I was excited to take my two-year-old daughter to Target after work so that she could pick her Valentine’s Day cards for her daycare classmates. I wondered if she would choose Spiderman to satisfy her superhero infatuation or Toy Story to please her talking-toy fascination. It turns out, she picked both.
But before we got to this moment, a moment that should have been nothing more than joyful and endearing, I was mom-shamed by a complete stranger.
On our way to the bulk Valentine’s Day cards for school parties, I stopped to pick a card for my husband. While I quickly scanned the selection, my daughter was behind me checking out the funky bath bombs on the edge of the the tween clothing section. I kept turning back to her, commenting to her (“Baby, make sure you put those back, we’re not getting those today”) as I fumbled through no more than three cards before making a hasty selection because I had a toddler to keep track of.
I started to stroll down the aisle while eyeing my babe and instructing her to follow. “OK, baby, let’s go pick your Valentine’s cards.” I find that my walking away quickly convinces her to abide and follow. I kept walking, as I looked back to her, seeing her following behind no more than a few feet. At the end of the card aisle, I turned the corner and my sweet was two steps behind me. I paused to let her make those two steps to catch me and started browsing in that aisle.
That’s when a woman, older than me with long salt and pepper hair, started to speak to me. She hesitated, but looked directly at me as though I had done something wrong. I immediately searched my brain to figure out what I’d done. I saw she was holding greeting cards, so I figured she was the same woman I’d just stood next to when I selected my husband’s card. Maybe I’d accidentally taken her cart by mistake? I looked; nope, I was pushing the correct cart.
So looked back at her, waiting for her to explain what exactly I’d done wrong.
“You know, she was all the way down there,” she said to me as she pointed to my daughter. It was with a tone that implied I’d done something wrong. I knew immediately I was being mom-shamed, and wrongfully at that, as I knew I’d had my eye on my beloved the entire time.
I knew where she was at each step; I have the pitter-patter of her steps imprinted in my heart. And you see, I’m a catastrophist, a woman who can tell you the worst-case scenario in any situation. I’m the mom who immediately panics if her daughter gets out of sight. I’m already on high-alert. I’m already stressed and afraid that something could go wrong. And here I am, trying to have a nice experience in the store with my daughter that includes giving her independence to choose the Valentine’s Day cards she likes best, and I’ve got a complete stranger in my face telling me that she thinks I’m a negligent mother.
I stare at her.
She goes on, “I had a child who was taken.”
My stress level, which was already high because I’m a mom who works full-time, is now off the charts. I know if I tell her what I’m thinking (“You’re mom shaming me right now.”), it will cause me to fully explode. I know the best thing to do is to say nothing. Especially if what she is sharing is true; silence is the kindest thing I can do in this moment.
So I continue to stare at her.
“And she is so cute. She’s really, really, really cute,” she said, implying that I wouldn’t want my really cute daughter to be taken.
I’m baffled. Obviously, as her mother, I know my daughter is cute. And I know I’ve not been negligent. And I continue to choose to say nothing. After she says repeatedly how cute my daughter is, I turn my back to her, put my hand up in the air and say “thank you,” and we begin to walk away.
I didn’t want to yell at her. I didn’t want to accuse her of mom-shaming. If she really did have a child taken, I didn’t want to correct her misperception. However, I completely wished she’d not projected her PTSD onto me, a woman who is always afraid of the worst, a former crime reporter who’s written about missing children and child molestation. She didn’t need to tell me, or warn me about the evil in the world. And I’m always so high-strung and worried and anxious, she didn’t need to pile onto that by implying I’m a bad mother and bluntly reminding me of the evil in the world. I’m probably one of the few parents who actually carries around the photo ID of their kid from the National Center for Missing and Exploited Children that comes with your school photo packet.
So I can appreciate her angst; however, if she saw my daughter walking down an aisle seemingly unattended, she could have simply watched her from afar to be sure she was OK and when seeing the child united with a parent, left it at that. Or, if there was a need to approach me, the comment could have been, “Ohh good, I thought she got separated from her family, I’m glad to see that’s not the case.” Instead of implying I’d done something wrong and implying my (perceived) neglect put my child in danger of being abducted.
Please, before you approach a stranger take a moment to think. Maybe your perception is wrong. Maybe you don’t have all of the information. And always be kind and sensitive. We’re all walking around with our own junk and we all have enough to worry about without a stranger throwing something new in our faces. We’re all doing the best we can.
This unwarranted confrontation completely clouded what was supposed to be a positive mommy-daughter experience at the store. Words have an impact. What you say could rain on someone else’s day.