother. Now I’m the mother hanging out on my phone at McDonald’s while my kids traverse the play area, shouting loudly and touching everything.
And the weirdest part of all of this is that I actually think this place is kind of awesome. I like it here. I buy the kids lunch (they love it!) and then they get to run around on the play structure and make new friends. I have a moment to myself, and sometimes I even have a friendly conversation with one of the other adults.
I realize that right now, you might be judging me.
And that’s OK. A few years ago, I would have judged me too. But before you judge me too harshly, walk a mile in my shoes: Our family lives in a rural place. We don’t have access to indoor gyms or trampoline parks. We don’t even have a Chuck E. Cheese’s. This McDonald’s with the indoor playground is pretty much it. It’s the only place within an hour’s drive that we can go where the kids won’t get kicked out for being too loud and active.
And yes, the food is unhealthy, and yes, the play structure is strangely sticky. But it works. It works for days like today, for long afternoons that are so lonely.
I’m not feeling defeated. Instead, I feel free—free from all my own judgment and all my own ridiculous rules. I’m free to do what works best and free to do what is the most fun for my family. The only person I’m judging now is my own past self. That old version of me was so sure she was always right and so sure that she knew all the answers.
It feels good to allow myself to let go of being that judgmental mother. She wasn’t very much fun anyway.